by Earl J. Hess
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. xvi, 292.
Illus., maps, tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 1469622416
John Bell Hood Gets a Bloody Nose
Prof. Hess (Lincoln Memorial University), author of Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, Civil War Infantry Tactics, Kennesaw Mountain, and a number of other works on war in the West and particularly the Atlanta Campaign, gives us the first monograph on the Battle of Ezra Church (July 28, 1864). One of some fifteen battles over several months caused by William Sherman’s efforts to take Atlanta, which Confederate generals Joe Johnston and John Bell Hood sought to prevent, it Ezra Church was an unusually hard fought fight with unusually one-sided results.
Union Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, with some 13,000 troops, was threatening a rail junction about two miles west of Atlanta, and Hood, who had about 18,000 men, decided to throw him back with a flank attack. Howard – not usually thought of as a cerebral commander –anticipated Hood’s plan, and put his men to throwing up improvised defenses. Despite being assaulted from two sides, the intense fire of the defending Union troops inflicted some 3,000 to 5,000 casualties on Hoods Confederates, at a loss to themselves of only about 600, giving the Union one of the most lopsided victories of the war.
Hess’s detailed account, with many personal recollections that help create a vivid picture of the fighting. He offers insights into the complex command relationships in both armies, in neither of which did the generals constitute a “band of brothers”, quarreling among themselves almost as intensely as they fought the enemy. He also offers a useful critical analysis of many of the on the spot decisions made by various commanders, and sets discusses the impact of the action on the overall campaign to take Atlanta, which would not fall until nearly six weeks later.
A volume in the UNC series “Civil War America”, The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta is a very well written, readable battle piece, though perhaps best suited for the more seasoned student of the Civil War than the novice.