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Overton, Elisha

ELISHA WEBSTER OVERTON
11th New York Cavalry (Scott's Nine Hundred)
Corporal, Company E
Coram


Overton, Elisha
Elisha W. Overton. Photo from the Davis Erhardt collection


Elisha Overton was born on October 8, 1839, one of six children born to Lewis and Helen Overton. Their homestead was located on Mill Road in Coram. The Overton's arrived in Coram around 1740, and several of these ancestors fought against the British during the American Revolution. Perhaps this history and sense of pride led Elisha to enlist during the Civil War.

On December 7, 1861, Elisha enlisted in the army along with Middle Island resident, John Hallock. Overton was 22 years of age, stood 5'7" tall, and had hazel eyes and brown hair when he enlisted with the 11th Cavalry.

Colonel James Swain organized the regiment, made up primarily of urban and rural New Yorkers, on Staten Island during the winter of 1861-62. They were known as "Scott's 900," in honor of Thomas A. Scott, Assistant Secretary of War, who was a friend of James Swain. Swain was attempting to organize a unique regiment with distinctive uniforms. There were ten companies of 89 men and a general staff of ten officers. Each company used a different type of horse in order to distinguish one company from another. One company, for example, was given sorrels, another grays, and another used bays.

Overton rose quickly to the rank of Corporal of Company E. The regiment left New York on May 5, 1862 for Washington. They were stationed at Camp Relief, named thus not because it offered relief to the men, but after the wife of Colonel Swain, Relief Swain. The regiment did a lot of Provost work in Washington, making many mounted patrols in Virginia and Maryland.


The Coram home of Elisha W. Overton. The home was located on Mill Road, just south of the Pathmark shopping center.

He rose to the rank of Corporal of Company E. His rank was inexplicably reduced when he returned to duty after a hospital stay due to a bout with typhoid fever. Overton would quickly learn that there was no glory in war.

In September, Overton and his friend from home, John Hallock, were detached to Rockville, Maryland, where they were assigned Provost duty. The Confederates used Rockville as a recruiting area. The purpose of Company E was to keep an eye on the Rockville citizens and discourage any recruiting for the Confederates.

On October 9, 1862, while providing Provost duty, Overton was stricken with typhoid fever. He was later transferred to the U.S. Summit Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Overton remained hospitalized for seven months until April of 1863. During his recuperation, he was assigned to the Invalid Detachment as a guard at the hospital.

Overton recuperated sufficiently to return to his outfit in May. He learned, however, that there is no real glory in war. The fever he contracted at Rockville recurred throughout the war and the rest of his life. In addition, Corporal Overton's rank was inexplicably reduced when he returned to his company.

After he returned, the company was sent to Maryland Heights, participating in cavalry action leading up to the battle of Gettysburg. General Hooker, who was in charge of the Army of the Potomac, had learned of a Confederate Cavalry movement to the north. Fearing the beginning of an invasion, he sent his cavalry, commanded by General Alfred Pleasonton to meet and destroy the Confederate Cavalry, led by General Jeb Stuart. On June 8, 1863, Pleasonton's Cavalry force of 11,000 engaged Stuart's cavalry at Brandy Station. It was the largest cavalry engagement of the whole war. This violent action resulted in over 500 Confederate and 864 Union casualties. The constant pressure put upon Stuart cost him valuable time in his mission to link up with Lee, who was on his way to Gettysburg. Lee depended on Stuart's cavalry as the "eyes" of his army; many believe that Stuart's absence contributed to Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.

After the battle at Gettysburg, Company E followed Lee's retreating troops through July and August, engaging in seven skirmishes with Confederate forces through September.

Following these skirmishes, Overton was given a 60-day furlough from September until the end of October. In December, he was assigned to the City Mounted Patrol in Washington. The Mounted Patrol was used to keep the burgeoning population of Washington in control. Overton stayed there until February, when the regiment was transferred to the Department of the Gulf. After a long and tedious trip, the weary regiment arrived at New Orleans in March. Shortly after arriving, the regiment received a new designation. It was no longer "Scott's 900;" it was now assigned to New York State and became the 11th New York Cavalry.

The unit did not know it at the time, but in Louisiana they met their fiercest enemy. It was not bullets or shells. Rather, the lowlands of Louisiana brought fever, disease and death at a fearful rate. The regiment lost 344 men during the war: 25 from battle or wounds; 43 drowned at sea when the steamer North America sank off the coast of Florida on December 22, 1864; and the majority, 256 men, died from disease. One out of every four men in this regiment died from disease.

The men complained bitterly about the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and the never ending rain. After arriving in New Orleans, the regiment was sent to occupy several plantations in the area. Overton was assigned to Doyal's plantation, where he was stricken with fever again on May 30, 1864. On July 2, he had such a bad case of malarial fever that it caused a total loss of his teeth. Men were falling daily due to sunstroke, swamp fever, diarrhea, bloody dysentery, epileptic fits and heart failures. The hospitals at the plantations were overloaded with sick and dying men. Scores of graves at each plantation gave testimony to the suffering taking place. Many patients like Overton were transferred to hospitals at New Orleans or Baton Rouge. Recovering in October, he was granted a 60-day furlough. He might consider himself lucky that he was not sick enough to be sent home. Doctors placed the very sick on the steamship North America, which was bound for New York. Near Florida, the ship began taking on water. A nearby ship attempted to help but collided with the North America instead. One hundred and ninety- seven men died when the boat sank, including 43 from the 11th Cavalry. Many of these men were from Company E.

A weakened and sickly Elisha Overton was discharged on January 10, 1865 at Baton Rouge. He no longer held any romantic illusions of war when he returned home to the family farm in Coram. He married Charlotte Walcott on March 25, 1875. The couple had three children: Grace, Christina and Morse. Overton died on June 27, 1905, and was buried in the Union Cemetery in Middle Island.

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