The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta


Fought on July 28, 1864, the Battle of Ezra Church was a dramatic engagement during the Civil War's Atlanta Campaign. Confederate forces under John Bell Hood desperately fought to stop William T. Sherman's advancing armies as they tried to cut the last Confederate supply line into the city. Confederates under General Stephen D. Lee nearly overwhelmed the Union right flank, but Federals under General Oliver O. Howard decisively repelled every attack. After five hours of struggle, 5,000 Confederates lay dead and wounded, while only 632 Federals were lost. The result was another major step in Sherman's long effort to take Atlanta.

Hess's compelling study is the first book-length account of the fighting at Ezra Church. Detailing Lee's tactical missteps and Howard's vigilant leadership, he challenges many common misconceptions about the battle. Richly narrated and drawn from an array of unpublished manuscripts and firsthand accounts, Hess's work sheds new light on the complexities and significance of this important engagement, both on and off the battlefield.


Heavy musketry suddenly erupted near Ezra Church a short distance west of Atlanta at noon on July 28, 1864. the sound signaled the beginning of the third battle fought for Atlanta since Gen. John Bell Hood took command of the Army of Tennessee only ten days before. Pressed to the gates of Atlanta after conducting a fighting retreat from Dalton since early May, the Confederates were desperate to stop Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army group from entering the city. They failed to gain an advantage over the Federals at Peachtree Creek on July 20 but nearly crushed Sherman’s left, held by the Union Army of the Tennessee, on July 22. That large battle, however, resulted in a defensive victory for Sherman’s men even though Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson was killed.

Those two battles did not derail Sherman’s strategic plan. Rather than waste men in frontal attacks against the strong City Line of Atlanta, he pursued a strategy of snipping the railroads that fed Hood’s army in the city. the last one now remaining entered Atlanta from the south. Under its new commander, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, the Army of the Tennessee moved from east of Atlanta to the west of the city on July 27. the next day, it deployed a line extending the Union presence southward, aiming at the rail link south of Atlanta. Hood moved three divisions of his army to meet Howard and placed Lieut. Gen. Stephen D. Lee in charge of an effort to block the move and set up a flank attack on Howard the next day. Having taken his command only the day before, Lee was young, inexperienced, and new to the Army of Tennessee. He made a snap decision on reaching the area late on the morning of July 28; he would immediately attack Howard instead of just blocking him.

Thus began one of the most intense battles of the Civil War, dominated almost completely by small arms fire delivered by veteran Union troops against determined but uncoordinated Confederate attacks. For about five hours those attacks kept coming across a shallow valley between the opposing lines, desperately urged on by Lee in an effort to justify his decision to . . .

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