New Market Battlefield Military Museum

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

The Commanders | New Market Battlefield Military Museum

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Major General John C. Breckinridge
(6 January 1821 - 17 May 1874)

Breckinridge was an American lawyer, politician, and military officer during his storied lifetime. As a political leader, he represented Kentucky in both chambers of Congress before being elected as the 14th and youngest-ever Vice President of the United States. Breckinridge served in this capacity from 1857 to 1861.

The young politician was a member of the Democrat Party and served in the United States Senate. Breckinridge was expelled from the Senate shortly after joining the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Commissioned as a Brigadier General, he fought gallantly in several military campaigns until being promoted to the rank of Major General following the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Upon his promotion to Major General, Breckinridge was assigned to the Army of Mississippi under General Braxton Bragg.

After a series of disagreements with General Bragg, Breckinridge was transferred to the Trans-Allegheny Department, where he won his most significant victory of the war at the Battle of New Market 13-15 May 1864.

Major General Breckinridge was appointed Secretary of War in February 1865, where he ensured the preservation of the Confederate records after the Fall of Richmond.

The general fled the United States after the surrender, living abroad for more than three years before returning to his homeland of Kentucky. Breckinridge did so only after President Andrew Johnson extended amnesty to all former Confederates in 1868.

Despite a return to normalcy, Breckinridge resisted calls to resume his political career. Lingering war injuries plagued his health up to the point of his passing in 1875. Breckinridge is regarded as an effective military commander by scholars and historians alike. Though well-liked in Kentucky, he was reviled by many in the North as a traitor.

Ultimately, the general's actions in New Market allowed the falling star of the Confederacy to shine bright, if only for a short while longer. 

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Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton
(23 July 1824 - 12 May 1906)

Born in Culpeper County, Virginia, Wharton entered the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on 1 September 1845. He graduated from the institution on 5 July 1847, finishing second out of twelve cadets and earning the moniker "distinguished graduate." 

Upon leaving VMI, Wharton became a civil engineer, eventually finding his way to the Arizona Territory, where he worked as a mining engineer. 

As the drums of war began to beat throughout the United States, Wharton chose to follow his home state of Virginia and joined the Confederate Army in 1861. He was commissioned a Major in the 45th Virginia Volunteer Infantry on 1 July. Soon thereafter, Major Wharton was promoted to the rank of Colonel and assigned command of the 51st Virginia Volunteer Infantry. 

The 51st Virginia participated in military operations alongside Major General John B. Floyd throughout Western Virginia. Wharton and the 51st managed to escape with Floyd during the Battle of Fort Donelson on 14 February 1862. 

Colonel Wharton was then transferred to the Western Theater of war, where he served with distinction throughout his tenure. He was promoted to Brigadier General with effect from 8 July 1863. Wharton would also marry during this time to Nannie Radford, who gave birth to a son named William. 

During the winter of 1863, Wharton served under Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whose operations in and around Knoxville, Tennessee, were ultimately unsuccessful. The general returned to the Eastern Theater in the spring of 1864 and was granted a command in the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. 

General Wharton and his brigade would be present at the Battle of New Market under the command of Major General John C. Breckinridge. Wharton's brigade fought on the left of Breckinridge's army and played a crucial role in the overall victory during the three-day battle in the Shenandoah Valley.

Wharton and his men would fight in numerous campaigns in 1864 and 1865, from Confederate victories at the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Battle of Monocacy to defeats at the Battle of Cedar Creek and the Battle of Waynesboro.

He would lead what was left of his division until 2 May 1865 and was paroled at war's end in Lynchburg, Virginia, on 4 June 1865. Wharton is buried at the Radford Family Cemetery in Radford, Virginia.

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Brigadier General John C. Imboden
(16 February 1823 - 15 August 1895)

Born outside Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, Imboden was the recipient of a private education courtesy of the Staunton Academy before attending Washington College.

After university, he took a teaching position at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton. Imboden read law and was admitted to the Virginia Bar, whereupon he entered into a law partnership with William Frazier. The Federal Census of 1850 indicates Imboden owned four slaves, which increased to seven by 1860.

Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1850, Imboden would serve several terms until 1857, when he failed to win re-election. As a response to John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry, he founded the Staunton Light Artillery, partially funded at his expense.

Contrary to the fact that he had no formal military training, J.D. Imboden was commissioned a Captain in the Staunton Light Artillery on 28 November 1859. The Staunton Light Artillery, with its four bronze 6-pounder guns, 107 officers and men were formally mustered into the Confederate States Army on 1 July 1861.

Imboden and the Staunton Light Artillery would fight at First Manassas before serving under Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign of 1862 at Cross Keys and Port Republic. He would leave the unit to recruit a battalion of partisan rangers on 9 September 1862. J.D. Imboden was promoted to the rank of Colonel and given command of the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry. He would be further promoted on 28 January 1863 to the position of Brigadier General.

