Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Fort Hill at Waverly / Defending Railroads

Marker ID:  
Location: 201 Fort Hill Rd, Waverly, TN
County: Humphreys
Coordinates: N 36° 4.867    W 087° 47.517
  36.08111666    -87.79195
Waymark: None


The earthen fort in front of you, known as Fort Hill, was the headquarters of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), led by Col. John A. Hottenstein, from the fall of 1863 to the end of the war. The fort defended the army-operated railroad that ran from Johnsonville on the Tennessee River east to Nashville. The hillside location provided a commanding view of the railroad and overland approaches to Waverly.

In September 1863, the Bureau of U.S. Colored Troops began recruiting thousands of fugitive slaves in both urban and rural areas, including Waverly. Many of the slaves were contraband camp residents who fought for their freedom through military service. By the end of the war, 20,000 Tennessee blacks had served in the Union army.

In October 1863, Union Gen. Alvan C. Gillem organized and armed nearly 1,000 black men to build a railroad through Waverly. Federal troops, primarily the 12th and 13th USCT, the 8th Iowa Cavalry and the 1st Kansas Battery also contributed to the construction and defense of the rail line. In the winter of 1863-64, these units built Fort Hill. The 13th USCT fought at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864.

Lt. James Nicholas Nolan of the 1st Kansas Battery returned to Waverly after the war, and in 1870 he built a house on the hill opposite the fort where he served. A successful businessmen, he later served as a city alderman and mayor of Waverly.

Fort Hill and the Nolan House are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"This gang have their headquarters near Waverly, and they are supported and sustained by the whole community in that vicinity. Waverly is the nest of the vilest and most pestilential set of traitors that live, and the place ought to be destroyed." — Col. William P. Lyon, 13th Wisconsin Infantry, July 29, 1863

Civil War railroads required constant maintenance. These workers, photographed ca. 1863, are using levers to loosen rails for repair. Courtesy Library of Congress
Col. Alvan C. Gillem Courtesy Library of Congress

Erected by Civil War Trails.