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I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it before, but this year the eight year old gel has decided to dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween.

Her Star Wars™ Darth Vader™ Lightsaber™ appeared on the kitchen counter this week.  Idly glancing at the package, I was surprised to see the following copy:

“PRODUCT IS A COSTUME ACCESSORY AND IS NOT DURABLE ENOUGH FOR BATTLE OR OTHER PLAY”

It says the same thing in French, too.  (Curiously, although the other instructions on the package are also in Spanish, this warning is not.)

<Sarcasm Function On> I’m kind of glad I had that made clear for me before I went looking for a fight in some wretched hive of scum and villainy.  <Sarcasm Function Off>  

Perhaps somebody was just having a little harmless tongue-in-cheek fun with this, but I’ve got a baaaaaad feeling that wasn’t the case.

As regular port-swillers may recall, ol’ Robbo posted this past summah on a day-trip to the Shenendoah Valley that included an unexpected but gratifying jaunt over to the New Market Battlefield.  In that post, I mentioned that it was my understanding that the Battle of New Market was the only battle of the Civil War in which cadets from a military school – Virginia Military Institute, to be exact – took part in combat operations.

This nugget, which I had picked up from the literature at the visitor’s center, was flagged in the comments by a fellah named Charlie Knight, who wrote:

Glad you enjoyed New Market. There were actually several other instances during the war of the cadet corps from other military schools going into battle, including what is now The Citadel, Florida Military Institute, Georgia Military Institute and the University of Alabama. Col. James Lee Conrad wrote a good book covering Southern military schools and their cadets during the war entitled “The Young Lions,” or if you want to read more about New Market itself, I recommend my book “Valley Thunder.”

Mr. Knight, it turns out, is a former “Historical Interpreter” at the New Market site, and has written a number of articles on various Civil War matters.

Well, being as easily prone to temptation as I am, I immediately nipped over to the devil’s website and took up Mr. Knight’s suggestion, and I am here to tell you now that his book Valley Thunder, The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864, is a thoroughly satisfying treatment of the Battle.

Like the actual fight, Valley Thunder is short and to the point.  Also like the fight – which took place over a very limited stretch of ground and really amounted to nothing more than a heavy skirmish compared to the slug-fest taking place between Lee and Grant on the other side of the Blue Ridge – it has a nice, almost intimate feel about it.  There are only about 10,000 men in total to keep track of, and given the geography of the place – with the Shenandoah River on one side and Smith’s Creek on the other – there aren’t many places to which they could wander off.   In addition, Mr. Knight quotes extensively from the letters and diary entries of those who fought on both sides, as well as from some of the local residents who got caught up in the battle.

Here’s one thing I hadn’t known before:  I was always vaguely aware that WWII Gen. George Patton’s grandfather had fought in the Civil War.  What I hadn’t realized, and learned from this book, was that he was in the very heart of the fight at New Market, where he was the Colonel commanding the 22nd Virginia.  I also had not known that Col. Patton was a VMI grad.  So there you are.  (Col. Patton, by the bye, was killed in September, 1864, at the Third Battle of Winchester in this same Valley Campaign.  This was the battle that inspired the poem “Sheridan’s Ride” – a clunky piece of doggeral but nonetheless a favorite of Robbo’s because of its subject matter.)

All in all, the Battle of New Market really made little odds to the overall outcome of the War.  It was a first scrape between Union and Confederate forces which would chase each other up and down the Valley for the rest of the 1864 season, culminating in Little Phil Sheridan’s destruction of Jubal Early at the Battle of Cedar Creek, the anniversary of which was three days ago.  As Mr. Knight notes, New Market would most probably have long since faded from memory but for the romance that grew up around the participation of the VMI cadets.

But you know? So what.  Even if it was nothing more than a minor note to the overall course of things, the Battle of New Market is still a delightful study, and I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in it.

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