4054 Plank Road, Fredericksburg, Virginia
The Battle of Salem Church
The ridge top now brimming with traffic and commerce once witnessed the clash of armies. 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 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 fight raged along this ridge extending several hundred yards to your right and left.
The climax of the fighting swirled around Salem Church itself. Here Sedwick’s Federals, swarming up the ridge toward you, 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.
From Church to Hospital
As the tumult of battle subsided, new sounds filled the air: the cries and moans of wounded soldiers. Two days of fighting around Salem Church left about 4,000 men killed or wounded. As soon as the battle ended, Confederate surgeons turned the building into a field hospital. Their work saved hundreds of lives. Still, 92 Union soldiers and an unknown number of Confederates died at the church and were buried just outside its doors. For several days, surgeons worked tirelessly inside the church, bandaging wounds, administering anesthesia, and removing injured arms, legs, hands, and feet. The human suffering was immense.
The sight inside the building for horror, was, perhaps, never equaled within so limited a space. Every available foot of space was crowded with wounded and bleeding soldiers. The amputated limbs were piled up in every corner almost as high as a man could reach; blood flowed in streams along the aisles and out at the doors….
Colonel Robert McMillan, 24th Georgia
Other Park Service markers at Salem Church – click on any of the thumbnails to view the full readable image.