Though obstinately fighting for a foothold near the church, Brooks had thus been unable to maintain it, and he has fallen back with a loss of nearly fifteen hundred men. Reaching his guns, where Newton has meanwhile formed in support of his right, and where part of Howe’s division later falls in upon his left, the enemy, which has vigorously followed up his retreat, is met with a storm of grape and canister at short range, the distance of our batteries from the woods being not much over five hundred yards. So admirably served are the guns, as McLaws states, that it is impossible to make head against this new line; and the Confederates sullenly retire to their position near the church, which they had so successfully held against our gallant assaults, followed, but not seriously engaged, by a new line of Brooks’s and Newton’s regiments.
Wheaton’s brigade manages to hold on in a somewhat advanced position on the right, where Mahone had been re-enforced from Wofford’s line; but our left, after the second unsuccessful attempt to wrest more advanced ground from the enemy, definitely retires to a line a short mile from Salem Church.
The Confederate artillery had been out of ammunition, and unable to engage seriously in this conflict. Their fighting had been confined to the infantry regiments. But our own guns had borne a considerable share in the day’s work, and had earned their laurels well.
It was now dark, and both lines bivouacked in line of battle.
Gen. Russell was placed in command of our front line.
The Union wounded were sent to Fredericksburg.
Gen. Warren, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, passes the following comment upon this action:—
“Gen. Sedgwick carried the heights at Fredericksburg, and then moved on about three miles farther, and had a fight at Salem heights, but could not carry them. I think that by fighting the battle at Salem heights differently, we might have won that place also.”
“Gen. Brooks carried Salem heights, but not being closely enough supported by other troops, he could not hold the heights. It was just one of those wavering things that a moment settles. If we had been stronger at that moment, we would have won; not being so, they won.”
It is probable, that, had Brooks’s attack been delayed until Newton and Howe could reach the scene, their support might have enabled him to keep possession of the ground he came so near to holding single-handed. But it was a dashing fight, deserving only praise; and it is doubtful whether the capture of Salem heights would have materially altered the event. It was the eccentric handling of the Chancellorsville wing which determined the result of this campaign. Sedgwick’s corps could effect nothing by its own unaided efforts.
Sedgwick in difficulty.