The Battle of Ezra Church

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#1
I’m reading the Earl Hess book on Ezra Church. Just wondering what you think about General Stephen D Lee disobeying Hood’s order by making the decision to attack Howard instead of taking a defensive position.
 

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#3
Lee had no business in command imo. If, if, he had a coordinated attack instead of the piecemeal mess that had no weight to it he may have done better. It was a disaster from the beginning. Seems to be a typical AoT blunder.
 
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#4
I’m reading the Earl Hess book on Ezra Church. Just wondering what you think about General Stephen D Lee disobeying Hood’s order by making the decision to attack Howard instead of taking a defensive position.
It is a good question for thought.

Initially, Lee's instincts may have been correct. Logan's skirmishers were threatening the crossroad that Stewart's corps needed to make its' march to place itself on the Federal right. However, as Hess points out, a mere counter-skirmish line could have accomplished this or otherwise a small reconnaissance in force. What Lee should not have done, but proceeded to do, was throw in division after division piecemeal once it became clear that Brown's division was facing serious resistance beyond the crossroads.

Hood behaved rather similarly as a corps commander at Kolb's Farm. When Hooker's Twentieth Corps skirmishers pressed him, Hood responded by sending Hindman's division (the division Brown would lead at Ezra Church) and Stevenson's division in an assault over uneven ground that came apart with significant losses without much gained.
 
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#5
It is a good question for thought.

Initially, Lee's instincts may have been correct. Logan's skirmishers were threatening the crossroad that Stewart's corps needed to make its' march to place itself on the Federal right. However, as Hess points out, a mere counter-skirmish line could have accomplished this or otherwise a small reconnaissance in force. What Lee should not have done, but proceeded to do, was throw in division after division piecemeal once it became clear that Brown's division was facing serious resistance beyond the crossroads.

Hood behaved rather similarly as a corps commander at Kolb's Farm. When Hooker's Twentieth Corps skirmishers pressed him, Hood responded by sending Hindman's division (the division Brown would lead at Ezra Church) and Stevenson's division in an assault over uneven ground that came apart with significant losses without much gained.
I talked or rather emailed Professor & Hostorian Brandon Beck from Columbus, MS. on this matter.
 
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#6
Hood's Corps could never catch a break in this campaign.
Stevenson's and Stewart's attack against the XX Corps at Reseca
Stevenson's and Hindman's attack at Kolb Farm
Bald Hill
And here at Ezra Church
No wonder Hood focused on using Hardee's/Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps so often in the Franklin Campaign. He used up his own Corps
 
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#7
Lee's decision turned out to be wrong. However, Hood's orders impliedly gave Lee the discretion to attack to secure the Lick Skillet Road.
The real mistake was made in holding Lee's corps near Atlanta for several hours that morning, which delayed their arrival at the Lick Skillet Road. An earlier arrival would have allowed Lee's men to form a defensive line protecting the road, as originally planned.
 
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#8
Hood's Corps could never catch a break in this campaign.
Stevenson's and Stewart's attack against the XX Corps at Reseca
Stevenson's and Hindman's attack at Kolb Farm
Bald Hill
And here at Ezra Church
No wonder Hood focused on using Hardee's/Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps so often in the Franklin Campaign. He used up his own Corps
There were several reasons for this. The corps leadership was decimated. Hindman was blinded and forced out of active duty, and his division was temporarily commanded by Brown before being assigned to Patton Anderson, who was himself wounded and forced out of duty. Edward C. Johnson, recently exchanged after his capture at Spotsylvania, took command of this division. But Johnson had mobility issues, and this would lead to his recapture at Nashville. Stewart's Division, "Little Giants" though they were, went to Clayton after Stewart took over Polk's old command. Clayton was a solid officer if not spectacular, but he was still new to the division's command during Atlanta, his first battle as a division commander having been Bald Hill. This left the most experienced division commander of Hood's Corps, Carter L. Stevenson, but arguably this was the commander that Hood trusted the least.

When Hood assumed army command, he immediately requested that Wade Hampton, Richard Taylor, or Mansfield Lovell take permanent command as he felt Stevenson was entirely unsuitable. Until Lee was assigned, Hood plucked Cheatham from Hardee's Corps as a temporary corps commanders.
 
