Chapter XIX

Battle of Ezra Church

A period of inactivity followed the engagement of July 22nd, both armies being in need of repose after the fierce conflict.  The enemy had failed in the accomplishment of his object, in turning our flank and compelling us to retreat.  Having fallen fiercely upon both flanks he had found a vigilant foe, who would not yield before his impetuous assaults.  Yet he had rendered the further extension of our lines to the left impracticable, and General Sherman again resorted to his favorite plan of developing the least exposed flank.  He therefore ordered the withdrawal of the entire left wing of the army, for the extension of the right flank.  This movement was effected during the 26th and 27th of July, the Army of the Tennessee moving to the rear and right of the entire line, and forming on the right of Hooker, on the 28th.

Major General O. O. Howard was assigned to command the Army of the Tennessee, at which General (p222) Hooker was incensed, and asked to be relieved from command of the Twentieth Corps.  His request was granted; and Major General Williams succeeded him in command.  Brigadier General William H. Hazen superseded General Smith in command of the Second Division Fifteenth Corps, at the same time.

The enemy, ever watchful for his flanks, perceived the design of the pending movement, and concentrated a strong force upon his left, for the protection of his communications, which would be endangered by the development of our right flank unopposed.  The Sixteenth Corps had got into position on the right of the Twentieth, and the Seventeenth Corps on its right, while the Fifteenth Corps, in conjunction with Davis' Division of the Fourteenth Corps, was moving upon the extreme right.  At this juncture the enemy threw his columns upon our flank, Harrow's Division receiving the shock of the first assault.  Davis had lost his course, and wandered so far to the right that his appearance on the flank for our protection was delayed; and the enemy surged like a vast wave upon our lines, as they were advancing over a narrow ridge covered with a belt of forest, with an open field stretching away to the right.  Time was precious, and the few moments preceding the appearance of the enemy, on the opposite side of the field, were well improved in throwing up a (p223) barricade of rails, and in digging a small trench with no other tools than the bayonets and tin plates of the men. It was surprising to see how quickly this temporary defense was erected with the means at command.  As the rebel line came forward, pressing back our skirmishers in hot haste, the troops seized their guns and assumed their places behind the rude works, pouring a destructive fire into the advancing lines, which still moved on, as if invulnerable, in the awful storm of balls that fell like rain in their midst.  Line after line, they confidently pressed across the field, yelling like demons, and firing as they came. Reaching the cluster of pines, in which our lines were formed, the fire of our troops became more effective, and further progress was impossible.  A few defiant men pushed on till they fell beside the barricade, but the lines paused, wavered, and then broke in confusion, the scattered fugitives flying, amidst a shower of bullets, to the cover of the woods and rising ground beyond the field.

But failure was not defeat; and a fresh force quickly advanced to renew the attack.  In front and in flank they came, like an avalanche, bearing destruction before them.  The direct assault was met and checked, but our flank was endangered.  At this juncture the veterans of Walcott's Brigade appeared on the right, and those noble heroes of the Sixth Iowa and Fortieth Illinois met the awful (p224) shock with their characteristic valor.  Officers and men went down in the conflict.  Friend and foe found a gory bed in close proximity; but still the storm of battle raged above them.  At this exciting moment the voice of our brave leader was heard, above the din of battle, as General Logan rode up, waving his hat high in (the) air, his face wearing an aspect of ferocity that no language can describe.  The music of that voice--for what is more inspiring to a brave man in close grapple with an armed foe than the stirring notes of command from a tried and trusted leader--fell jupon the ears of as brave men as ever met a foe, and nerved them to more desperate deeds of valor, while a cheer rung back the echo of the voice urging them on.  Nothing could withstand the combined influence of that battle-cry and the furious onset that succeeded.  In dismay the rebels fled before the fierceness of the storm, and the tied of battle had reached its highest point.  The struggle was not yet ended.  But, with our flanks secure, the enemy essayed in vain to penetrate the lines.  Charge after charge succeeded, and the whole front of Harrow's Division was a continuous blaze of fire from thousands of rifles, the guns becoming so heated as almost to ignite the powder.

