Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

In mid-October 1859, a wild-eyed, white bearded man and 21 accomplices seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), in a misguided attempt to ignite a slave revolt. The man was John Brown, whose fanatical visage likened him to a Biblical prophet.

Brown was already known as an abolitionist who fought against pro-slavery elements in the Bleeding Kansas conflict of 1856, but the failed raid on Harpers Ferry made him a martyr and foretold the American Civil War.

Brown was tried for treason and hanged on December 2, 1859. The brick fire engine house where his followers and he made their last stand, later known as John Brown’s Fort, is now a popular tourist destination and interpretive center telling the story of the raid. It was relocated several times and now sits 150 feet from its original location.

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Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

The Battle of Cedar Creek (or Battle of Belle Grove) was fought in Frederick County, Shenandoah County and Warren County, Virginia on October 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,500 total casualties.

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park was created in 2002 and encompasses over 3,700 acres, 1,500 of which are preserved and administered by partner sites, including the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Belle Grove Plantation, and Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park.

Belle Grove Manor House was built between 1794 and 1797 for Isaac Hite, Jr. and his bride Nelly Conway Madison. Hite owned a general store, grist-mill, saw-mill and a distillery. 276 slaves lived at Belle Grove between 1783 and 1851.

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Third Winchester (Opequon) Battlefield

The Battle of Third Winchester (or Battle of Opequon) was fought in Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

Like other battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, the Third Winchester battlefield is a result of piecemeal purchases of private property, spurred by donations from preservationists. The Civil War Trust has preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield. The most recent acquisition was made in 2009 by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Third Winchester was the largest Civil War battle, in terms of importance and number of troops engaged, in the Shenandoah Valley. 40,000 Union soldiers fought 10–12,000 Confederates, with predictable results. The Union soldiers, however, were inexperienced and fighting Jubal Early’s veteran divisions. Despite losing the battle, the Confederates inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties.

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Front Royal Battlefield and Bel Air Mansion

The Battle of Front Royal was fought in and around Front Royal in Warren County, Virginia on May 23, 1862 between troops under command of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 800 total casualties.

Though a relatively small engagement, the Front Royal Visitors Center offers an extensive self-guided driving tour connecting several key sites, including Prospect Hill Cemetery, Bel Air Mansion, and Richardson’s Hill. Depicted above is the courthouse, around which two opposing Maryland regiments fought in a pitched street battle.

Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.

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From Winchester to Cedar Creek by Jeffry D. Wert

from-winchester-to-ceder-creek-the-shenandoah-campaign-of-1864-by-jeffry-d-wertIn From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864, Jeffry D. Wert charts Union General Philip Sheridan’s victory over Confederate General Jubal Early in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the closing months of the American Civil War. Sheridan’s campaign ensured Confederate defeat in Virginia and ultimately contributed to President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. Drawing on manuscript collections and many published sources, Wert offers vivid descriptions of the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek.

First published in 1987, From Winchester to Cedar Creek explores how interplay of the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and Confederate commanders, Sheridan and Early, resulted in victories for Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. It not only documents and dynamically recounts these events, but it also details the political, strategic, and tactical forces that made the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign so important to the outcome of the Civil War.

As Philip Sheridan’s star rose, Jubal Early’s fell. In June 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Early and approximately 15,000 men up the Shenandoah Valley to clear Union troops from the area and menace Washington, D.C., in an effort to repeat Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s successes in 1862. Early, however, was no Jackson. Despite early success, by August he was on the defensive. General Ulysses S. Grant sent his cavalry commander, Philip Sheridan, to command all Union troops in the Valley and destroy Early. This is where From Winchester to Cedar Creek picks up the story.

Philip Sheridan was one of the few cavalry commanders who successfully transitioned to overall command of an army. His unique experience allowed him to better integrate infantry and cavalry. During the Civil War, it was considered suicidal for mounted cavalry to directly engage infantry, but at the Battle of Third Winchester, September 19, 1864, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division broke Early’s defensive line with a classic Napoleonic cavalry charge.

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Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign by Jonathan A. Noyalas

stonewall-jacksons-1862-valley-campaign-by-jonathan-a-noyalasIn Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, Jonathan A. Noyalas traces Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign during the American Civil War. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was known as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” due to its ample harvests and transportation centers. The region became a magnet for both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, and nearly half of the thirteen major battles fought in the Valley occurred during this campaign.

Through diaries, letters, and battlefield accounts, Noyalas shows how those victories brought hope to an infant Confederate nation, transformed the lives of the Shenandoah Valley’s civilians, and emerged as Stonewall Jackson’s defining moment.

In March 1862, a 35,000-strong Union army led by Major General Nathanial P. Banks invaded the Shenandoah Valley from the north. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson initially opposed him with just 3,500 men. By June 10, Jackson had driven the Yankees back into Maryland. The story of how he accomplished this is incredible. Professor Noyalas does an adequate job telling this story, but while he paints an interesting picture of the campaign’s impact on civilians, his military history falls short.

How the war affected civilians is a perspective you rarely read, especially when it comes to Union loyalists vs. Confederates in the Valley. Not every Virginian seethed at Major General Banks’ blue ranks marching through the streets. Some even cheered. Their neighbors, however, were happy to later point them out to Jackson’s men. I was surprised to read just how virulent the hatred was for Yankees. In an effort to scare the invaders, one resident of Winchester told a Union officer that after the Battle of Bull Run they collected Northern skulls and sold them for ten dollars!

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