During the Civil War the Shenandoah Valley was a natural pathway for invasion for both of the contending armies; it was also vital to the safety of Washington, D.C. On May 15, 1864 the South's General J. C. Breckinridge defeated General Franz Sigel at New Market, a victory in which the cadets of Virginia Military Institute figured strongly. At the beginning of the war it was Stonewall Jackson's valley, with a legend of inviolability, but Jackson had died in '63. The valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. . . was Paradise, a place of extraordinary romantic beauty. General Sigel was a German with a terrible fighting record who had been politically placed in charge of a tremendous backwoods area including all of Maryland and West Virginia and parts of Virginia. Breckinridge had run for the presidency in 1860 and placed second to Lincoln; now Sigel's forces outnumbered him four to one and he set about garnering new troops. Every tree in the valley was in bloom when the battle began with preliminary skirmishes and diversions to harass Sigel. A call for assistance went to the V.M.I. cadets, mostly boys aged 18, some as young as 15, who went wild with cheering: they were the most fiercely motivated soldiers on either side, and proved magnificent. At the sleepy hamlet of New Market, Breckinridge brilliantly outmaneuvered Sigel, first with an artillery duel, then by retaining complete authority over the terrain and placing his troops exactly where he wanted them, despite a lightning storm that sprang up. Straightforward military history in a lush setting. Civil War buffs will find Davis to be more than competent.