On a bright sunny day I was traveling to a historic natural attraction only to find it was unexpectedly closed. My Plan B was executed and I made my way to the New Market Battlefield Military Museum where I expected artifacts and historical documentation for that Civil War battle, but found so much, much more.
Nearly every artifact had details and a story behind it, as did the museum, which houses the private collection of John M. Bracken who designed and built the museum with private funds and who purchased the property of Manor's Hill which is supported with private, not public funds. Mr. Bracken heard stories of WWII from his uncle and his father owned an antique store near a Civil War battlefield which fueled his passion for military history and spurred his interest in collecting artifacts.
This museum was an excellent find in my opinion, and many of the artifacts are priceless. But, there are so many, I can only touch on a few in each period. With the overhead lighting and glass, many of my photos have reflections for which I apologize in advance.
The museum starts off with the French and Indian War and proceeds through WWII then Vietnam with thousands of authentic artifacts from ancient history, American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, War with Mexico, Civil War and an impressive Native American Gallery.
I'll begin with the Battle of New Market itself, which was fought on May 15, 1864. During the Civil War the Confederate States were in serious economic collapse. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was a large agricultural area producing goods for the Confederacy. The Manor's Hill farm (where the museum is located) sat on a strategic point of higher ground along River Road which was an important road for delivering agricultural goods from the local farms.
The Confederate army of 4,000 defeated the Union force of over 6,000 soldiers and it was the last victory of the Confederate army in the war. white granite markers showing the positions and casualties of various Union and Confederate forces during the New Market battle.
A selection of the weapons displayed above includes a Confederate mortar ball with a range of over 2000+ yards and a grenade used by the Union with a percussion cap that would in turn set of a bursting charge when struck in trench and siege warfare and a carbine with a coffee grinder built into the stock to ensure soldiers could make their own coffee. The 1855 Artilleryman's Uniform came with unusual brass shoulder scales to prevent saber cuts.
There are also some more personal items on display, including a blurry photo of Whistler's Brother (the brother of painter Names McNeil Whistler served as an assistant surgeon for the Confederate Army), a lock of Robert E Lee's hair and a Coca Cola bottle. Tne bottle is there because Coke was invented by a Confederate veteran wounded in the battle and later addicted to painkilling morphine. The original formula, which used coca leaves and kola nuts was sold to others before he died of stomach cancer, destitute.
The Confederacy had some problems coming up with their own flag after secession from the Union. The first Confederate National Flag looked so much like the Union flag that it created confusion on the battlefield, so a new battlefield flag was adopted. Dislike over the National Flag caused creation of a second national flag that was on a majority white background that looked like a truce flag when hanging limp. Back to the drawing board to try and get it right followed.
Next an assortment of medical tools, and a scary looking "bleeder" device. Also, the Remington .44 Caliber pistols of Jefferson Davis are on display. Davis was once elected to the Federal Congress, fought in the War with Mexico, and was later appointed Secretary of War for the Federal government before becoming President of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Another interesting artifact and story. We all know Jell-O (it was served at every meal except breakfast in my college dining hall back in the 1960's), but do you know the inventor? Peter Cooper (1791-1883) was an American industrialist, inventor and candidate for President, and founder of Cooper Union. I must admit never hearing of him. He purchased a glue factory back in 1821 and patented a process for producing gelatin. He sold the rights to a cough syrup company and his wife named it Jell-O.
The rest is a slippery, jiggly empire. He then invested in the Canton Iron Works producing railroad tracks, but with the hilly terrain, no locomotive could navigate it. So he invented the Tom Thumb locomotive from spare parts. Its success made the B&O successful and Mr. Cooper rich. He later supported the trans-Atlantic cable project and was president of the North American Telegraph Company. He also invented a washing machine, compressed-air engine for ferry boats, and water powered devices to move canal barges.
Many weapons and uniforms are well displayed from various wars. Weapons from the French and Indian War (1754-1763) which pitted France and its Native American allies against the British Colonies of America and their Native American allies and initially began over the control of my hometown area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio River.
The American Revolution is represented by a variety of items, including uniform and pistols along with Martha Washington's emerald, diamond, porcelain and gold watch given to her by the Marquis de Lafayette of France. One of the uniforms was worn by John Dunwoody who was a school teacher from Pennsylvania and was with George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware and fought in the Battles of Trenton and Brandywine. His great-great-great-grand-daughter married the future US President Teddy Roosevelt.
The War of 1812 was primarily caused by trade disputes and the United States fought against the British, Spain, France, and indigenous allies. The U.S. failed in attempts to capture Montreal while the British attacked Washington D.C. and burned both the Capitol and White House. The conflicted ended as a military draw in 1814 with the Treaty of Ghent.
The War with Mexico (1846-1848) began over a dispute to the Texas border location. Two later to be American Presidents served in the War with Mexico, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce.
WWII artifacts include some rare items, including Adolph Hitler's portfolio, taken from his desk in 1945 and on display with one of his watercolor paintings. He sold his paintings and postcards while living in Vienna before World War I. As well, there are some weapons of that era and a German imperial flag.
Among the other Nazi memorabilia are medals given to German industrialists such as Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, Willi Messerschmitt, Robert Bosch, Ernst Heinkel, and Ferdinand Porsche for their war efforts and medals given to German women for giving birth to 'racially pure' babies to be raised as Nazis.
As a reminder of the effects of that era, there is also a uniform worn by concentration camp prisoners.
The Museum has many exhibits of Native American artifacts.
These included unusual Tomahawks with built in smoking pipes, a hair bone breastplate, "skull crusher" club, human effigy war club, moccasins, buffalo headress and a war shield, as well as clothing worn by a scout.
And here's a photo of the Chippewa Tribe member Ka-Be-Nah-Gwey-Wence aka "Wrinkled Meat" who lived to the ripe old age of 137 years, had eight wives and died from a bout of pneumonia in 1922.
Lastly, going back in time, a Bronze Greek Helmet from the 6th-5th century B.C., and items from the first ever battle documented and recorded won by the Egyptian victors. The battle was the Battle of Megiddo in 1479 B.C. between the armies of the Egyptian Pharoah Thutmose III and a Canaanite coalition of Kadesh and Megiddo. More battles have been fought here than anywhere else and the "final" battle of Armageddon is supposedly to be fought here in the Valley of Megiddo.
Practical Info for Visiting
- Address: 9500 George R. Collins Parkway, New Market, Virginia 22844 (Exit 264 From I-81)
- Admission: Adults - $12.00, Children - $5.00
- Hours: Daily - 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (Mid-April Through October) Phone: (540)740-8065
- Parking: Big open lot with free parking.