He was assigned to serve under J.E.B. Stuart during the Gettysburg Campaign, where General Lee praised Imboden for the way in which he "gallantly repulsed" the Union cavalry during action taking place on 6 July 1863. 

Returning to serve the Confederacy in the Shenandoah Valley, Imboden lead a raid on Union forces at Charles Town, West Virginia, on 18 October 1863.

In 1864, Imboden served alongside Major General John C. Breckinridge during the Battle of New Market, where Union forces under the command of Major General Franz Sigel were soundly defeated. His brigade would participate in numerous engagements throughout the Valley Campaign of 1864, including the losses at the Battle of Fisher's Hill and the Battle of Cedar Creek. 

Incapacitated by typhoid fever, Imboden left active cavalry service in the autumn of 1864. By early 1865, Imboden had been given command of Camp Millen in Georgia. Following this, he presided over various prisoner of war camps in Alabama and Mississippi, respectively, until the end of the war.

Imboden was paroled in Augusta, Georgia, on 3 May 1865. His post-war life was reasonably quiet, with the former cavalry commander dying at the age of seventy-two in Damascus, Virginia. 

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Major General Franz Sigel
(18 November 1824 - 21 August 1902)

Sigel was a German-born officer, revolutionist, and immigrant to the United States. Additionally, he tenured as an educator, newspaperman, and politician. The German is most widely known as a Major General who served in the Union Army during the American Cil War. 

President Abraham Lincoln admired his ability to recruit German-speaking immigrants to fight for the Union Army. However, Sigel was intensely disliked by General-In-Chief Henry Halleck.

Born in Sinsheim, Baden (Germany), he attended the gymnasium in Bruchsal. Sigel later graduated from Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Baden Army. The young officer became involved with revolutionaries Friedrich Hecker and Gustav von Struve. He retired from the army in 1847 after being wounded in a duel. That same year, Sigel began law school studies in Heidelberg.

Sigel immigrated to the United States in 1852, as did many other German Forty-Eighters. He took a teaching position in the public school system of New York City and also served in the New York State Militia. Later, he married the daughter of Rudolf Dulon and taught in Dulon's school.

By 1857, Sigel was serving as a professor at the German-American Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1860, he was elected as Director of St. Louis Public Schools. Sigel was very influential within the Missouri immigrant community. This influence allowed him to easily attract Germans to both the Union and anti-slavery causes, which he openly supported. 

Sigel was commissioned Colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry from 4 May 1861. Weeks later, the newly commissioned Colonel would see action at the Battle of Carthage on 5 July 1861. Despite suffering a setback, the defeat did spur further recruitment for the Missouri State Guard. 

His finest hour came on 8 March 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge, where he commanded two infantry divisions and personally directed the Union artillery on the second day of the battle.

President Lincoln actively sought the support of anti-slavery, pro-Union immigrants. Ever popular with the German-American community, Sigel was a perfect candidate to advance this cause further. He would be promoted to Brigadier General on 21 March 1862.

Sigel moved east, where he served as a Division Commander during the unsuccessful Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson outmaneuvered and outwitted a much larger Union Army in a number of small engagements during the overall campaign. 

While in command of the I Corps under Major General John Pope, Sigel would be wounded in the hand during the defeat at Second Manassas. During the winter months of 1862-1863, he was given command of the XI Corps, Army of the Potomac, which predominantly consisted of German immigrants. 

Sigel was kept in reserve during the humiliating defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg. The German-born officer was also developing a reputation as being an inept battlefield commander. However, his ability to recruit and motivate immigrants kept him in the field. Many immigrant recruits could speak little to no English beyond, "I'm going to fight mit Sigel," which became something of a battle cry within the ranks.

He left command of the XI Corps in February of 1863. The reason(s) for which is unclear. Some accounts cite failing health, while others recall his displeasure at having such a small command compared to other corps commanders. Many historians point to his lack of military prowess and skill. Sigel made several poor decisions during his tenure as a general, which resulted in the deaths of both enlisted men and senior officers alike.

This negative reputation managed to keep him relegated to light duty in eastern Pennsylvania until March 1864. For purely political reasons, President Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to place Sigel in command of the newly formed Department of West Virginia.

With this new command came the responsibility to secure the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in May 1864. His decisions during and leading up to the Battle of New Market 13-15 May 1864 were an abject failure.

After the debacle at New Market, Sigel was relieved of command and replaced by Major General David Hunter. The latter was ultimately successful in securing the Shenandoah Valley. Sigel spent the remainder of the war without an active command until his resignation on 4 May 1865.

He held various positions during his post-Civil War life. Sigel was employed as an editor for the Baltimore Wecker before taking a similar role in New York City. The former general held various political positions as both a Democrat and a Republican at one point or another.

Franz Sigel died in New York in 1902 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.

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