For the first two days of May 1863, the boom of distant guns rattled the windows of Salem Church. Eight miles to the west, at Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee's main Confederate army battered a Union army nearly twice its size. Four miles to the east, a smaller Confederate force resisted a Union crossing at Fredericksburg. The handful of farmers who lived around Salem Church probably took comfort that the gunfire indeed seemed distant.
That suddenly changed on the afternoon of May 3. The Federals broke through at Fredericksburg and headed west on the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 3). Lee moved quickly eastward with 8,000 men to stop them. The collision came on this ridge - the first substantial high ground west of Fredericksburg. Confederates held a mile-long line centered on the church and after a brief but furious battle, repulsed the Federals.
(Map caption): To fight at Salem Church, Lee divided his army at Chancellorsville (43,000 men) in the face of hooker's main force - more than 80,000 men. The gamble worked. Lee defeated the Federals here at Salem Church, then returned to Chancellorsville to confront Hooker's main force again. Hooker retreated on May 6.
(Picture caption): Salem Church shown about 1890.