Perhaps no severer engagement, with mere musketry--duration of conflict and numbers engaged in the defense considered--occurred during (p225) the war than that at Ezra Church, on the 28th of July.  During the period occupied in seven successive charges of the enemy, the Twenty-sixth Illinois fired forty thousand rounds of ammunition, and other regiments, doubtless, in like proportion.  The Twelfth Indiana, excepting Companies G and K, was held in reserve, and supplied the troops in line with ammunition, and the men employed in supplying the Twenty-sixth Illinois, testified to the fact above stated.  In evidence of the fierceness of the fire it is only necessary to state that many of the small pines, several inches in diameter, were cut off by the bullets in front of that regiment, and at other points along the line where the pines intervened between the works and the open field. Prisoners also testified to the fearful intensity of the fire, which exceeded all they had ever witnessed.  Before such a resistance the bravest troops that ever marched must have fled, and the persistence of the enemy in the face of such a fire evinced the sublimest (sic) courage, which was worthy of a nobler cause.

 The frequent repetition of the charge also indicated the character of the new rebel commander, which failed to secure the respect and confidence of his army that Johnston had so largely shared.  This was apparent from remarks made by prisoners, who, when inquiries were made of them respecting their strength, replied, "We have (p226) enough for about two more killings," referring to the great slaughter of their troops on the recent occasions of Hood's desperate assaults on our lines.  But he at last learned wisdom, after having lost not less than fifteen thousand men in the three engagements before Atlanta, July 20th, 22d and 28th.  He never again tried to experiment, till, forgetting the lesson he had learned at Atlanta, he repeated his efforts at Franklin and Nashville, in December following.

The scene presented the ensuing day on that ensanguined field, like that of the 22d, was fearful to contemplate.  The entire absence of artillery in the engagement rendered the shock of battle far less apparent in the forests between and in rear of the lines than on other fields.  But the piles of dead along the whole line evinced the severe losses the enemy had sustained.  Under cover of the ensuing night most of the slightly and severely wounded escaped, or were removed from the field, our pickets being posted near our own lines, those of a dangerous character only being left on the field. But large numbers of those wounded in close proximity to our works were conveyed to (the) hospital, where many died.  Hood's loss in this engagement must have reached three thousand, while ours was less than five hundred.  The severest loss was sustained by both parties on the right, where the contest raged for the turning (p227) of our flank, the only chance of success on the part of the enemy. At this point ninety of the rebel dead were buried in one grave.  The appearance of these bodies, gathered for burial on the day after the battle, was horrible in the extreme.  Exposed to the heat of midsummer, during all that long day, the darkened and bloated forms of officers, of all ranks, and men were arranged in long rows for burial, while the progress of decomposition had so far advanced that our soldiers could not endure the infected atmosphere, and a detail of colored pioneers was assigned to duty on the field.  The scenes witnessed on these two battlefields before Atlanta surpassed all that we had previously witnessed, and nothing was afterward seen to compare with them in sickening details.

The Regiment lost one man killed, and six slightly wounded.  Lieutenant John H. Waters, of Company A, was mortally wounded on returning to the works from the skirmish line, in the commencement of the action.  He was a brave and noble-hearted man, and his loss was lamented by his numerous friends, as a deep personal affliction.  He was a genial and true friend, an affectionate husband and father, and a faithful officer.  His body was brought from the field after the battle and buried near the works.  The following (p228) members of the regiment were wounded: Sergeant John D. Clark, and James K. P. Franklin, Company A; Samuel Dickey and Thomas Irelan, Company D; William H. Andrew, Company E; and Sergeant James A. McDowell, Company K.

The removal of the Army of the Tennessee to the right was succeeded by the withdrawal of the remainder of the Fourteenth, and the Twenty-third Corps, which also took new positions on our right, leaving the Fourth Corps upon the left flank.  Thus about six miles of our lines had been abandoned on the East of Atlanta, uncovering the Georgia Railroad, which had been thoroughly destroyed as far east as Covington, rendering its use impossible for months to come. The extension of our right flank was designed to cut the enemy's only remaining line of communication, via Macon, but Hood always kept that line well covered whenever we advanced or extended our lines, and the ultimate result of our operations began to appear doubtful to those of a despondent tendency.

