The arrival of contending armies in December 1862 forced thousands of residents to leave Fredericksburg. Most fled into the countryside, bound for homes or churches in Spotsylvania County. One Confederate officer remembered seeing old women, children with dolls, and mothers carrying a baby in one hand and a bag of flour in the other. "Where they were going we could not tell," he wrote, "and I doubt if they could." Several hundred ended up here at Salem Church.
Some were cooking outside in genuine gypsy fashion, and those who were inform or sick were trying to get some rest in the cold, bare church. The leafless trees, through which the winter wind sobbed mournfully, the scattered groups seen through the smoke of numerous fires, and the road, upon which passed constantly back and forth ambulances and wagons full of wounded soldiers, presented a gloomy and saddening spectacle.
Francis Bernard Goolrick, resident of Fredericksburg