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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

"Enough for Another Killing," Quarles' Brigade at Ezra Church

by Gordon Thorsby

Ezra Church, Engraving by Theodore R. Davis, published by Harpers Weekly


What happened on the Northern side is that Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard, was a new Army commander replacing McPherson and he was supposed to outflank Hood’s defensive line and cut the last rail line to Atlanta. On the Southern side, Lt. Gen Stephen D. Lee was a new Corps commander and supposed to get in between the flanking Union force and the rail line. Neither happened. Lee and Howard had something to prove and the first to err would be the first to lose. Stewart’s Corps was to be the hammer attacking Howard in the rear and Lee was supposed to be the anvil. Lee did not follow orders. The battle would be called Ezra Church and one regiment, Quarles Brigade suffered the worst. Casualties at Ezra Church were almost entirely a result of the minie ball. Few artillery were present on either side.


Brig. Gen. William A. Quarles brigade in Stewart’s Corps consisted of the 1st Alabama and five Tennessee regiments, 42nd, 46th/55th consolidated, 48th, 49th and 53rd, somewhere between 913 and 1100 depending on the source. William Andrew Quarles (below rt) was 38 in 1864 and admired and gallant because his men always knew where he was. He was out front and “he did not mind it.”

The 1st Alabama was an April 1,1861 regiment. At Island No. 10, it was captured and exchanged, at Port Hudson captured and exchanged again, and then at the Atlanta Campaign where it presented 610 effectives. The 42nd Tennessee was recruited by Quarles

himself in October 1861. Captured at Ft. Donelson, it missed fighting awaiting exchange. Most of the men were from Henry County. The 46th/55th Tennessee were consolidated at Corinth in 1862, a result of losses at Shiloh. The 48th Tennessee was another captured regiment of Ft. Donelson and was reconstituted with 267 men at the end of 1863. The 49th Tennessee mustered in December 1861 at Fort Donelson, and its size shrank as the war progressed. By Ezra Church not many soldiers remained. The 53rd Tennessee were almost entirely from Giles and Marshall Counties. In the Donelson and Port Hudson captures, they numbered possibly 220 by Atlanta. The soldiers in the ranks were average westerners from 17 to in their 50’s. The vast number were poor dirt farmers who had survived the fighting and prisons to date.


Lt. Gen Alexander Stewart’s Corps moved out after Lee in the dark on July 28th toward Lick Skillet Rd and the Macon line. Lee was surprised that Logan’s XV Corps was already there and attempting to entrench. He decided further delay would cost and fed one division in after the other with limited success. Brown’s and Clayton’s divisions charged and breached the line in spots but could not hold it. After up to an hour later, they fell back and pretty used up. Stewart didn't know the situation but he committed to helping anyway. Stewart ordered the Walthall's division that had just reached the field forward into the chaos. Now, two Confederate Corps commanders believed that a third assault would work where the first two did not.


Walthall picked up from where Clayton and Brown left off. The Federals were in strong position on the ridge but were not well entrenched. At 2:00pm, the brigades of O’Neal and Reynolds stepped off and up the slow rise. Skirmishers began popping away at one another immediately. Fresh Union reinforcements began to replace worn out units whose muskets were fouled from firing so much. As O'Neal and Reynolds pressed forward, Quarles remained back in reserve in battle line ready to support if needed.



Quarles was advised by Stewart to watch his left and he dispatched skirmishers to assist in the task. He was also ordered to support Yates’ battery that had just arrived, so he peeled off the 42nd and 49th TN who ended the day suffering considerable casualties from musket fire. O’Neal' ranks were decimated from sustained Union fire. He called for and it was now time for Quarles’ Brigade.


Quarles’ staff officers, Captain Stephan Cowley led the left forward. Adj. Gen. G. Thomas Cox led the right and they advanced at 4 P.M. The line advanced from the trees into the open field strewn with dead and wounded of previous charges that had tried and failed. The brigade crossed the open field at a “left oblique toward the desired center and as they did, it drew fire of each unit that it passed. It was an open invitation to fire on them. They advanced in good order even though the fire was galling. Cowley remarked that the men's performance was “one of the proudest moments of my life, to see them charge with such a yell.” They knew when they crossed the farthest point made any because there were no longer Confederates lying on the field. That changed immediately when the brigade vanished from the smoke and flames of Union guns and men fell.


At thirty yards, the right under Thomas stopped and Cowley described it in more detail, “the beauty of the advance transformed itself into reality, men falling like grains before the Reaper.” The line dropped to the ground to reduce mounting casualties. Here, they stayed for what was believed to be about thirty minutes. The brigade’s firing began to tell on the Union defenders. Quarles men were hanging on, surviving in natural recesses in the ground. The problem was that the situation had only one inevitable outcome and there were too few men to break the line.


The 1st Alabama and the Tennesseans maintained stiff resistance, but it was becoming only an advanced skirmish line. Quarles asked for help but there was none. With no hope of success and pinned on the rise, Quarles ordered a withdrawal.


Firing slowed to occasional skirmish fire but nothing more. The results were staggering with no more efforts ordered. Colonels Knox (1st AL), and Young (49th TN) were wounded, White (53rd) was killed, Maj. Richardson (53rd) was mortally wounded. The 1st Alabama had only 3 commissioned officers remaining, and almost half of the regiment were casualties. The 42nd suffered heavily. The 46th/55th lost about 150 men out of 250 engaged in thirty minutes. The regiment’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Wilson was wounded and captured.

Men from the 48th Tennessee

Capt. Thomas H. Smith counted 495 lost. 400 were wounded 76 killed outright and 19 missing in the brigade. Cowley reported differently with 595 losses. Cowley reported 7 regimental officers down in 1/2 hour of fighting. In all of the fighting, the 54% casualty rate was the largest at Ezra Church though its role was in a reserve capacity. The brigade would suffer at Franklin much worse.


Possibly an epitaph for Quarles brigade might have been the story of when a Union picket at Ezra Church called out, "Well, Johnny, how many of you are left?" and the demoralized Confederate sighed with frustration and replied, "Oh, about enough for another killing."


Note: The location of the battlefield is in the Mozley Park area of Atlanta, near I-20 West and Ralph David Abernathy Cemetery. Present day Westview Cemetery covers a small portion of the area that Confederates rushed the center of the Federal line. There are a few historical markers on a small, open spaces commemorating the battle.



Sources:


The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta, Hess, Earl J., University of North Carolina Press, 2015, pp123-131.


"American Civil War: Battle of Ezra Church," by Kennedy Hickman, March 6, 2017,

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/battle-ezra-church.


https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-ezra-church-2360231.


Confederate Military History, Vol. X, p. 327.





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