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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

THE BATTLE of EZRA CHURCH and the STRUGGLE for ATLANTA (audiobook) by Earl J. Hess

Published in May of 2015 by Blackstone Audio
Read by Joe Barrett
Duration: 8 hours, 29 minutes

During the Atlanta campaign in the Summer of 1864 Confederate President Jefferson Davis changed the nature of the campaign with the simple stroke of a pen.

Up to that point, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was slowly forcing his way southward towards Atlanta by way of a series of flanking maneuvers. His opponent, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, was slowly retreating, hoping to find an opening for a fatal strike against his opponent. Unfortunately for him, Sherman's mistakes were too small to be exploited and eventually Johnston found himself backed up against Atlanta itself.

Oliver O. Howard (1830-1909).
Photo by Matthew Brady.
At this point, President Davis intervened and removed Johnston on July 17, replacing him with John Bell Hood. While Johnston was cautious, Hood was by nature an aggressive general. Also, given the circumstances of Johnston's removal, Hood knew that his president expected offensive action to drive the Union army away from Atlanta.  So, Hood complied. On July 20, 22 and 28 there were attacks to stop the Union advance. All of them were costly to the Confederate army since they were running low on everything, including soldiers. 

The Battle of Ezra Church started out as yet another flanking maneuver by the Union army under newly promoted General O.O. Howard. The goal was to reach the railroad line and further cut off Atlanta. Hood knew that the Union army would try for this railroad line and he sent men out stop them. Interestingly, they were also under the command of a new general, Stephen D. Lee. 

One of the more interesting story lines of the book is how these two experienced armies dealt with the transplanted officers brought in to lead them (Howard easily gets the nod here). But, there is more than that. It is also a story of Hood vs. Sherman and Hood's style vs. Johnston's style.

Stephen Dill Lee (1833-1908)
The actual details of the battle are well-researched but not presented in a a particularly interesting manner. I think that is mostly due to the nature of the battle. General Stephen Lee sent his men in successive waves. The story of the battle is repetitive as the Confederates make a foolhardy charge against hastily assembled union defenses, retreat and gather themselves up and charge again. Meanwhile, the Union forces are reinforced just in time and make another defensive stand. 

This is not to say that were are interesting tales inside of the larger tale, but this was an audiobook and the repetitive nature of the battle made me wonder more than once if I was re-listening to part of the story. 

Who won? Well, that is actually a matter of some debate. The Union objective (the railroad) was not reached so the Confederates can claim that as a victory. But, the cost in men was so high, perhaps as many as 5 Confederates killed for every 1 Union soldier, that the Union can claim that as a victory. Also, the nature of the battle is odd - the Union soldiers were technically on offense but they hid behind hastily constructed defensive positions while the Confederates, who were technically on defense, charged those positions repeatedly and eventually withdrew.

The last three chapters of the book were quite excellent. They dealt with the immediate aftermath of the battle and how they dealt with all of the wounded and the dead. It also included some of the internal bickering in Hood's army as Lee tried to deflect blame to everyone else and still claim a victory. In the Union army, Howard was accepted as a tried and true leader by most of his army even though he was forced to fight on his second day as its general. The last chapter dealt with the last few days of the campaign for Atlanta. 

Joe Barrett read this audiobook. I have heard him read other audiobooks and I am not usually very fond of his "folksy" voice. But, his unique style worked well with the extensive quotes from letters and reports read throughout this audiobook. 

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta

Note: I was sent a copy of this audiobook by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer Program.

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