Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Snapshots of hell: A visit to Nashville's Peach Orchard Hill

Few visit this out-of-the-way historical sign off busy Harding Place Road at Peach Orchard Hill. 
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Bordered on three sides by traffic hell, the neighborhood seven miles south of downtown Nashville is like thousands of others in Anywhere, USA. Dotted with trees, it includes a mix of McMansions, circa-1950s ranch-style houses and two-story charmers. Most have large, well-manicured front yards.

In one driveway, a basketball hoops sits, unused, while two small, ornamental stone pigs guard another. At the dead end of Elysian Fields Road, an open space and a “No Dumping” sign await a visitor. Just beyond the chain-link fence along this strip of greenery, traffic on Interstate 65 roars. In the distance, a train whistle blows and a plane roars overhead, the background noise of life in a major city.

The entrance to a gated community on old Peach Orchard Hill,
anchor of the right flank of the Army of Tennessee
on Dec. 16, 1864.
Near the top of the incline of green space, next to the interstate, a brown, wooden fence stands. Beyond it, a gated community thrives near the crest of old Peach Orchard Hill. An out-of-the way historical sign on Franklin Road and another nearby on Harding Place Road note what happened here nearly 154 years ago. But few stop to read them. All this neighborhood is built on hallowed ground.

All of it.

On the frosty afternoon of Dec. 16, 1864 -- the second day of the Battle of Nashville -- Peach Orchard Hill, anchor of the right flank of the Army of Tennessee, was covered with dead and wounded Union soldiers. Among those cut down by General Stephen D. Lee's infantry and artillery were 200 men in the 13th U.S. Colored Troops, including five color-bearers.

A visitor wonders where the Yankees fell in this slice of well-developed Nashville. By the sign touting a political candidate over in that front yard? Near the mailbox next to the flagpole? Perhaps next to the young man wearing headphones who stands in the street? By the woman in the driveway over there?

And he especially wonders where two young Midwesterners suffered their deadly wounds here long ago. For them, Nashville was a special kind of hell.

13th U.S. Colored Troops formed up at this incline on Dec. 16, 1864.  This slice of land on
Elysian Fields Road  is managed  by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. 

Bristling with sharpened stakes firmly planted in the ground, Peach Orchard Hill proved to be a formidable defense against Union attack. But as the 51st Indiana made its ascent up the steep slope, Sergeant William R. Hartpence's saw an even more worrisome sight: four Confederate cannon and  lines of infantry.

Lieutenant Peter Gordon Tait, a native of Scotland, 
was killed at the Battle of Nashville. He is  buried
in Scotch Cemetery in Victoria, Ill.
(Find A Grave | Leta Knauss)
"Our boys were exhausted," he recalled, "and under ordinary circumstances would have been glad to delay the battle a few hours. But they felt that the end was near; and were eager to begin the fray, and have it over."

When Confederate artillerists found their range with canister and solid shot, 51st Indiana soldiers hit the ground, Then Lieutenant Peter Gordon Tait of the 89th Illinois, standing nearby in advance of his regiment, was struck by artillery fire "near the center of his body," Hartpence remembered, "tearing a great hole" in his left side.

The incident, the sergeant wrote, "will haunt the writer as long as life remains."

Falling to the ground, the 26-year-old native of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, threw his right arm to his side. Gruesomely, Tate's heart and left lung dropped out into it.

"The heart continued to throb for twenty minutes," Hartpence recalled, "its pulsations being distinctly seen by his agonized comrades who stood there and saw the noble life fade out in heroic self sacrifice. The ball buried itself in a log immediately in the rear doubtless thereby saving the lives of others who were in direct range of the deadly missile."

The remains of Tate, a farmer, were returned to Victoria, Ill., where he was buried in Scotch Cemetery. Nearly seven months earlier, Peter's 29-year-old brother, John, also in the 89th Illinois, had been killed at New Hope Church in Georgia.

Mortally wounded at Peach Orchard Hill
 in a freak incident, George Scrogin is
buried in Nashville National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
As he advanced up the slope leading to the crest of well-defended Peach Orchard Hill, 51st Indiana Private George Scrogin may have thought of his older brother. More than two years earlier, Henry Scrogin of the 45th Indiana had died of typhoid fever at Hospital No. 9 on Market Street in Nashville.

When grapeshot struck a Union colonel's horse in the neck, the wounded animal wildly careened through Federal lines. "A livelier horse I never saw," 51st Indiana veteran W. P. McClure wrote in a letter published in The National Tribune, a veterans newspaper.

With the 51st Indiana within 70 yards of the Confederate works, the horse bounded through the regiment at an angle, the sergeant remembered, "dashly madly through Co. H."

"His movements were so rapid," McClure recalled, "that our boys had barely time to make a slight movement either way to avoid collision, and he passed by almost as quickly as the shot and shell which the enemy were just then pouring into our fast-depleting ranks."

Stunningly, as the horse passed through the ranks, a stirrup hit the lock of a 51st Indiana soldier's musket, discharging the weapon into the back of George Scrogin's head. The private "fell dead on the spot," McClure noted, although records indicate he died five days later. Only 22, Scrogin eventually was interred in Nashville National Cemetery in Madison, Tenn., under grave marker No. 2900..

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-- Hartpence, William R., History of the Fifty-first Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Published by the author, The Robert Clarke Company, Printers and Binders, 1894.
-- The National Tribune, July 21, 1887.

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