Several posts today have discussed the fighting at Laurel Hill, where Major General G. K. Warren’s V Corps frittered away its numerical advantage in piecemeal attacks on the morning of May 8, 1864. Warren’s decisionmaking that morning has rightly been castigated, but there is a detail that commentators seem to have overlooked.
Ten years ago, while researching in Warren’s papers at the New York State Library, I found a map of Spotsylvania County with the notation in Warren’s handwriting that he used it during the 1864 campaign. It is impressively accurate and detailed, except in one spot – Laurel Hill. (Regrettably, the map was too big to reproduce at the time.)
As the V Corps moved south along Brock Road, the VI Corps moved via Piney Branch Church Road and joined the Brock Road about 2 miles north of Laurel Hill. But Warren’s map showed that Piney Branch Church Road joined the Brock Road at Laurel Hill, at a spot just past the V Corps’ left flank. Warren’s map told him that VI Corps would march on a clear road to the battlefield and arrive that morning at precisely the best spot to support the V Corps; in reality VI Corps was jammed on the Brock Road and failed to get in line until late on the 8th.
This crucial detail begs the question: how much did this geographic misunderstanding influence Warren’s thinking that morning? Did he (a trained topographer) base his tactics on a flawed understanding of the road network?
Image at top: Warren at Laurel Hill, May 8, 1864.