After General John Bell Hood took command of the the army defending Atlanta he directed three Confederate failed attacks against Union Major General William T. Sherman's armies. On July 28, 1864, Union Major General Oliver O. Howard's "Army of the Tennessee" moved south with the goal of cutting the last railroad lines supplying Atlanta. Sensing impending battle, Howard's 15th Corps halted near Ezra Church, a Methodist chapel. The 17th Corps soon arrived to extend the line. In most places the Federals were entrenched. On open ground near the church some soldiers erected barricades using church pews.
General Hood sent the corps of Lieutenant General Stephen Dill Lee, his least experienced corps commander, west from Atlanta. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart's corps followed Lees. The Confederates marched along Lick Skillet Road (Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard) with orders to halt the Federal advance. Yet they were "not to attack unless the enemy exposes himself in attacking us."
When General Lee's corps arrived he imprudently attacked with two divisions against Howard's strong line and was shattered. The musketry was so fierce a Federal officer wrote "no mortal could stand." General Stewart then sent Major General Edward Walthall's division forward, trampling on the bodies of Lee's casualties. The result
was the same. In Walthall's opinion, "Double the force could not have accomplished what my division was ordered to undertake."
After the battle a Federal picket called out, "Well, Johnny, how many of you are left?"
The despondent Confederate replied, "Oh, about enough for another killing." The movement of General Sherman's armies to the south around Atlanta was temporarily halted but at a heavy cost.