Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District

Manors Hill

The Location: Manor's Hill

Agriculture was the economic driving force of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during the Civil War. By May 1864, the Confederacy and its economy were inching closer to total collapse. Despite this, farms throughout the valley pressed on, as they had bellies to fill and bills to be paid. The Manor family farm of New Market, Virginia, was no exception.

Situated northwest of New Market, the farmland rose in elevation as it stretched west to the Shenandoah River. Constructed in 1812, River Road was a major thoroughfare in the 19th century that ran through the farmland's heart and on into town. Due to its elevation and the presence of River Road, Manor's Hill played a pivotal role in the second and third days of the Battle of New Market. 

Under the command of Major General Franz Sigel and his subordinate, Colonel Augustus Moor, Union forces formed a line of battle running from Manor's Hill to St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in New Market. Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge, along with his subordinate commanders, Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton and Brigadier General John D. Imboden, were in formation to the south on Shirley's Hill. 

On Sunday, 15 May, General Breckinridge left his position on Shirley's Hill and advanced north under fire. Confederate units forced the Union line of battle from Manor's Hill through fierce fighting and superior tactics, securing the hill, River Road, and New Market in the process. 

Throughout the remainder of Sunday and into the evening, Breckinridge continued to drive Sigel's forces north, where the Union Army would eventually retreat across the Shenandoah River, resulting in an overwhelmingly Confederate victory. 

John M. Bracken acquired a portion of Manor's Hill in 1987 to preserve the property for historical purposes and thus prevent further commercial development of the battlefield. The New Market Battlefield Military Museum would open one year later at its current location in 1988.


The Collector: The Historian and His Motivation

Mr. Bracken was born in February of 1942 in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Regaled by stories from his uncle who stormed the beaches of Normandy and further spurred by his father's antique business, he developed a passion for collecting and preserving history from an early age. 

John and his family were living in Centerville, Virginia, by age nine. While in Centerville, he began to dig for bullets and various other Civil War-era relics, which were commonplace to the area due to its proximity to Manassas. 

Having a father in the antique business meant a fair amount of time spent on the road acquiring stock. John and his father would pass the time by discussing American history, which inevitably led to conversations about the Civil War.

In his youth, John's passion was further fueled by Shelby Foote, author of Shiloh. As his passion for history and the Civil War grew, he decided to become a reenactor in 1959. As a reenactor, John found himself surrounded by like-minded individuals who shared a similar passion for military history. He began to develop a network of contacts, gather information, and further research the Civil War. As John's knowledge expanded, he became acutely aware of the finer points of relic hunting, enabling him to recognize fact from fiction and authenticity from reproduction.

It was at this point that the collection began to take shape. John began to acquire the pieces of our past, with no item being too big or small. If the relic had a story to tell or was of historical value, it had to be preserved for posterity. 

As the years and then decades were checked off the calendar, the collection grew ever larger. A number of one-of-a-kind artifacts were acquired, such as swords, muskets, uniforms, and accouterment. These items of history bore witness to a unique struggle from our nation's past, and it was time to share them with the world.

The Building

The Building: A Journey Through American Military History

The overall design of the New Market Battlefield Military Museum takes its inspiration from Arlington House, formally the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington, Virginia. Mansions of this type were commonplace throughout the 19th century south and thus help to set the proper tone for showcasing history. 

Upon opening in 1988, the museum was 4,800sq ft in size. In the early nineties, Mr. Bracken had the museum expanded to 6,000sq ft, enlarging the overall space available to house and display additional artifacts. Currently, the museum and its galleries house roughly 3,000 relics inside 125 display cases.