The Fighting on Peach Orchard Hill
Panel on Peach Orchard Hill
Speakers were David Currey, Ross Massey, and Thomas Cartwright.

Severe fighting at Peach Orchard Hill on the second day of the Battle of Nashville was the topic of discussion by a panel of experts at the Jan. 20, 2005 meeting of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society at historic Travellers Rest Plantation and Museum.

Speaking to an audience of about one hundred Civil War buffs were BONPS Historian Ross Massey, Carter House Curator Thomas Cartwright, and Travellers Rest Executive Director David Currey.

On Fri., Dec. 16, 1864, Union forces under Gen. George Thomas attacked Confederate forces under Gen. John Bell Hood behind fortifications on Peach Orchard Hill, also known as Overton Hill. The 300-foot-high hill was located on the Judge John Overton property, not far from his residence at Travellers Rest. Today the hill is cut by Harding Place between Interstate 65 and Franklin Road. It can be easily located by the huge U.S. flag flying at nearby Franklin Road Academy.

Some of the heaviest and costliest fighting of the entire battle occurred at Peach Orchard Hill on Dec. 16th even though the attack was planned as not much more than a feint.

At 9 a.m., 28 pieces of Union field artillery opened fire on Confederate positions atop the hill and continued unabated for the next two hours. The guns were located approximately where the Father Ryan High School campus is today. The Confederates responded with the eight guns of the Stanford and Eufaula batteries.

Attacking the hill were troops under Gen. Thomas Wood and Gen. James Steedman. Wood was looking for redemption due to his poor performance at the Battle of Chickamauga, said Massey. In that same battle, Steedman was hailed as a hero for responding to the plight of beleaugered Union forces under Gen. Thomas.

Defending the hill was the corps of Gen. Stephen D. Lee, in particular Clayton’s Division, consisting of the brigades of Gens. Gibson, Holtzclaw, and Stovall.

The attack began at 2:45 p.m. and lasted about 30 minutes, Massey said. Twelve thousand Federal troops (9,000 under Wood; 3,000 under Steedman) moved southward against the hill, with U.S. Colored Troops in the vanguard. Twelve hundred Federals were killed or wounded during the unsuccessful assault.

Cartwright noted that the 13th USCT Regiment was the only unit to reach the Confederate fortifications and suffered 229 casualties out of a total of 556 men, including five color bearers. Cartwright speculated that the Battle of Nashville may have produced the most USCT casualties of any battle in the Civil War.

Although the Confederates held their ground at Overton Hill, Gen. Hood sent reinforcements from the western flank (Shy’s Hill area), where they were desperately needed. On Dec. 16th, the retreat of Hood’s army began when troops at Shy’s Hill broke and ran.

Once the retreat began, Gen. Lee ordered Gen. Clayton to fall back one mile on the Franklin Pike and Gen. Gibson to retreat half a mile. A desperate rearguard action was fought on the pike near the present-day location of Tyne Boulevard, Cartwright said. Gen. Lee would be wounded the next day south of Franklin during the ongoing rearguard action.

Currey noted that the attacking USCT troops marched past brick slave quarters on the Overton plantation, near where the CSX Railroad parking lot is now located. Recent research has shown that five men in the 13th USCT Regiment were named Overton, and may have been former plantation slaves.

Currey noted that the Overton family hid in the cellar during the fighting. They were glad to see Union troops under Gen. Washington Elliott, a friend of the family before the war. The general posted guards around the house and spent the night there.

For two weeks prior to the battle, Travellers Rest had served as headquarters for Gen. Hood and his staff. One of the museum’s most prized possessions is the guestbook signed by eight Confederate generals, including Hood, Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Alexander P. Stewart, and James Chalmers.

Ironically, Currey noted that at the time of the battle Peach Orchard Hill probably did not include an orchard, or many trees at all.

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