The VMI Corps of Cadets fought as a unit at the Battle of New Market, Virginia, on May 15, 1864. The cadets, numbering 257, were organized into a battalion of four companies of Infantry and one section of Artillery. Ten cadets were killed in battle or died later from the effects of their wounds; 45 were wounded. The youngest participating cadet was fifteen; the oldest twenty-five.
On May 10, 1864, the VMI Corps of Cadets was ordered to join Gen. John C. Breckinridge's Confederate forces near Staunton, Virginia. After marching nearly 85 miles northward, the Corps arrived at New Market on Sunday morning May 15, 1864. Gen. Franz Sigel's Union troops, positioned atop Bushong's Hill, raked the Confederate line with cannon and musketry creating a gap in the line. Remarkably, the cadets helped close the gap, allowing the Confederate forces to regroup and push back the Union army. Breckenridge forced Sigel and his men to retreat, securing the battlefield for the Confederacy. Many cadets lost their footwear in the freshly plowed soil, turned to thick mud after several days of rain. That section of the battlefield became known as the “Field of Lost Shoes.”