Longstreet's Scout
Henry Thomas Harrison

Frequently Asked Questions

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Last updated: 12/31/2007

Q1: Is there any connection between James Harrison, the actor, and Henry Thomas Harrison, Longstreet's scout?

Q2: Did Harrison ever use an alias?

Q3: Was H. T. Harrison an actor?

Q4: How is it that we knew so little about H. T. Harrison for well over 100 years and now we know so much about him?

Q5: How and when was Harrison's real identity discovered?

Q6: How do we know about Harrison's genealogy?

Q7: Did Harrison request to join the fight at Gettysburg as portrayed in the film Gettysburg?

Q8: Is there any connection between H. T. Harrison and Frank Stringfellow?

Q9: Is it true that Moxley Sorrel saw Harrison on stage in Baltimore after the war?

RESPONSES



Q1: Is there any connection between James Harrison, the actor, and Henry Thomas Harrison, Longstreet's scout.

A1: It is only a coincidence that James Harrison, the professional actor, was performing in Richmond Virginia during the same time period that Henry Thomas Harrison appeared onstage in Richmond.

James O. Hall found that actor James Harrison was appearing nightly on stage at the New Richmond Theatre while Henry Thomas Harrison was spying for General Longstreet in the Suffolk, Virginia and Goldsboro, North Carolina areas.  It would not be possible to commute over that distance. Hall, James O. "A Modern Hunt for Fabled Agent: The Spy Harrison." Civil War Times Illustrated. Vol. 24, No. 10 (1986): 18-25

"James Harrison was appearing almost nightly on the stage of Richmond's New Theatre. After a busy schedule in March, the actor was billed to assume prominent roles in fourteen different plays presented on April 4, 6, 9, 11, 13-15, 20-21, 23-25, and 27-30, 1863. In May
he participated in eleven more productions." Stuart, Meriweather, Dr. “Of Spies and Borrowed Names.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 89, (1981): 313-315.

In Moxely Sorrel's book, Recollections of a Staff Officer, Sorrel quotes Harrison as saying that he was not an actor and his appearance on stage was motivated by a $50 bet that he could act.  Sorrel also stated that when he did see him at the theater, Harrison was apparently fortified by drink.  It appeared that Harrison needed a little courage from the bottle. Sorrel, G. Moxley. Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. NY: Bantam Books, 1992 [orig. pub. by the Neale Publishing Company, 1905].

In checking Richmond newspaper advertisements, Mr. James O. Hall found a most revealing notice.  The New Richmond theater manager, R.D. Ogden, seeking to spice up the notices for the play, Othello, on the night of September 10, added: "Iago [the villain in Shakespeare's tragedy Othello] would be performed [by an amateur], an officer of the Army."  A Confederate officer would appear on stage on the night of September 10, 1863!

As additional evidence that the two Harrisons are not the same person, in Longstreet's book, From Manassas to Appomattox, there is a picture of the man titled "Harrison."  Compared to Henry Thomas Harrison's wedding picture taken about 30 years earlier, he's a dead ringer.  James Harrison looks nothing like the picture in Longstreet's book.

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Q2: Did Harrison ever use an alias?

A2: Harrison did go by the nickname "Harry."  That is the only known alias and it was probably a family name he picked up in boyhood to distinguish him from his father, Henry Hargrove Harrison.  There are no known instances where he tried to hide his identity.  Even when he was captured by Union troops in North Carolina he gave them his full name, Henry Thomas Harrison. 

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Q3: Was H. T. Harrison an actor?

A3: Except for the one time appearance on a bet, there is no evidence that he was ever a professional actor. 

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Q4: How is it that we knew so little about H. T. Harrison for well over 100 years and now we know so much about him?

A4: Naturally, before Richmond fell into Union hands in 1865, secret service records were destroyed.  Any of these Confederate operatives could have been subject to being hung if found.  In retrospect that didn't happen but how were they to know at the time.  I'm sure Harrison, like many others, kept a low profile for some time after the war to avoid retribution.  In the meantime, Harrison became estranged from his family.  Little was said about him among family members.  His wife, Laura, after a long period of silence and assuming he was dead, remarried. 

It is because of Harrison's daughter, Irene Harrison Beattie, who preserved family history, that we now have the documentation to make the connection between Henry Thomas Harrison and General Longstreet's spy, Harrison.  Irene somehow gained possession of her mother's personal letters from Harrison and amazingly enough retained two photographs of him - one in his Confederate uniform and another, his wedding picture.  Harrison's daughter also saved a letter she received from him that he sent to her from Cincinnati in 1900.  Harrison was an old man then and wanted to meet his daughter.  Sadly, he never did.

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Q5: How and when was Harrison's real identity discovered?

A5: Harrison's granddaughter, Mrs. Marian Ralph has had a lifelong interest in Civil War History and family genealogy.  She and her sister, Mrs. Martha Alexander, preserved their mother's letters and photographs but never really knew anything about Harrison's military history except that their mother had told them that he was a scout for General Longstreet.  The photograph of Harrison in uniform clearly shows him holding a piece of paper with numbers on it. 

In 1982 Mrs. Ralph consulted Mr. David Gaddy, an expert on Confederate ciphers.  She wanted to know what the numbers represented.  She mentioned that his name was Harrison and that he was a scout for General Longstreet.  Later on, Mr. James Hall who was researching Longstreet's spy, Harrison, contacted Mr. Gaddy on another matter and the subject of Mrs. Ralph's information was mentioned.  Mr. Hall took the lead and the rest is, as they say, history.

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Q6: How do we know about Harrison genealogy?

A6: Harrison's daughter, Irene Harrison Beattie, was very much interested in her father's identity.  In 1931 (she was 66 years old and Harrison, if still living, would have been 99 years old) she contacted Franklin Irving (Harrison's nephew) and received a copy of Irving's family genealogy that included Harrison and Harrison's father, Henry Hargrove Harrison.  This identified his family and connected Harrison to Cincinnati where Harrison's brother-in-law had a business.

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Q7: Did Harrison request to join the fight at Gettysburg as portrayed in the film Gettysburg?

A7: There is no evidence that he did.

 

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Q8: Is there any connection between H. T. Harrison and Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Stringfellow?

A8: In  the fall of 1861 Harrison was a leader of a group he referred to as "Mississippi Scouts on the Potomac."  At the time he was a private in the Twelfth Mississippi Infantry Regiment stationed at "Camp Van Dorn" at Union Mills, near Manassas, Virginia.  Later, in 1863, Harrison returned to the area and resumed his espionage activities while working for Lieutenant General James Longstreet.
Frank Stringfellow was also engaged in espionage in the Alexandria and Washington areas throughout the Civil War as a member of the Jeb Stuart's Fourth Virginia Cavalry.  
Both men were involved in espionage in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC areas during the same time periods and it is possible they were connected.  However, there is no evidence that they were connected or even knew about each other.  It is most likely that they were operating separately and were independent agents.

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Q9: Is it true that Moxley Sorrel saw Harrison on stage in Baltimore after the war?

A9: That bit of misinformation came from Sharra's Killer Angles in the Afterword section.  Sharra's memory was somewhat faulty and was probably an honest mistake.  Actually, Sorrel wrote in his book, Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer, the following:

"Latrobe recently heard from him in Baltimore, in want, and asking some small assistance."

This was undoubtedly when Harrison made his trip east in 1900 to visit friends and family.  Harrison was getting up in age and was seeking support.  He found none.

More questions?  Contact Bernie Becker at: BernieB@aol.com

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