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Battle of Salem Church, May 3-4, 1863

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This is a contributing entry for Battle of Salem Church, May 3-4, 1863 and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

Salem Church, Part I: At the end of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s Union VI Corps held Marye’s Heights while Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division retreated down the Telegraph Road to the south of Fredericksburg. Sedgwick immediately wanted to move west to connect with the main Union army at Chancellorsville, but had to reconsolidate the three divisions of his corps on the Orange Plank Road. 

Major General John Sedgwick

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Union and Confederate positions at the end of Second Fredericksburg, May 3 (map by Kathleen Thompson)

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Soldiers of the New Jersey Brigade (Brooks' Division) behind the railroad embankment near the Bowling Green Road. Photographed by Captain A. J. Russell on May 3, 1863.

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Brigadier General William T.H. Brooks, commanding First Division, VI Corps

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Brigadier General Albion P. Howe, commanding Second Division, VI Corps

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Major General John Newton, commanding Third Division, VI Corps

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Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps had achieved what in December 1862 had been impossible, the breach of the Confederate line on Marye’s Heights. With Major General Jubal Early’s Division in retreat down the Telegraph Road, the opportunity to follow and destroy that section of Lee’s army was tempting, but Joseph Hooker’s orders to Sedgwick were clear. Sedgwick needed to move west on the Plank Road towards Chancellorsville. The problem was, his Corps were scattered and he needed time to reorganize his men for the march west. After taking Marye’s Heights and sorting out the Confederate prisoners, Major General John Newton’s Third Division was assembling on the heights by the Plank Road. Brigadier General Albion Howe’s Second Division was still fighting the retreating Confederates down the Telegraph Road and Brigadier General William T. H. Brooks’ First Division was still entrenched on the Bowling Green Road. Sedgwick needed to reconsolidate his corps on the Plank Road to move towards Chancellorsville.

During the assault on Marye’s Heights, the First Division of Brig. Gen. Brooks remained on the Bowling Green Road, watching the assault at Fredericksburg and exchanging artillery fire with Confederate guns on the heights in front of them. Once Marye’s Heights was in Union hands Sedgwick ordered Brooks to start advancing his division towards Fredericksburg. Brooks still had a Confederate force in front of him, however, as the brigades of Brigadier Generals John B. Gordon and William Smith were still holding the heights near Prospect Hill. Seeing Gordon’s men reposition near Deep Run, Brooks was unsure if the enemy line was preparing to move forward in attack, and Confederate artillery fire still targeted his men. This slowed his ability to move up the Bowling Green Road to join Sedgewick at Fredericksburg. Once the Confederate force in front of them was pulled back to Early’s new line at the Cox House, Brooks was able to put the First and Second Brigades in marching order and start towards Fredericksburg. The Third Brigade of Brig. Gen. David Russell, still at Franklin’s Crossing, also started moving north up the road. 

Furgurson, Ernest B. Chancellorsville, 1863: The Souls of the Brave. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Gallagher, Gary W. The Battle of Chancellorsville. National Park Civil War Series. Eastern National, 2007.

Parsons, Philip W. The Union Sixth Army Corps in the Chancellorsville Campaign: A Study of the Engagements of Second Fredericksburg, Salem Church and Banks’s Ford, May 3-4, 1863. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006.

Sutherland, Daniel E. Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville: The Dare Mark Campaign. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

"John Sedgwick." Wikipedia. Accessed June 21. 2021.

Map by Kathleen Thompson

"Second Battle of Fredericksburg." Wikipedia. Accessed June 18, 2021.

"William T. H. Brooks." Wikipedia. Accessed June 21, 2021.

"Albion P. Howe." Wikipedia. Accessed June 21, 2021.

"John Newton (engineer)." Wikipedia. Accessed June 21, 2021.