Battling a Defiant Bravery: With the 15th Corps at Ezra Church

Three times the Army of Tennessee had moved out from Atlanta and assaulted General Sherman's army, and each time the Confederates met with a bloody repulse. The 15th Army Corps missed out on the first battle, Peach Tree Creek on July 20th, but certainly got their measure of fighting in the battle of July 22nd east of the city. The 15th Corps later moved from the east side to the west side of the city just in time to receive the third and final assault of Hood's bloody trifecta, a battle known as the Battle of Ezra Church fought on July 28, 1864. 

    Among those veterans of the 15th Corps who participated in the Battle of Ezra Church was Captain Ira Jackson Bloomfield of Co. K, 26th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The 29 year old Ohio native had certainly seen his fair share of hard fighting during his three years' service with the regiment, but the fighting qualities displayed by both armies at Ezra Church impressed him deeply. "I have seen a good many charges, but I have never seen men come on with more defiant bravery under a withering fire than did the Rebels in that last charge," he wrote. "I have never seen more devoted and unbending courage than the officers and men displayed that day." 

    It was reported that the regiment fired 70,000 rounds in the two hours they were engaged which gives one a sense of how desperate this battle was for the men in the ranks, each man of the 502 in the ranks firing on average 139 rounds. The Battle of Ezra Church was the most lopsided victory of the three Atlanta battles: Confederate losses approached 3,000 while the Federals lost 642. 

    The 26th Illinois was assigned to the First Brigade of the Fourth Division of the 15th Army Corps. Bloomfield was already commanding the regiment at Ezra Church, even though he had the rank of captain; he was wounded September 2, 1864 outside Jonesboro but managed to capture two of Confederate General States Rights Gist's horses "with equipments complete." He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in October and given a brevet promotion to brigadier general in 1865. His account of Ezra Church appeared in the August 13, 1864 issue of the Daily Pantagraph of Bloomington, Illinois. 

Battle of Ezra Church, Georgia, July 28, 1864

Near Atlanta, Georgia

July 29, 1864

          Many days the soldier marches, labors, waits, and watches, but only a few days of glory are vouchsafed to his term, and yesterday was one among 10,000 for the Army of the Tennessee.

You already know that all fought long and hard on the 22nd ultimo east of Atlanta, piling up the Rebel slain, but with a loss of many a grave and noble life of our own loved comrades. At 12 o’clock on the night of the 26th, we abandoned our fortifications, having previously destroyed the railroad far beyond Decatur, and began the march to the right, but by some bad management or neglect of whom I know not, the movement was delayed, the troops became massed and jammed in the road, the enemy began shelling, and the patience, bravery, and endurance of the men saved us from destruction. Too much cannot be written or told of the noble traits of the private soldier. Many correspondents apparently deem it their especial duty to deal out fulsome flattery of the officers; the evils of this are daily manifest in every true soldier. For how often has it been the means of promoting incompetent, cowardly dastards over the noble and brave. Be it mine to record the deeds of daring patience and endurance of the private soldier, and I want no nobler theme. The unheralded acts of heroism performed during this war will challenge the admiration of coming generations.

As soon as the two corps were extricated from the confusion above referred to, we moved to the rear of the 4th Corps and rested, breakfasted, and dined. About 2 p.m. the march was resumed and we moved on to the right, pausing in the rear of the Army of the Cumberland toll we reached the extreme right of the army and bivouacked for the night. At early dawn the next morning, we were again moving forward and at night massed in heavy columns bearing down upon the enemy who only opposed us by a light skirmish line which we drove back until we reached a favorable commanding position.

Here a halt was sounded and the men began strengthening their position as rapidly as possible by barricades of logs, rails, and stones. No trouble for our men to fortify; everyone is a practical engineer. Give him a bayonet and a tin cup and soon you will find him well-fortified. 11 a.m. had come. The First Division of the 15th Corps, General Charles R. Woods commanding, was on the left, his left connecting with the 17th Corps on the Atlanta and Sandtown road; General Harrow with the 4th Division was in the center, General Morgan L. Smith with the Second Division on the right. The 26th Illinois was so fortunate as to secure the most defensible and commanding position on the whole line as the Rebels learned at fearful cost.

We soon became aware that the enemy was coming upon us, for the dense clouds of dust rising over the roads leading into Atlanta told of heavy moving columns. In a few moments the skirmishing began in front, but it created no excitement or alarm for the Army of the Tennessee was there, calm and confident, for they met the enemy before and rolled him back in blood and shame and were ready to do so again.

Several times they came rushing forward in dense columns, each one heavier and stronger than the preceding one, but it was of no avail. The first attack was rolled back with fearful loss; a few regiments of the Second Division reeled under the blinding storm of the second charge, but help was near at hand and they soon rallied. The third and last charge was the most gallant, daring, and fearful of all, for it was the last hope: victory or overwhelming defeat. Besides, the men were exhausted by the heat, thirst, excitement, and suspense of three hours’ fighting. Ammunition was getting scarce, guns were hot from the continued fighting, yet the men were cheerful and determined, strengthening their works whenever there was a lull in the storm.  The battle did not cease with the repulse of each successive charge because the enemy only retired to behind the crest of a ridge a short distance from our front, and continued the contest with artillery and musketry to which we could only reply with musketry as he had no guns in position. I have seen a good many charges, but I have never seen men come on with more defiant bravery under a withering fire than did the Rebels in that last charge.

No trouble for our men to fortify; everyone is a practical engineer. Give him a bayonet and a tin cup and soon you will find him well-fortified.

They rushed forward from the ridge above mentioned, across a small field and into a narrow strip of woods, to within 20 feet of our works, but few of those brave men every went back again. The color bearer fell pierced with seven balls, and near him fell two colonels, one lieutenant colonel, and seven captains, while the dead and wounded literally strewed the woods. There were 129 dead bodies in our own regiment front which we collected and buried, to say nothing of those carried away by the Rebels in the night. Counting five wounded for every one killed, which is found to be a low estimate, we killed and wounded 774 men. I know this; that we gathered up and turned over to the brigade commander [Colonel Reuben Williams] more Enfield rifles, many of them new and just sent from London, than we had men in our regiment, and that we are certain we destroyed man for man, and that was no small number there being 502 men in our regiment.

I have frequently witnessed repulses but I have never seen any so complete and overwhelming as this was, and yet our own loss was very small, not over 300 in our division. That of the 26th Illinois was five killed and 35 wounded. I have never seen more devoted and unbending courage than the officers and men displayed on that day. General [Oliver O.] Howard, lately assigned to the command of the department of Army of the Tennessee, passed along our line that evening and said, “If this is the way the Army of the Tennessee fights, I like them.”

We have been allowed to retain as trophies of our valor one stand of colors and eight swords which we captured. A few more such victories and the rebellion will go down in darkness and blood.


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