The Battle of Ezra Church

July 28, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee looked to attack one of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies while in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s command.

The Federal Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard, had been holding a line east of Atlanta. Sherman directed the force to shift to the west and south, to the other side of the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland. Howard’s ultimate objective was the intersection of two railroads (the Atlanta & West Point and the Macon & Western) at East Point.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood learned of Howard’s movement and developed a plan to ambush his army while it was in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s Federals. Hood selected the crossroads at Ezra Church, west of Atlanta, to launch his surprise assault. Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps was posted behind breastworks near the crossroads, facing north.

Sherman did not expect Hood to react to Howard’s movement so quickly, but Howard, who had been Hood’s classmate at West Point, knew better. As his Federals approached the Ezra Church crossroads, they were ordered to quickly build makeshift defenses, just before Lee launched his attack.

The Confederates assailed what they thought to be Howard’s vulnerable right flank, only to find it strongly defended by Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps. Logan positioned his Federals at a right angle to the rest of Howard’s line to better defend against the assaults.

Ezra Church battle map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals repelled three charges, inflicting heavy casualties in the process. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate corps then came up on Lee’s left and tried turning the Federal right to no avail. Both Stewart and Major General William W. Loring, commanding a division under Stewart, were wounded. Howard feared that he would soon be outnumbered and called for reinforcements, but the Confederates disengaged before they arrived.

Had Sherman counterattacked the Confederate left, he could have destroyed the force and left Hood with just one last corps to defend Atlanta. However, Sherman did not recognize this opportunity due to an erroneous map.

Like the battles at Peachtree Creek and outside Atlanta, the Confederates sustained heavy losses that they could not replace. Hood lost as many as 5,000 men (and an estimated 18,000 since taking command), while Howard lost just 562. Hood’s other corps commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, later said, “No action of the campaign probably did so much to demoralize and dishearten the troops engaged in it.”

Another desperate Confederate assault on an isolated Federal army had failed, but Hood at least prevented Howard’s Federals from reaching the Atlanta & West Point Railroad for now. Having lost up to a third of his army, Hood could now only act on the defensive, and he ordered his troops to withdraw to the fortifications outside Atlanta. From these defenses, the Confederates temporarily stopped Sherman’s drive down the west side of the city.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-36; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 526; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 440-41; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10244-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 476; Linedecker, Clifford L (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 98-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 547; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 754-55; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

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