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#9
Lt. General Stephen D. Lee (promoted 23 Jun 1864) had only arrived to Atlanta on 25 Jul 1864, slightly less than three days before the battle of Ezra Church was fought. He arrived with 3,500 dismounted cavalry Troops to be used as entrenched Infantry. Most blame Lee for the loss at Ezra Church, who commanded one of the two corps sent by Hood to oppose Howard's advance on the Macon & Western Railroad. Lee was supposed to stop and entrench his corps to hold Howard in place and wait for Stewart's corps to arrive. Initially Stewart's corps was supposed to attack the flank of the Federals, however, as Lee's corps arrived he began sending his men in piecemeal assaults on the entrenched Federal line rather than wait for Stewart. That resulted in nothing but a waste of about 3,000 men with nothing to show for it.

Part of the blame for Ezra Church should be placed on General Hood for withholding Lee from moving throughout most of the morning of the battle, which allowed Howard time to gain the high ground and entrench his forces by the time Lee arrived. That still doesn't excuse Lee's actions that day. Brig. General William Hicks "Red Fox" Jackson also took part in the fighting at Ezra Church with Lee.

Brig. General Samuel Wragg Ferguson, under whom the 2nd Alabama Cavalry was attached in his Cavalry Brigade, stated in his Journal that later that night, after the severe losses that Lee suffered at Ezra Church, that he visited him at his tent and he commented on the agony that Lt. General S. D. Lee had endured on account of the slaughter of his men earlier that day at Ezra Church. He held himself to blame and was lamenting heavily for the loss of so many of his men that day.

Below is what Ferguson wrote in his journal regarding that event:

"I recall going to the tent of Major General Steven D. Lee that night (July 28, 1864) and the agony that he endured on account of the slaughter of his men that day".

Here are my thoughts:

Maj. General Stephen D. Lee was promoted to Lt. General on 23 Jun 1864, making him the youngest at this rank and grade in the Confederate Army. A little more than a month later, Lee arrived to Atlanta from Alabama on 25 Jul 1864 and the very next day on 26 Jul 1864 he was assigned to lead the Second Corps, Army of Tennessee, commanded by John B. Hood. Less than two day`s later he and his troops were engaged at the Battle of Ezra Church. His men were slaughtered.

I think it was a mistake for Lee to send his boys into battle so quickly at Ezra Church, before he could get acquainted with the ground and make a proper assessment of the situation that he faced. He and his men had been in Atlanta for slightly less than 3 days and he was only given command of his corps slightly more than two days before the battle of Ezra Church was fought. Perhaps if Lee had negotiated more time for himself to learn the ground, assess the situation and receive valuable information and intelligence about who he was facing in battle, where they were positioned, how they were reinforced and by whom, etc... maybe his men would not have been mauled that day. But then again perhaps Hood is most responsible for that as he gave the order to Lee to take his men into battle at Ezra Church that day, well informed of the fact that Lee and his men had just arrived to Atlanta from Alabama less than three days before and were not familiar with the ground or even who they would specifically fight against that day. One of Hood`s greatest criticisms was that he was too reckless and aggressive. The first three engagements that Hood fought as Commander of the Army of Tennessee bear that out; those being Peachtree Creek (20 Jul 1864), the Battle of Atlanta (22 Jul 1864) and Ezra Church (28 Jul 1864).

Stephen D. Lee did exceptionally well against Sherman`s Army while fighting up in the Mississippi Delta through the fall and winter of 1863, at which time he successfully opposed Sherman`s March from Memphis to Chattanooga, delaying him from reaching Chattanooga nearly a month and giving the Confederates valuable time to mount a proper defense. It was also Lee`s 3,500 man Cavalry Corps alone that opposed Sherman`s 23,500 man Army from Vicksburg to Meridian during Sherman`s "Meridian Expedition", as the Confederate Infantry and Artillery under Lt. General Leonidas Polk were in full general retreat all the way back to Meridian, just a few months earlier from February to March 1864. So he had proven to be quite effective, especially against Sherman, in previous contests, but the fact that he was unfamiliar with the ground and the situation just days after arriving to Atlanta, I think is most responsible for his defeat at Ezra Church that day.

In my opinion, based on my research, Stephen D. Lee was a capable field commander, one of the few who was actually acquainted with all three branches of the C.S. Army equally; artillery, cavalry, and infantry having actually served as a commander over all three of those branches individually at different intervals during his service. He was an infantryman, an artilleryman and a cavalry trooper in his own right.
 
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