VALLEY THUNDER: The Battle of New Market
by Charles Knight
- Hardcover: 360 pages
- Publisher: Savas Beatie (May 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932714804
- ISBN-13: 978-1932714807
I am convinced that enthusiasts write the best histories. An enthusiast finds an event that touches them deeply, for whatever reason. They take the time to study the event intently. They walk the ground. They read every possible document and search for more documents. They discuss the event with others and in time, they write a book. If we are lucky, they can convey all their knowledge in an understandable, entertaining, and informative manner. With Charles Knight, we have gotten very lucky! A one-time resident of New Market, he was a Historical Interpreter on the battlefield. This is the enthusiast willing to invest the time and effort into understanding a campaign.
The May 1864 Battle of New Market is best remembered for the charge by the VMI Cadets. This charge is one of those moments that burns into our history. This book is a dual history. Primarily, it is a detailed history of operations in the Shenandoah Valley in May 1864. Secondly, it is an accurate but loving look at the VMI Cadet legend. Those holding the legend dear should not be upset with this book. The author clearly respects the cadets and is very truthful about what they did that day. An excellent introduction places the battle and the legend in the reality of history.
In the Shenandoah Valley, two small armies look for an advantage. In some ways, officers best assigned to a quiet front command both armies. Grant orders Sigel into The Valley as part of an overall attack on the Confederacy. Sigel is to sever railroad lines, prevent any reinforcement of Lee’s army, and stop the flow of supplies. John D. Imboden holds the Valley with fewer than 2,000 men. John C. Breckinridge commands the Department of Southwest Virginia with about 7,000 men. Each knows they must delay any attacker until reinforced by the other. At that time, both commands must try to defeat the Union army quickly returning to their areas in as little time as possible.
While Grant’s Overland Campaign and Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign mesmerized the newspapers, these armies conduct a small but important campaign. Valley Thunder is a history of this campaign and the battle of New Market. There is enough background to understand the personalities and the overall situation but not so much that we are bogged down in details. Coverage of the campaign and the battle is excellent. The author has a clear, informative style that conveys the action well. Here we have a detailed account but in a readable form. The author lets the participants “speak for themselves,” giving us a combination of his knowledge and first-person accounts that makes a powerful narration.
Savas Beatie continues to provide maps that keep us from getting lost. They are one of the few publishers that understand good maps are part of good histories. A series of illustrations and photos complement the story. This attractive, quality book is setting the standard for New Market.