Monday, September 29, 2008

Field of Lost Shoes

Friday we left home and headed north. Aside from a four-day weekend in Asheville, we've had no other vacation and this was a trip to help clear our heads.

We had reservations in Harrisonburg, VA even thought that's only a two-hour drive away from home.

Our original plans were to go to Luray and tour the Luray caverns. However, my issues with my heel spur were such that we didn't think caving was a good idea, even if it was a commercial cave. I was afraid I would find it difficult.

Unfortunately for us but fortunately for the soil, it rained, which played a role in our trip.

Friday we traveled up Interstate 81 in downpours. We arrived in Harrisonburg a little after lunch. It was too early to check into the hotel so we decided to go to New Market.

Our destination was the New Market Battlefield Historic State Park. This is an historic civil war battlesite and there are quite a number of these in northern Virginia.

The Hall of Valor museum offered up an hour-long movie about the Battle of New Market with a focus on the cadets from Virginia Military Institute who fought there. VMI is a small piece down the road from New Market, though it would be several days of walking or marching.

As I watched the film I began to recognize names. Earlier this year I had written a book review of The Liberty Hall Volunteers, a reprint of a 1964 book about VMI's efforts in the Civil War.

The book had confirmed for me the horrors of war as it offered a view of the travesty based on letters from soldiers who once were VMI students.

In a chapter titled “Dirty, Ragged and Barefoot” the author uses the letters of Ted Barclay, one of the Liberty Hall soldiers, to great effect. Barclay is hungry, practically naked for want of clothes, and starving for the comforts of home. Barclay is an expressive writer and his situation dire:

“I have had on my clothes for nearly a month, my pants are nearly worn out… I feel lonesome sometimes with the few of us who are left …The rest I suppose are captured. I wish that when you send the clothes that you would send me a small Bible if you can get one. My Testament got wet and is torn all to pieces.”

Later letters complain because he has not received new clothes from his family. “If it is in the range of human exertion I wish you would send me the clothing, you cannot imagine my condition. I have no seat in my pants, the legs are worn out, have had but one pair of socks which are worn out completely, my shirt is literally rotted off me, but I was so fortunate as to get a white shirt and a pair of drawers, which both are now so lousy that I can scarcely bear them.”

The movie emphasized some of this but the New Market battle was rather early in the war so the poverty of battle had not yet crept in.

Instead, there was blood shed as the Confederates swirled around the Bushong farm outside of New Market in order to confront the Union Soldiers.

The date was May 15, 1864 and it was raining. One of the newly-plowed fields became a mire of muck for the Confederate soldiers.

Many lost of their shoes in the mud and went on to fight their battles barefoot. The field became known as the "Field of Lost Shoes" and it is visible today.

The Confederates won this battle.

Because it was pouring, we did not tour the fields or the farmhouse, but even so we spent an interesting couple of hours learning about this small part of our state's history.


  1. Fascinating! I love history, esp. reading what people who went through it actually wrote. I could not imagine what that poor soldier had to endure. We are also thinking of taking a trip to Luray soon. Your post helped me get some ideas!

  2. Enjoyed your post too! Consider Shenandoah Caverns when in New Market, it is the only caverns in Virginia with elevator service and just as pretty as Luray.

  3. Oh, too funny! I've lost the sole of a show (yep, sucked it right off) in mud before, but never an entire shoe! Shannon

  4. I love Virginia history. It sounds like a very nice weekend away from "it all."

  5. Sounds interesting. I'm sure those battlefields have some stories to tell. I would love to take a recorder on tour and see what ghostly voices turn up.

  6. Very cool trip! I enjoyed reading about it, glad I across your post :)

    Happy blogging!

    Carolina Mornings: Discover Asheville


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