I don’t know how the Pentagon comes up with names for its military operations, but I do know that its recent name for a certain military operation in Iraq — “Operation New Market” — dishonors the memory of the 257 brave young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who defeated U.S. forces at the Battle of New Market in the spring of 1864, especially the 10 cadets who were killed during that battle.
After all, let’s not forget that the VMI cadets at New Market, along with the other Confederate soldiers who were fighting alongside them, were opposing the invasion of their homeland by the U.S. government. As one weary, barefoot Confederate prisoner late in the war responded after being asked by a Union soldier why Confederate soldiers continued fighting so hard, “Because you’re here.”
Let’s also not forget that U.S. forces, in retaliation for the role that the VMI cadets had played in routing Union forces at New Market, burned VMI to the ground shortly thereafter.
Let’s also not forget that soon after burning down VMI, and as part of Gen. William T. Sherman’s vow to “make the South howl,” U.S. military forces under Gen. Philip Sheridan knowingly and intentionally burned homes and farms throughout the Shenandoah Valley, with the specific intent of leaving Virginia women and children homeless and destitute — a war crime of the first magnitude. As Union Sgt. William T. Patterson described the federal mayhem in the Shenandoah Valley, “The whole country around is wrapped in flames, the heavens are aglow with the light thereof…. Such mourning, such lamentations, such crying and pleading for mercy [by defenseless women] … I never saw or want to see again.”
The Battle of New Market and, for that matter, the U.S. government’s deliberate destruction of the Shenandoah Valley have never been forgotten by VMI or by the people of Virginia — and rightfully so.
After all, let us also not forget that in an era in which government officials are apologizing for the wrongful acts of their predecessors (e.g., radiation experiments on citizens, syphilis experiments on citizens, and forced sterilization of citizens), U.S. officials have yet to apologize for the war crimes committed by their predecessors in the Shenandoah Valley and the rest of the South. Even if one accepts the notion that Lincoln waged his war to free the slaves rather than, as Tom DiLorenzo has documented so well, to prevent secession, such would still not justify the commission of those vicious war crimes.
With respect to Iraq, the U.S. government’s invasion of that country is a war of aggression against an independent country, one that never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Moreover, given that the president has waged his war on Iraq without the constitutionally required declaration of war from Congress, the war is illegal under our own form of government.
Therefore, the naming of a military operation in Iraq after the Battle of New Market is an abomination, a disgrace, and a denigration of those brave young VMI cadets in 1864 who fought and died not to invade another country, as the U.S. government has done in Iraq, but instead to resist the invasion of their homeland by the U.S. government.
The Pentagon is free to name its operations in Iraq anything it wants but it should leave VMI’s New Market heroes out of it.
Jacob Hornberger is a 1972 graduate of VMI.