Field of Lost Shoes (2014)

 

 

 

Director:     Sean McNamara.

Starring:     Lauren Holly (Mrs. Clinedinst), Jason Isaacs (John C. Breckinridge), Nolan Gould (Robert / Sir Rat), David Arquette (Captain Henry A. DuPont), Keith David (Old Judge), Tom Skerritt (Ulysses S. Grant), Luke Benward (John Wise), Gale Harold (Major Charles Semple), Zach Roerig (Jack Stanard), Josh Zuckerman (Moses Ezekiel), Mary Mouser (Libby Clinedinst), Max Lloyd-Jones (Sam Atwill), Courtney Gains (Capt. Chinook), Parker Croft (Garland Jefferson), Sean Marquette (Benjamin 'Duck' Colonna), Sean Ryan Fox (Young John Wise), Werner Daehn (General Franz Sigel), Michael Goodwin (Secretary of State Seward), Joe Inscoe (General Wharton), Gordon Price (Slave seller), Michael Krebs (Abraham Lincoln), John Rixey Moore (Governor Wise), Tiffany Flournoy (Girl Trapped Under Wagon).

VMI cadets fight in the Battle of New Market, May 18, 1864

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Lexington, Virginia. The Virginia Military Institute. Based on a true story.

Every year a parade is held at VMI to honor the cadets who gave their lives at a turning point during the American Civil War.

On May 15, 1864 seven friends march into the Battle of New Market. Only four came out.

Governorís Mansion, Richmond, Virginia 1858. When John Wise was twelve years old his father was the Governor of Virginia. Little did they know that Civil War was about to take place less than four years hence.

Johnís father comes in to tell him they are going to go for a ride in the carriage. Along the way father asks John what he thought of the play he saw in Philadelphia, Uncle Tomís Cabin. John says: "Think itís all made up by the people who donít like us."

John sees that father has brought him to a slave auction. He sees a mother being sold separately and away from her husband and two children. He hears the cries of the woman as she is pulled away from her family. He sees how upset the husband and children are. He leaves the slave auction.

Five years later the Civil War started coming to the Shenandoah Valley, and the military institute there in Lexington, Virginia. Johnís father was now a general in the Confederate Army. John himself was seventeen years old and a sophomore.

At VMI the cadets select a small boy as their next newcomer victim. Sam Atwill brings the young fellow, named Robert, up to the barracks where he stays with other cadets. He then introduces Robert to the cadets: Benjamin 'Duck' Colonna, Jack Standard and Moses Eziekiel ("our resident Jew"). Duck goes through Robertís stuff and he acts shocked that he found some "contraband" Ė some linked sausages. Sam says this is a serious matter and sends Jack to get the Officer of the Day. Garland Jefferson comes in and pretends that he will have to take this to the faculty and that will end terribly for the boy. So Sam says they can fetch John Wise and he can handle the matter within the barracks and not involve the faculty.

John acts all serious and asks the lad if he will take a caning? Yes, sir is the answer. Then they have Robert take off his shirt and get ready for the caning. He sits down in a chair and tells Robert how power must be tempered by oneís own conscience. All first year men are rats, but Robert is going to be his special rat. As a matter of fact, John is going to promote Robert from just a regular rat. From now on, Robert will be known as Sir Rat.

So now the guys are all real friendly to Sir Rat. They go to get some bread from the bakery. A large slave named Judge discovers them and the young men make Sir Rat explain what they are doing there. Robert does such a good job of flattering Judge and his loaves of bread that Judge lets the fellows have four loaves.

The White House. March 29, 1864. Lincoln is ready to see Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The President asks what Grant would do, if he were made the General-in-Chief? Grant replies: "I will attack our enemies at all times and all places. I will take away his crops, his animals, the goods he has sheltered, his railroads, his industry, his clothing, his ammunition, his gunpowder, his steel, his armament, his salt and I will take from him the flower of his youth." Lincoln likes that answer.

