Battle of Ezra Church
The Battle of Ezra Church took place on July 28, 1864. The battle was part of the Atlanta Campaign in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The Confederate forces were led by General John Bell Hood and Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee and the Union forces by General William T. Sherman and Major General Oliver Howard. The result was a Union victory, with the Confederates losing 3000 men while the Union lost 642. The goal of the Confederates was to keep the Union forces from blocking railroad lines, which, despite the loss of the battle, was successful.
Engraving of the battle by Theodore R. Davis for Harper's Weekly
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Backstory and Context
Before the battle, Major General Oliver Howard’s forces formed lines near a small Methodist church called Ezra Church, just west of Atlanta. When the Union Army started to move south towards Lick Skillet Rd they began encountering resistance from Confederate forces. Bombardment from Confederate cannons began as General Sherman approached. Howard then ordered his troops to erect barricades from rails, logs, church pews. The Confederates continued to fire on the Union forces from the surrounding forest, forcing many of them to lie behind their improvised parapets.
Confederate forces charged three times on the Union’s right flank but were repulsed each time. After repeated failures, the Confederate forces moved against Harrow and Wood’s brigade of Union forces. This sapped the Confederates of needed forces, so Confederate Brigadier General Gibson sent in more troops to support the failing soldiers against Harrow’s forces; this failed, however, and they were driven back and forced to withdraw from the battle against the Union brigades.
Lieutenant General Lee attempted to force the Union forces out into the open by pushing them from their fortified positions. The Confederates assault failed twice, and they were forced to withdraw once more. The next attack of Confederate forces against Union entrenchments saw heavy fire where the Union forces fired back “shot for shot, and then some.”
Orders then come down from General Hood that Lee is to “hold the enemy, but not to do more fighting than necessary, unless you get a decided advantage.” The Confederate forces at this time gave up trying to win the battle and instead settled on stalling Union forces. The Confederate forces under Lee were forced to withdraw completely and concede the battle to the Union forces. The Union forces sustained 642 casualties while the Confederate sustained a much larger 3,000 casualties.
Castrel, Albert. Decision In The West, The Atlanta Campaign of 1864. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1992
Ecelbarger, Gary L. Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church 1864. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.
Hess, Earl. The Battle of Ezra Church and the struggle for Atlanta. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
McMurry, Richard. Atlanta 1864: last chance for the Confederacy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.