Today in History:

Salem Church

Battle Name: Salem Church
Other Names: Banks’ Ford
State: Virginia
Location: Spotsylvania County
Campaign: Chancellorsville Campaign (April-May 1863)
Dates: May 3-4, 1863
Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick [US]; Gen. Robert E. Lee [CS]
Forces Engaged: Corps
Estimated Casualties: 5,000 total

After occupying Marye’s Heights on May 3, Sedgwick’s VI Corps marched out on the Plank Road with the objective of reaching Hooker’s force at Chancellorsville. He was delayed by Wilcox’s brigade of Early’s force at Salem Church. During the afternoon and night, Lee detached two of his divisions from the Chancellorsville lines and marched them to Salem Church. Several Union assaults were repulsed the next morning with heavy casualties, and the Confederates counterattacked, gaining some ground. After dark, Sedgwick withdrew across two pontoon bridges at Scott’s Dam under a harassing artillery fire. Hearing that Sedgwick had been repulsed, Hooker abandoned the campaign, recrossing on the night of May 5-6 to the north bank of the Rappahannock.


On May 3, 1863, 10,000 Confederate troops took position astride the Orange Plank Road (modern Va. Route 3). That afternoon, 20,000 Union soldiers under General John Sedgwick, marching westward from Fredericksburg, attacked the Confederates here, trying to break through to strike the rear of Lee's army at Chancellorsville. The fighting raged along the ridge extending several hundred yards to the right and left.

The climax of the fighting swirled around Salem Church itself. Here Sedgwick's Federals, swarming up the ridge, broke through the Southern line. But the Confederates surged back again, sealed the breach, and drove the Federals down the slope. They would not return. The next day General Lee himself arrived with reinforcements, enveloped the Federals, and pushed them across the Rappahannock.

The Confederate victory at Salem Church preserved Lee's position at Chancellorsville, clinching his triumph. Still Lee lamented that the Federal army had escaped at all.

Results: Confederate victory

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