‘These boys will not be forgotten’: Battlefields foundation CEO speaks about importance of remembering soldiers who died in Battle of New Market

Keven Walker, CEO of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, speaks during the Women's Memorial Society's 151st anniversary of the Battle of New Market held Tuesday at St. Matthews Cemetery in New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

NEW MARKET — The weather was a balmy 80 degrees when Keven Walker, the CEO of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, took to the podium at St. Matthew’s Cemetery  on Tuesday.

But Walker was there to memorialize a day 154 years ago — the day of the Battle of New Market — when the weather was far different.

“It would be easy for those of us here today on this beautiful morning to forget just how frightening a place this would have been 154 years ago today,” Walker said. “On that day, May 15, 1864, storm clouds had gathered over the valley, and the morning dawned dark and ominous. Fear and fright had punctuated the previous few days.”

Walker gave the keynote speech Tuesday during the Women’s Memorial Society’s annual memorial to Confederate soldiers who died during the Battle of New Market. In addition to Walker’s speech, members of the women’s society laid flowers and a wreath by the Confederate memorial monument at St. Matthew’s Cemetery, and the Virginia Military Institute color guard presented the colors and retired the colors.

The Confederacy won the Battle of New Market, in large part because of the contributions of cadets of the Virginia Military Institute.

Daniel Walker, 14, a North Fork Middle School student, sings "Oh Shenandoah" during the event. Rich Cooley/Daily

During his speech, Walker made an argument about how the soldiers should be remembered today.

“It is not to us to judge their time, but it is to us to remember their time, to right their wrongs and to seize onto their example and to carry it into the future,” Walker said. “If we do not remember their sacrifice — if we do not remember their struggles — then our nation will not have gained from their loss.”

But Walker’s focus was on remembering the soldiers, reading first-person accounts from the battle.

He read from the account of Cadet John Sergeant Wise, the son of former Virginia Gov. Henry Wise. John Wise was 17 when he fought in the Battle of New Market.

“The little town, which a moment before had seemed to sleep so peacefully, so beautifully upon that Sabbath morn, was now wreathed in battle smoke, and swarming with troops hurrying to their positions,” Wise wrote about the battle.

The Virginia Military Institute Color Guard unit stands at attention. Rich Cooley/Daily

Walker recalled the Town of New Market as a town that had become accustomed to the stresses of war but that, until 1864, had not experienced battles on its streets.

“[New Market citizens] had seen the smoke of battle rising beyond the horizon, and for years they had cared for the wounded from far-off battles and had borne the grim task of burying those soldiers who had paid the ultimate price of the war that was tearing apart their nation,” Walker said. “But nothing could have prepared them for what would befall them on the morning of May 15.”

Walker finished his speech by arguing that people need to do more to remember the lives of the soldiers who died during the Civil War.

“It is not enough for us to meet once a year,” Walker said. “We have to meet these boys every day in our hearts.”

Then, he promised to do just that.

Reagan Whitaker, 6, of New Market, carries a bouquet of flowers to the memorial grave during ceremony. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I pledge to you that as long as I live and breathe, these boys will not be forgotten,” Walker said.

Isaiah Wolverton, 18, of New Market, plays Taps to conclude the service. Rich Cooley/Daily