Friday, April 25, 2014

History lost: Salem Church (Va.) battlefield

     Pan to left to see the 23rd New Jersey monument. Pan to right to see Salem Church.

Nearly hidden, this battlefield marker is
 near Salem Church.
As fellow blogger John Cummings noted in my post on the loss to development of the Harris Farm battlefield, there have been major preservation victories in Spotsylvania County (Va.), where four major Civil War battles took place. For example, a huge development was stopped at the site of major fighting that occurred at Chancellorsville on May 1, 1863. But sadly, Cummings noted, among "horrific losses" are sites such as the Brown Farm, where Winfield Scott Hancock launched his assault on the Mule Shoe on May 12, 1863, and Myer's Hill, where George Meade was nearly captured two days later. The Salem Church battlefield, which I visited for the first time in early April, is another one of those major defeats for preservationists.

An interchange built in the 1960s on I-95 spawned massive development along State Route 3 (the historic Orange Turnpike), leading to the destruction of the site where Union and Confederate armies suffered more than 9,500 casualties on May 3, 1863. Even the National Park Service web site concedes: "Salem Church is located amongst a virtual sea of shopping malls."

The Mysteries and Conundrums blog explains the loss in greater detail  and provides two neat photos of what the battlefield looked like before it was virtually wiped out. Salem Church, behind Rebel lines during the battle and used as a field hospital, remains -- an island in a sea of asphalt and other urban clutter. I shot the interactive panorama above during my visit, amazingly not capturing six-lane State Route 3 when it was packed with traffic.
Six-lane State Route 3 makes visiting Salem Church a challenge. (Google Maps)

      Salem Church battlefield has been nearly obliterated by development. (Google Maps)

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