Shenandoah Valley overlooking the New Market Gap. Confederate planning believes that Grant will send soldiers up through New Market Gap to attack the Shenandoah Valley. [New Market Gap in Virginia is a wind gap in the Massanutten Mountain. Today Rt. 211 goes east west through the Gap. The town of Luray is east of the Gap and New Market is west of the Gap. The two towns are just 14 miles away from each other. The distance from Lexington northeast to New Market is 77 miles.]

Confederate General John C. Breckinridge, former Vice President of the United States, tells Major Charles Semple that the Union army will be coming in the spring and right through the New Market Gap. He orders the Major to move the troops to New Market.

The superintendent of VMI is on the parade ground inspecting the cadets in formation. Under the hot sun, Sir Rat faints and falls to the ground. Two cadets, Sam and Duck, grab him and take him over to the Girls Boarding House adjacent to VMI asking them to help them with the passed out cadet. The daughter of the woman in charge is so pretty that Sam can barely speak, but he does get help for Robert in spite of his impediment.

General Grantís Union Field Headquarters, April 1864. Grant is taking the main army south towards Richmond. Meanwhile, the new German immigrant Gen. Franz Sigel is heading for the Shenandoah Valley, Leeís breadbasket. Grant sends some experienced soldiers, mainly Captain DuPont, and officers with Sigel, because Sigel is a politician [and once director of the public schools of St. Louis, Missouri], not a soldier.

General Breckinridgeís Confederate Field Headquarters. Breckinridge knows Sigel will be his opponent and knows heís not much of a soldier. He also knows that Grant will send some good officers with him, but Sigel will be too prideful to accept their help.

Robertís next in line to get his food, when Jack Standard pushes the boy onto the ground and out of his way. John Wise comes over to tell Jack not to be pushing his rat around. So Jack insults Johnís father as a secessionist and John hits him in the face. The two young men are both arrested.

Union General Franz Sigelís Temporary Headquarters, Winchester, Virginia. [51 miles northeast from New Market]. Sigel tells DuPont that heís a spy for Grant and will not share any intelligence with the man.

Sam goes to see the pretty Libby at the Girls Boarding School. He rehearses what he is going to say to her. She sees him on the front lawn and comes out to ask him if he needs anything. They talk awhile. He says he now believes in love at first sight.

Judge is beaten by the soldiers for "giving away food" to his fellow slaves. And now they have taken him to the faculty to see Captain Chinook. Robert saw all this and now runs to John Wise to get help.

The cadets go see Judge in a jail cell. He tells the young men that they are planning on hanging him. Johnny had promised Judge that the blame for their arrangement with the food would not fall on the slave. Now he tells Judge that heís coming back for him.

Four of the cadets go into speak with Chinook and they all say that they stole food, not Judge. And they and another cadet are ready to be hanged. Chinook is furious saying: "You know very well you wonít be hanged." But they could be thrown out of the Institute. John says well who would want soldiers with no honor? He wouldnít. Chinook tells Jack Standard to throw the fellows out of his office. He adds that it looks like heíll be getting some fresh backed bread today.

Breckinridge says that Echols and Wharton are 60 miles and 75 miles respectively from Staunton. Major Semple says they could get the 250 cadets from VMI, some 45 miles southwest from them. Breckinridge doesnít want that saying they are just boys. Semple says they will just be held in reserve in case Echols and Wharton donít make it in time. Breckinridge gives his approval.

Duck cries as the Yankees have burned down his parentís farm. His family was killed too. His friends try to console him.

The superintendent agrees to let Chinook lead 200 cadets to Staunton. He informs the cadets. At first they are stunned, but then they give a roar of approval. Theyíre thinking itís going to be a great adventure. Jack calls a truce with John and they shake hands.

Sam goes over to say goodbye to Libby. She gives him a nice kiss.

In the morning the cadets start marching to Staunton.

DuPont argues with Sigel that they must get there troops to New Market Gap before Breckinridge gets there.

Breckinridge and Semple know that Sigel is not moving his troops forward.

The cadets march into Staunton. The females of Staunton are having a dance for the cadets tonight. The guys enjoy themselves at the dance. Libby is there. She tells Sam she knows where the cadets are going: New Market. And sheís going there too. They kiss.

