Streetwise Professor

July 27, 2014

Ezra Church, 150 Years Later

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 8:36 pm

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ezra Church, the third of Hood’s assaults against Sherman’s army that attempted to stop the encirclement of Atlanta.

The story of the battle is relatively simple. After cutting the rail line leading into the city from the east, Sherman moved in what has been characterized as one of his whip-like movements to cut the line running in from Macon to the west. As always, the Army of the Tennessee was the tip of the whip. As it moved south to the west of the city, Hood moved Stephen D. Lee’s and Alexander P. Stewart’s corps out of the city’s defenses in the hopes of surprising the Army of the Tennessee (now under the command of very Eastern general Oliver O. Howard, much to the chagrin of very Western general John A. Logan). But the Union troops anticipated the attack, deployed from their marching formation and formed a V-shaped line. Like veterans on all fronts by the summer of 1864, they immediately started to dig in. Not so much dig, really as collect logs, lumber, and even the pews from Ezra Church, which they piled up to form a makeshift breastwork. Here are some contemporary woodcuts that show the impromptu entrenchments:



Toshiba Digital Camera

The battle itself was never really in doubt. The Confederates gained ground on the Union right flank, but Logan (back in command of the XVth Corps) led a counterattack by two regiments (the 40th Illinois and 6th Iowa) which drove off the Rebels. The Iowans lost Major Ennis, a beloved officer who had served since Shiloh.

The 46th Ohio fought at Ezra Church. One of its members, Sergeant Harry Davis, won the Medal of Honor by advancing in front of the lines to wrest a flag from its dying bearer, as illustrated here in another contemporary print:


Other than the fleeting success on the Union right, the Confederate assaults made no progress. The casualties tell the tale. The Union lost about 650 men, the Confederates almost 5 times as many. Of the three assaults in July, this was the one with most disparate losses and the least tactical success. Whereas the Confederates did achieve some local successes at Peachtree Creek and Atlanta. They achieved none at Ezra Church.

The responsibility for actually carrying out the attack lies with Stephen D. Lee. Hood was performing the role of army commander, remaining at his headquarters in Atlanta.

Speaking of Hood, my Battle of Atlanta post generated several thoughtful comments about him. Serendipitously, this weekend I saw a program on CSPAN3 (yes, I am that much of a geek about this stuff) in which a biographer of Hood, Stephen Hood (a distant relation) made a pretty persuasive case that Hood has been unfairly maligned. He presented evidence that many of the anecdotes told at Hood’s expense were specious. He was particularly critical of historian Wiley Sword (whom I know some) for distorting the evidence in his savage attacks on Hood’s generalship, his humanity, and indeed his mental health. He further claims that there is no evidence that Hood actually used opiates, though of course absence of evidence is not definitive evidence of absence.

Overall, his defense was somewhat persuasive, though it cannot and did not answer the brutal facts of Franklin and Nashville. When time permits, I might dig into the sources cited by Hood and Sword to see who gets the better of the argument. Maybe I’ll have a chance to do that by the end of November, when the sesquicentennial of Franklin rolls around.

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  1. Street:

    If Vlad has not recommended it & you have not seen it, the battlefield at Pickett’s Mill near Marietta is an EXCELLENT example of how on a two-dimensional map, the attacks seem like folly. To understand the battle, one must actually visit & walk the battlefield. If you haven’t been, on your next sojourn to Atlanta, it is a short drive north & west of the city.

    If we have discussed this at length previously, please forgive Vlad. He has been practicing ‘Flexibility’ with the mental midget currently occupying the WH.


    Comment by Vlad — August 1, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

  2. Hi, Vlad. Welcome back.

    Pickett’s Mill is an excellent battlefield. I’ve been there 3 times over the years since the state park opened in 1990. You do really need to experience the terrain to understand the battle, and the field is compact enough you can really grasp the entire action.

    I actually visited the area before it became a state park. My mother, who was a saint, took me on several battlefield trips when I was in junior high and high school. On one of the high school trips we visited the vicinity of the battlefield, driving along back roads looking for historical markers and peering through the woods from the roadside trying to get an idea of where the battle was fought.

    One of my recollections from my 1990 trip to the area was driving down old US 41. It was mid-May, and while on a side road looking for another historical marker, I came upon a Junior Samples lookalike, complete with straw hat, bare feet, bib overalls (with no shirt) and a neck as red as a stop light plowing a field . . . behind a mule. Unfortunately, this was before the days of camera phones, so the image lives on only in my memory.

    Speaking of historical markers, whereas back in the day you were lucky if you could get your hands on a state-published book that catalogued the markers and their locations, now Georgia has all the markers online, complete with text, maps, and GPS coordinates.

    Back to Pickett’s Mill. My great-grandmother’s brother was shot a day after that battle, at the Battle of Dallas, 28 May, 1864. Unfortunately, that battlefield is not well-preserved.

    Thanks for the thought. Glad you enjoyed Pickett’s Mill. It is a gem.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 2, 2014 @ 5:38 am

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