Following the Battle of Atlanta, the Union effort to put Atlanta under siege began. Of course, so long as the Confederates controlled the rail lines out of Atlanta leading to the Atlantic & West railroad and the Macon & Western railroad, the city was not really under siege. Sherman now manuevered to take these rail lines. At the battle of Ezra Church on July 27, 1864, a movement by Howard’s Union Army of the Tennessee against the Confederate rail lines was stopped by two corps of the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Stewart and S.D. Lee. Howard, who had the presence of mind to entrench one of his divisions prior to the Confederate attack, inflicted some 3,000 casualties on the Confederates in exchange for 642 of his own. However, his movement against the Confederate rail lines was thwarted. A simultaneous Union cavalry raid on the rail lines came to grief with both Union divisions being smashed by the Confederate cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler.
Continuing his effort to extend his right to cut the Confederate rail lines, in early August Sherman moved the small Army of the Ohio, which consisted of the XXIII corps, under Major General James Schofield from his left, and through August 5-7, a division of Schofield’s army attempted to break through the Confederate lines south of Utoy creek without success. Total Union casualties were 850 to 35 Confederate, showing yet again the folly of attempting to attack prepared defenses at this stage of the War. Sherman was stymied again.
Here is Sherman’s report on these engagements:
Pursuant to the general plan, the Army of the Tennessee drew out of its lines near the Decatur road during the night of July 26, and on the 27th moved behind the rest of the army to Proctor’s Creek and south to prolong our line due south and facing east. On that day, by appointment of the President of the United States, Major-General Howard assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee and had the general supervision of the movement, which was madeen echelon, General Dodge’s corps (Sixteenth) on the left nearest the enemy, General Blair’s corps (Seventeenth) next to come up on its right, and General Logan’s corps (Fifteenth) to come up on its right and refused as a flank, the whole to gain as much ground due south’ from the flank already established on Proctor’s Creek as was consistent with a proper strength. General Dodge’s men got into line in the evening of the 27th, and General Blair’s came into line on his right early in the morning of the 28th, his right reaching an old meeting-house called Ezra Church near some large open fields by the poor-house on a road known as the Bell’s Ferry road or Lick Skillet road. Here the Fifteenth Corps (General Logan’s) joined on and refused along a ridge well wooded, which partially commanded a view over the same fields. About 10 a.m. all the army was in position and the men were busy in throwing up the accustomed pile of rails and logs, which after a while assumed the form of a parapet. The skill and rapidity with which our men construct these is wonderful and is something new in the art of war. I rode along this whole line about that time, and as I approached Ezra Church there was considerable artillery firing, enfilading the road in which I was riding, killing an orderly’s horse, just behind my staff. I struck across an open field to where General Howard was standing in rear of the Fifteenth Corps and walked up to the ridge with General Morgan L. Smith to see if the battery which enfiladed the main road and rail piles could not be disposed of, and heard General Smith give the necessary orders for the deployment of one regiment forward and another to make a circuit to the right, when I returned to where General Howard was, and remained there until 12 o’clock. During this time there was nothing to indicate serious battle save the shelling by one or at most two batteries from beyond the large field in front of the Fifteenth Corps.
Wishing to be well prepared to defeat the enemy if he repeated his game of the 22d, I had the night before ordered General Davis’ division, of General Palmer’s corps, which by the movement of the Army of the Tennessee had been left as it were in reserve, to move down to Turner’s Ferry and thence toward White Hall or East Point, aiming to reach the flank of General Howard’s new line. Hoping that in case of an attack this division would in turn catch the attacking force in flank or rear at an unexpected moment, I explained it to General Howard and bade him to expect the arrival of such a force in case of battle. Indeed, I expected to hear the fire of its skirmishers by noon. General Davis was sick that day, and Brigadier-General Morgan commanded the division which had marched early for Turner’s Ferry, but many of the roads laid down on our maps did not exist at all, and General Morgan was delayed thereby. I rode back to make more particular inquiries as to this division, and had just reached General Davis’ headquarters at Proctor’s Creek when I heard musketry open heavily on the right. The enemy had come out of Atlanta by the Bell’s Ferry road and formed his masses in the open fields behind a swell of ground, and after the artillery firing I have described advanced in parallel lines directly against the Fifteenth Corps, expecting to catch that flank in “air.” His advance was magnificent, but founded on an error that cost him sadly, for our men coolly and deliberately cut down his men, and, in spite of the efforts of the rebel officers, his ranks broke and fled. But they were rallied again and again, as often as six times at some points, and a few of the rebel officers and men reached our line of rail piles only to be killed or hauled over as prisoners. These assaults occurred from noon until about 4 p.m., when the enemy disappeared, leaving his dead and wounded in our hands. As many as 642 dead were counted and buried, and still others are known to have been buried which were not counted by the regularly detailed burial parties. General Logan on this occasion was conspicuous as on the 22d, his corps being chiefly engaged, but General Howard had drawn from the other corps (Sixteenth and Seventeenth) certain reserves, which were near at hand but not used. Our entire loss is reported at less than 600, whereas that of the enemy was in killed and wounded not less than 5,000.
Had General Davis’ division come up on the Bell’s Ferry road as I calculated at any time before 4 o’clock, what was simply a complete repulse would have been a disastrous rout to the enemy, but I cannot attribute the failure to want of energy or intelligence, and must charge it, like many other things in the campaign, to the peculiar, tangled nature of the forests and absence of roads that would admit the rapid movement of troops.
This affair terminated all efforts of the enemy to check our extensions by the flank, which afterward proceeded with comparative ease, but he met our extensions to the south by rapid and well constructed forts and rifle-pits built between us and the railroad to and below East Point, remaining perfectly on the defensive. Finding that the right flank of the Army of the Tennessee did not reach, I was forced to shift General Schofield to that flank also, and afterward General Palmer’s corps, of General Thomas’ army. General Schofield moved from the left on the 1st of August, and General Palmer’s corps followed at once, taking a line below Utoy Creek, and General Schofield prolonged it to a point near East Point. The enemy made no offensive opposition, but watched our movement and extended his lines and parapets accordingly.
About this time several changes in important commands occurred which should be noted. General Hooker, offended that General Howard was preferred to him as the successor of General McPherson, resigned his command of the Twentieth Corps, to which General Slocum was appointed; but he was at Vicksburg, and until he joined the command of the corps devolved upon General A. S. Williams, who handled it admirably. General Palmer also resigned the command of the Fourteenth Corps, and General Jeff. C. Davis was appointed to his place. Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley had succeeded General Howard in the command of the Fourth Corps.
From the 2d to the 5th we continued to extend to the right, demonstrating strongly on the left and along our whole line. General Reilly’s brigade, of General Cox’s division, General Schofield’s army, on the 5th tried to break through the enemy’s line about a mile below Utoy Creek, but failed to carry the position, losing about 400 men, who were caught in the entanglements and abatis, but the next day the position was turned by General Hascall, and General Schofield advanced his whole line close up to and facing the enemy below Utoy Creek. Still he did not gain the desired foothold on either the West Point or Macon road. The enemy’s line at that time must have been near fifteen miles long, extending from near Decatur to below East Point. This he was enabled to do by use of a large force of State militia, and his position was so masked by the shape of the ground that we were unable to discover the weak parts.