Eli Nelson Underwood (March 27, 1827 - February 23, 1902) served as a major in the 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, commanding the second battalion.
Eli Underwood was born March 27, 1827 in Enfield, Massachusetts to Roswell and Phebe Harwood (Hall) Underwood. He married first Margaret E. Williams (1823-1906) with whom he had six children. They apparently divorced--although no record has been located--and he married second Ruth M. [last name unknown] (1842-1924) with whom he had no children.
Underwood was a master mechanic and served as an engineer on the Hudson River Railroad from 1849 to 1856; he lived in Greenbush, New York. In 1856 he left the Hudson River Railroad and moved to east Tennessee to accept the position as master mechanic of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.
Civil War service
According to his family history, Underwood was forced to flee east Tennessee with his son William (1853-1891), although nothing indicates that he was involved with the bridge burnings; it was most likely due to his outspoken Unionist sentiments.
Underwood reportedly brought a number of recruits into the regiment who had been coworkers of his at an east Tennessee Iron Mine. He accepted a commission as major on April 11, 1864 to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Major James Grayson on April 1, 1864. Underwood was mustered in the same day in Nashville, Tennessee.
He is listed as present for duty until December 1, 1864 when he was left sick in a hospital at Knoxville. He returned to the regiment in January 1865 and was in command of the regiment for the month. On January 30, 1865 he received a leave of absence for an unrecorded period of time.
Underwood tendered his resignation to Governor Andrew Johnson on February 10, 1865. He stated his reasons as declining health for several months rendering him unfit for service, a need to attend to the welfare of his family in Albany, New York, and "the settlement of some important business involving several thousand dollars." Underwood further requested a 30-day leave of absence to Brigadier General Gillem also on February 10, 1865 while his resignation request was being considered; it was granted by Colonel Miller, brigade commander, on February 12, 1865. His resignation was officially approved on March 10, 1865 by Special Order No. 63, Headquarters, Department of the Cumberland. When the regiment mustered out on September 5, 1865 at Knoxville, it was noted that he had last been paid to August 31, 1864.
The regimental history states that "Major Underwood was a staunch Union man and rendered all the assistance he could to the Union cause." It adds, "He ... was engaged in all the campaigns of the Regiment in East Tennessee. He commanded the Battalion in the fights at Greeneville, Tennessee, Morristown, Carter's Depot and Bull's Gap. At Morristown he was in the gallant sabre charge that broke the enemy's lines and was highly commended for gallantry. He was fond of music and poetry and delighted in discussing questions of science and philosophy; the officers of the Regiment gave him the sobriquet of 'Old Philosophy,' which he seemed to appreciate rather than dislike."
Underwood moved to Sacramento County, California by 1880. He worked for several years as an engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Other information about his personal life from the time of his resignation to his death is scant.
Underwood applied for an invalid's pension on April 19, 1892. He died February 23, 1902 in Colusa, California and is buried there at Colusa Community Cemetery. His wife Ruth, whom he married in 1882, applied for a widow's pension on March 11, 1903. His first wife, Margaret, applied for his pension as a "contested widow" on March 12, 1903; she was living in Tennessee at the time of her application. The outcome of who received the pension has not been located.
- 1900 U.S. Census, Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee.
- 1900 U.S. Census, Colusa Township, Colusa County, California.
- Underwood, Lucien Marcus. The Underwood Families of America Vol. 1 (Lancaster, PA: New Era Printing Co.), 1913, pp. 187-188.
- Headquarters, 13th Tennessee Cavalry, near Knoxville, February 10, 1865.
- Scott & Angel, p. 272.
- He appears on the California Voter Registers, having registered to vote on September 15, 1880.
- Underwood, p. 188