Battle of Salem ChurchSalem Baptist Church, Plank Ro
After occupying Marye's Heights on May 3, following the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick's VI Corps of about 23,000 men marched out on the Orange Plank Road with the objective of reaching his superior Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's force at Chancellorsville. He was delayed by Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox's brigade of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early's force during the afternoon of May 3 before halting at Salem Church.
After receiving word of Sedgwick's breakthrough at Fredericksburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee detached the division of Lafayette McLaws from the Chancellorsville lines and marched them to Salem Church. McLaws's division arrived at Wilcox's position around Salem Church shortly after noon, reinforced by William Mahone's brigade of Richard H. Anderson's division.
At first Sedgwick believed that he faced a single brigade of infantry, so about 3:30 p.m. he attacked the Confederate positions with only William T. H. Brooks division. Brooks succeeded in driving back McLaws's right flank but a counterattack stopped the Union attack and forced Brooks to retreat back to his original position; sunset ended the combat before any further units were involved. During the night, Lee ordered Early to attack Sedgwick's left flank in the morning, while McLaws attacked the Union right. Also during the night, Sedgwick received no further orders from Hooker other than authorization to retreat across the river if Sedgwick thought the move was necessary.