Jack talks to John about John maybe not fighting as the others who believe in slavery. John says he will fight when the time comes. He will fight for his school and for his fellow cadets. Jack cautions him not to share his misgivings with slavery with his fellow cadets. They might come to doubt Johnís resolve.

Union Cavalry approaching from the east have been spotted by the Confederates. Breckinridge says: "So, it is to be tomorrow. Finally."

Lincoln learns that Breckinridge has conscripted school boys for his army. They are the cadets from VMI.

On the march to New Market Gap, John and another cadet go to rescue a slave from being pinned under a wagon with a broken wheel. Soon Johnís buddies come to help. They lift the wagon up enough so the woman can be pulled to safety.

Confederate Field Camp, Lacey Springs (9 miles south of New Market). Breckinridge goes to speak to some of the cadets, including John Wiseís group. He ask the cadets what they think of the war. They tell him. They all will fight no mater what they think.

May 5, 1864. Day of the Battle of New Market. The cadets start marching off to battle.

Captain Dupontís Union Forward Observation Post.

Shirleyís Hill. The cannons are being fired by both sides.

Captain Dupont sends a message to Sigel. "Facing large combined rebel force! Immediate reinforcements required!"

Cleinedinst girls' boarding residence is converted to a Field Hospital, New Market. The women are getting prepared for the casualties.

Breckinridge tells Wharton on the west side of the battlefield to rush his men down the hill to a low place there. The cadets will follow behind the men. Union Captain Dupont sees the men running forward and commands his artillery to blast the side of the hill.

The cadets march down the hill instead of running. This gives the cannon a good target to shoot at. The middle of the line is hit hard with a cannonball exploding, but the young men quickly regroup in formation.

They reach Whartonís unit. This time Wharton tells Chinook to stay behind by 300 yards. Chinook indicates that he understands the order.

54th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. The Unionís "Pennsylvania Boys". The infantry and the artillery blow a hole in the center of the Confederate line. Semple tells Breckinridge that they must put the cadet reserves into the center of their line. Breckinridge says to send the boys in. He adds: "May God forgive me."

The cadets head for the center of the line. They rush to a fence, but thatís not much protection for them. So the cadets themselves decide to charge the hill and take it. They fix their bayonets. They charge the hill. When the rebs get close, the Pennsylvania infantry now charges the rebels, but they donít have their bayonets fixed.

Itís hand to hand combat with some men trying to choke the enemy with their hands. Jack Standard gets shot in the chest. John Wise tends to him. John starts killing Yankees, that is until an explosion occurs right in front of him.

Captain DuPont has to retreat now. The cadets take Bushong Hill. They are overjoyed.

John Wise is found alive. Garland Jefferson is badly wounded. Sam Atwill is badly wounded. Sam at the hospital calls for Libby. A young woman runs over to the battlefield to bring Libby back. By the time she gets back, Sam has died of his wounds.

Jack Standard is dead. Garland Jefferson dies of his wounds.

The battlefield was very muddy and a lot of soldiers lost their shoes in the charge. Hence the field of lost shoes.

The legacy of those who fought and died at New Market is remembered by the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute every year.

"Old Judge" became a free man and continued running the bakery at VMI until he retired after 30 years of service.

Moses Ezekiel, the first Jewish Cadet to attend VMI, became an internationally famous sculptor. His work is featured around the world and at Arlington National Cemetery where he is buried.

Duck Colonna rebuilt his family home, became a school teacher, and entered a long career in U.S. government service.

To this day VMI cadets, both male and female, refer to their classmates as "Brother Rat".

John Wise served in the United States Congress and helped to rebuild the Union.

Former slave Mary Lumpkin converted the auction house known as "Lumpkinís Jail" to a school for freed slaves, which became todayís Virginia Union University.

Following the war, the Virginia Military Institute resume its appointed mission of educating leaders for Virginia and the Nation.

 

 

Good civil war story.  The story is told straight forwardly, without too much bias for or against either side.  One of the Confederates fights for the South, while disagreeing with the terrible institution of slavery.  He says he fights for his school and schoolmates.  The VMI students performed well in the Battle of New Market.  Their casualties included 8 dead.  In all the Confederate casualties were 531, while the Union casualties were 841.  It was a Confederate victory.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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