Not a few predicted the failure of the campaign, and the retreat, if not the defeat of our noble army, under its no less noble commander, whose fame had been created for him by the troops he had so long led to certain victory. Non knew better than General Sherman that failure now would forever obliterate his greatness, as he so (p229) truthfully remarked at Savannah, on a subsequent occasion.  But he was not seeking honor or fame.  He was an earnest man intensely active in the pursuit of a noble object.  Next to his family he loved the army with whom he fought for the suppression of rebellion, and of its success he entertained no doubts.  While those in the valley below, shut out from a view of the great map of operations, though clouds of darkness were flitting ominously over the scene, he saw, from his lofty elevation, the almost certain attainment of the object before him. The resources of military genius were not yet exhausted, and delay was not to him even disappointment, much less defeat.  Like his sole military superior in rank, with more of a nervous temperament, he had a strong confidence in ultimate triumph, which made him invincible, and which had prompted the terse declaration of Grant at Spottsylvania Court House.  "I shall fight it out on this line, if it takes all the summer."  Sherman, too, was on his line, which had Atlanta for its first important point of direction, and if he could not reach it from the east, north, or west, he would strike from the south, and compel its abandonment, as he eventually did at Jonesboro.

As a last resort, a strong cavalry force was ordered to move from different points, for the destruction of the enemy's communications to the south.  Owing to the impossibility of providing for all the (p230) contingencies of a cavalry expedition to the rear of a vigilant foe, the plan was not successful; the two main commands failing to effect a junction as contemplated, and the duty assigned proving too great for one of them to accomplish unaided. General Stoneman advanced to Macon, where he found a superior force of the enemy, and was forced to retire, in effecting which he was intercepted and captured, with a large portion of his command, the remainder being badly scattered and rendered wholly inefficient for offense, and scarcely capable of defense against the active enemy.  The other column accomplished nothing of essential value, and but one alternative was left to General Sherman, which he subsequently adopted, forcing the enemy to retire, by a well executed movement upon his rear at Jonesboro.

The record of event during the month of August is full of interest, but a few items only will be noticed.  Our lines were twice advanced, under a severe fire from the enemy's skirmish lines.  The Regiment lost a number of men on these several occasions, whose names appear in the annexed list.  On the 17th of August Sergeant William B. Mankin, of Company F, volunteered to lead a small party, for the capture of a skirmish post from which the fire had been almost constant and very annoying.  The point was carried, with the loss of two of the assailants, William Shaffer, of Company G, and David Vanskike, of Company H, as brave men as the Regiment could boast.  The former was brought from the field, but the fate of the latter was never known.  He was doubtless killed, having frequently declared that he would never be taken prisoner.  But the bravery of the heroic band was displayed in vain.  The enemy re-occupied the position, and held it during our continuance at that place.  The following is a summary of the events of this period:

July 28th -- Jeremiah Trotter, of Company H, died at Division Hospital, of disease; Henry D. Shaw of Company K, also died on the 30th. 
August 1st -- Wounded: Samuel Dickey, Company D, died on the 3rd; Henry H. Bayliff, Company E, died on the 4th.
August 3rd -- Killed: Peter Meyers and Christian Rosensteel, Company I,  Amos Wilson, Company G,; Wounded: Edwin B. John, Company D, Lewis Runyon, Company H, Joseph O. Yount, Company I, died on the 21st.  William Curnutt, of Company E, died on the 4th, from exhaustion during the battle of July 28th.
August 6th --Wounded:  Sergeant Elihu W. Holeman, Company H.
August 9th -- Killed: Hospital Steward Francis H. Martin.  His loss was deplored most of all by Dr. Taylor, to whom his services were almost invaluable.  The vacancy created by his death was never filled.  Ellis Hughes, of Company K, was wounded the same day.
August 13th -- Wounded:  Corporal Jeremiah Kreiter, Company I.
August 15th -- Killed:  William Thomas, Company G.
August 17th -- Killed:  William Shaffer, Company G, David Vanskike, Company H.
August 18th -- Wounded:  Henry Tracy, Company K, died on the 21st.

During this period Dr. Lomax, was in charge of Division Hospital. Several hundred patients were admitted for treatment, thirty of them died.  A large proportion were sent to Marietta and admitted to General Hospital.

