Reenactors to converge on New Market this weekend

NEW MARKET– As Troy Marshall, site director for the Virginia Museum of the Civil War and the New Market Battlefield, talked about the history behind the Battle of New Market, his words resonated as clear as the battle cries from 153 years ago.

“This story, I would argue, is not about modern interpretation, it’s about remembering those men,” Marshall said. “Humans come first … then flags and meanings and perceptions and ideologies, that comes later. For us, it’s about remembering those men.”

This weekend will mark the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of New Market. A weekend where more than a thousand reenactors and spectators will converge on New Market to witness a piece of history. Marshall explains that many of the spectators expected this weekend are local Shenandoah Valley residents who just want to take advantage of the locality along with the time of year. And the ones from out of town, he credits Interstate 81 as their biggest advertising factor.

“Probably half of them (spectators) are locals,” Marshall said. “They plan their experience for this time of year. It’s right before high school graduation or right after college graduation. States outside of Virginia, you’re going to have the ones you’d probably expect: North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, Maryland. If I could quantify it, I would say that probably two-thirds of them have been here at some point. The interstate is our biggest billboard, that’s why there’s a cannon and a tent by the interstate.”

As for the reenactors, Marshall says that they’ll come from all over the country, with states such as Georgia, South Carolina and even Maine expected to be represented this weekend. There are also many Shenandoah Valley residents who will be fighting in the historic battle as well. Aaron Good, a Bridgewater resident who has been reenacting since 1997, says that as soon as the reenactment calendar comes out, New Market is the first one circled.

“New Market has always kind of been the grandfather,” Good said. “Growing up around here, you went to the New Market reenactment; it was the one. When I got into the hobby, when we would meet and decide what events we were going to do for the year, you circled New Market first and then you worked out. Most people would think it’d be a Gettysburg or a Sharpsburg (Antietam), but it was always New Market.”

And while many people may think that when it comes to reenacting, a reenactor chooses a side and always sticks with that side, Good explains that that can’t be further from the truth.

“Very few reenactors fight one side,” Good said. “The vast majority of us are in it for the history. We love studying the war, the impact it had on our country and we want to preserve the memory of both sides that fought. History can sometimes get clouded as time passes. Most of us have full uniform ensembles for both sides.”

The reenactment, which is one of the oldest reenactments in the country, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both today and Sunday, with living history presentations, battlefield tours, food and souvenir vendors and of course the actual battle. But even with all the festivities happening during the weekend, Marshall said he hopes that people appreciate the history of the event and the people who sacrificed during the battle.

“The first one (reenactment) was just 50 years after the battle itself,” Marshall said. “There were 6,000-8,000 spectators here May 15, 1914, 28 New Market veterans, cadet veterans that were actually here as VMI (Virginia Military Institute) cadets were here watching. Reenactments are ways that we can help people understand. A museum and a battlefield is a perfect place to contemplate what the world was all about. When people come here, they’re not going to end up with one mode of thinking, they’re going to see the battle and see all of those stories unvarnished.”

Contact staff writer Justin McIlwee at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or jmcilwee@nvdaily.com