The Confederate Second Line today

Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes division arrived in the vicinity of Spotsylvania Courthouse during the late afternoon of May 8, 1864. It immediately went into position on the right of Kershaw’s 1st Corps division which was in danger of being outflanked.

At first they were successful in driving the Federals back, but in the growing darkness confusion reigned and some units blundered into Federals losing quite a few men taken prisoner. As a result Rodes ordered his men to fall back several hundred yards to the crest of a ridge. There they aligned themselves and began to dig in.


Sometime later, probably the following day it became apparent that a swale on the divisions right would be a weak point. This was also the junction of Doles Georgia Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade of Johnson’s Division. So to support that point, work was begun a second line of works. This line would begin on the crest of the ridge, then loop back and cross the McCoull field behind Doles line.

When Upton’s command broke Rodes line at Doles Salient on the 10th his men continued on into the mcCoull field for several hundred yards. They also expanded the breach to both the right and left. In doing so they broke over the second line where it intersects the main line. Today we call that the reentrant line. When the Confederates counterattacked they regained their works as the second line. However they were unable to go any further against fierce Federal opposition. However shortly after nightfall the Federals withdrew and the Confederate position was restored.

Whether the line originally extended on behind the Stonewall’s line at this point is questionable. We know that the Stonewall had two regiments, the 2nd and the 33rd, in the field from the evening of the 8th until they were overrun on the 12th. A lieutenant in the 33rd would write that a line of rifle pits was constructed at 2 pm on the 11th. This was probably meant to mean extending the line behind his regiment.

During the battle of May 12th the Federals captured virtually all of the Second line other than today’s reentrant line. Their success was short lived however as disorganization and a series of counterattacks by various Confederate brigades, led by Ramseur’s North Carolinian’s quickly drove them back to the main line. With that the line probably became a control point for the Confederates the rest of the day, as well as the Federals in their abortive attack on Lee’s Final Line on the 18th.

Regardless, the line has survived, with the exception of a gap of say 50 or so yards to this day. That gap was made sometime after a 1916 map, which shows the line intact, was drawn. Who created that gap is currently unknown but we can speculate that it was the CCC. Regardless it exists.

So follow us as we walk the second Confederate line, which played such an important role in the battles of May 10th and May 12th.

So there you have it. A look at the second line entrenchment as it exists today. I invite comment on whether you find this format useful.




About Russ

Avid student of military history as well as amateur historian. Has a keen interest in archaeology. Founded his company in 2004.
This entry was posted in artillery in the Overland Campaign, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Doles Salient, Earthworks and trenchs, field fortifications, Mule Shoe, Overland Campaign 1864, Richmond Howitzers, Uncategorized, Upton's Charge and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Confederate Second Line today

  1. Julia Steele says:

    This is very useful. I loved your explication of the gun positions. For people who haven’t been to Spotsylvania before, as well as for those who have, your tour gives a preview/ post view of what to look for on the landscape.


    • Russ says:

      Thank you. As you may have heard I love the micro view of the battlefield. Again I believe that this is a case where we can say with a degree of certainty that at this particular moment in time this was the situation. There is another similar situation on the other side of the Muleshoe that I will be addressing later.
      Tomorrow I’m going out with my mapping GPS and look at that section of earthworks in front of Doles Salient. It apparently wasn’t mapped in 1916, they may have done it in 2003, but regardless it has a story to tell.
      I look forward to talking to you in person.


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