Chaplain Massey, of the Fortieth Illinois, was requested, by Dr. Lomax, to take general supervision of the work of removal, in connection with the arrangement of new accommodations for the constantly increasing list of sick men from the front.  In this capacity he rendered himself very useful.  In the removal of the sick and wounded to Marietta, he, on one occasion, ordered two of the best ambulances to be reserved for four Colonels, marked on the ward list "Col."  Knowing that there was a rebel Lieutenant Colonel of the Forty-sixth Tennessee in the officers' ward, who had been severely wounded and brought from the field on the 28th of July, and supposing that some of our own officers of that rank, then in  (the) hospital were to go to the rear, he first attended to the wounded and sick soldiers.  On making inquiry for the four Colonels, he was informed by the ward-master that "Col." indicated colored men.  The joke was a good one upon the Chaplain, but better yet upon the rebel Lieutenant Colonel, who was assigned a place in one of the ambulances reserved for the wounded pioneers. It was a long time (p233) before the Chaplain heard the last of his "four Colonels."

Among the numerous cases of singular interest were two of remarkable preservation from instant death.  One of these was that of a member of the Seventieth Ohio who was shot in the works, and supposed to be mortally wounded.  He fell senseless in the trenches, and his companions searched in vain for the least trace of a wound.  On his recovery from the shock produced by the bullet, he took from his coat pocket a large sized Testament, which covered his left breast and the region of the heart.  Imbedded in the book, with the point resting upon the fifth verse, in the third chapter of Revelations, the bullet was found.  The Testament had been given to him by his wife on leaving home, and his promise to read it had been violated.  Now it had been the means of saving his life, and on being brought into the hospital he showed the book to his companions, and declared he would take no price for the precious memento.  He was deeply impressed by the text pointed out by the bullet of the enemy, and by his request Chaplain Bundy preached a sermon from the words.  The book saved his life, and its precious promises led him to seek the more important Salvation offered to sinful men.

Another case of interest was that of a soldier of the Forty-eighth Illinois, who was struck in the (p234) forehead by a ball, which pierced the head to the depth of two inches; yet the bullet could not be found, after the closest examination.  The man rode to the hospital in excellent spirits, sitting on the box with the driver, telling us he was going home on a furlough, which he actually did accomplish after reaching Marietta.

Many other incidents of thrilling interest might be added, did space permit.  The scenes of suffering presented in the hospitals along our extended lines was one full of harrowing details which will long be remembered.

In this connection the unselfish and sacrificing labors of that noble woman, Mrs. Eliza E. George, of Fort Wayne, must not be omitted.  Of all the patriotic women of the land none is more worthy of a monument of praise than this philanthropic Christian lady and soldier's friend.  She has since died at the post of duty to which she was called and urged by Christian charity.  In the long list of names rendered sacred in the record of Indiana, during the great conflict, no woman will occupy a more conspicuous place than Mrs. George.  As the dispensing agent of the Indiana Sanitary Commission she braved the dangers of the battlefield, and moved calm as the tried warrior among the bursting shells.  Her soft and gently tread, with her soothing voice and maternal tenderness for the sick and wounded in (the) hospital, fell like the (p235) far-off music of home upon the hearts of brave men, suffering from wounds and disease.  During the latter part of July, through the sultry month of August, and till the campaign closed in triumph in September, this excellent woman remained with the Fourth Division Hospital, ministering to the suffering of every State alike.  Thousands of blessings descended upon her head, and many noble men were made stronger in the hour of affliction by her kindness. The delicacies afforded them from the stores of the Indiana Sanitary Commission were welcome luxuries to men enfeebled by disease and wounds.  Of her it may truly be said, as Christ said of Mary, "She hath done what she could." And when she could no longer labor for the afflicted she became a sufferer with them, and died the following spring at Wilmington, North Carolina, whither she had gone to renew her work of love, after a brief rest in the quiet of her peaceful home.

On the 4th of August the First Brigade was consolidated with the Second and Third, in consequence of the diminished strength of the command.  The Regiment was assigned to the Third Brigade, which became the First, and consisted of the following regiments, viz: the Fifteenth Michigan, Seventieth Ohio, Forty-eighth and Ninetieth Illinois, and Twelfth and Ninety-ninth Indiana, Colonel Oliver, of the Fifteenth Michigan, commanding.  Colonel (p236) Williams again assumed command of the Regiment, having led the Brigade through all the memorable events of the three months of active operations in the face of the enemy.  The previous reputation of the Brigade had been fully sustained, and all regretted to see the organization broken up.  The association of the past had been pleasant, and a noble spirit of emulation had prevailed in the several regiments of the Brigade. (p237)

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