Longstreet's Scout
Henry Thomas Harrison

 

During the early morning hours of June 28, 1863, Union General George Gordon Meade was appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac while at his headquarters near Frederick, Md.
Later that same day, a spy brought news about the location of Meade's army to Chambersburg,
Pennsylvania, a distance of fifty miles, where CSA Generals Lee and Longstreet were headquartered.

 

Henry Thomas Harrison, a Confederate spy, supplied Generals Longstreet and Lee with details about the advancing Union army. Based solely on that information, Lee ordered his dispersed army to move immediately towards a small crossroads town in south-central Pennsylvania. Thus was the beginning of the historic three-day battle known as Gettysburg.

We can only imagine what might have happened if Harrison had failed in his mission but it is a fact that he did change the course of history.

Henry Thomas Harrison c.1861
Courtesy of Mrs. Marian Ralph

Chronology  
Memorial Service at Highland Cemetery
Frequently Asked Questions
Spy Harrison in the movie Gettysburg
Harrison's Coded Message
Link to Associate Websites  

Overview

The identity of General James Longstreet's famous scout, known only as "Harrison" remained a mystery for more than a century. However, in 1986 historian James O. Hall identified this elusive man.  Researching the Civil War records at the National Archives, Hall found conclusive evidence that Longstreet's scout was Secret Agent H. T. Harrison.  
Harrison had joined the Mississippi State Militia in the spring of 1861 as a private.   But in November of 1861 he was discharged and eventually became a spy for CSA Secretary of War James Seddon.  Harrison's service for Longstreet at Gettysburg has long been established history and Hall's research has identified him but there is more to the story.  The purpose of this website is to publish additional facts as they are uncovered. 

Colonel G. Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's Chief of Staff, wrote in his book, Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer, that Harrison provided valuable information regarding the whereabouts and intentions of Union forces under their new commander, General George Gordon Meade, prior to the battle of Gettysburg.

Harrison appeared at Longstreet's headquarters near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on the night of June 28, 1863 with news that Federal forces centered around Frederick, Maryland and were on there way north.  At that moment Lee's army was dispersed over a wide area of south central Pennsylvania.  Based solely on the information from a spy, Lee directed  his army to converge near Gettysburg.  Harrison's news saved Lee from a potential disaster and thus altered the course of history.

Sorrel knew nothing about Harrison's identity and no one on Longstreet's staff even knew his first name.  Longstreet must have known because he obtained a photograph of Harrison for his published memoirs, From Manassas to Appomattox. But Longstreet continued to maintain his secrecy in this matter.

There are no extant letters of correspondence between Longstreet and Harrison in Longstreet's manuscript collections.  What we do have is Longstreet's recollections published in Century Magazine, the Philadelphia Times, and finally, in his book, From Manassas to Appomattox. As a tribute to Harrison's espionage, Longstreet wrote in an 1887 article for Century Magazine that Harrison provided him "with information more accurate than a force of cavalry could have secured."

Chronology of known H. T. Harrison Facts

The following is a high-level summary of known facts about Henry Thomas Harrison.  Cites are in brackets following each entry.

The author of this website is the great-grandson of Henry Thomas Harrison and has been researching H. T. Harrison for many years.  After the Civil War Harrison became estranged from his family and maintained his privacy for the rest of his life.  He made no attempt to exploit his colorful career as a secret agent for the Confederacy.  In his application for pension he only claimed to be a Confederate Veteran without mention of being a spy or scout for Longstreet.
Years of research uncovered when and where he died.  A tip from Ms. Cindy Buck-Thompson led to the discovery that Harrison was living in Covington, Kentucky after leaving Cincinnati in 1912.  Further research revealed that he was buried at Highland Cemetery, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.  The Office of Veterans Affairs has provided a CSA headstone and it is now in place.

Last Update - August 03, 2008 

Speaking Engagements

Date Venue
June 20, 2006 South Mountain Relic and Coin Club, Williamsport, MD
February 7, 2006 Col. William Norris Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Damascus, MD
January 19, 2006 Frederick County Civil War Round Table, Frederick, MD
November 7, 2005 R. E. Lee Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Alexandria, VA
January 4, 2005 Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association, Reston, VA
November 14, 2004 Frank Stringfellow Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Fairfax, VA
June 15, 2003 Fitzhugh Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Frederick, MD

 

Col. William Norris Camp, SCV #1398

Author giving presentation about  the espionage activities of Henry Thomas Harrison for the Norris Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, at the Damascus Public Library in Damascus, Maryland.

Seated in front on left is Ed Harrell and on the right is Harold Ford.  Photo courtesy of Don Beck.

 

 

Read the latest Harrison article in the November, 2004 issue of America's Civil War magazine.

Family papers help tell more about the Gettysburg campaign spy whose activities were popularized, with a degree of literary license, in the novel, The Killer Angles, and in the movie, Gettysburg.

Note: Back-issues are available from America's Civil War magazine. Click on the image on the right to order.

 

 

HIGHLAND CEMETERY
We celebrated the installation of the CSA headstone at Highland Cemetery on May 18, 2003.  To see highlights click on: memorial event.

 

Harrison's  final years in Cincinnati and Covington are described in an article titled "Civil War Spy Discovered in Covington" in the Spring-Summer 2003 (Volume X, Number 2) issue of Northern Kentucky Heritage Magazine.  Copies of the article are available from the Kenton County Library for $5.00 which includes postage.  Click on http://www.kenton.lib.ky.us/~histsoc/heritage.html for details.         

NB: A special thanks is extended to the research staff at the Kenton County Library and the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives for their responsiveness and help with uncovering primary source documents.  Their assistance helped lead to the amazing discovery of Harrison's last years and final resting place.

Links to Associate Websites
SIGNAL CORPS ASSOCIATION 
9th VIRGINIA, COMPANY B -- REENACTORS
FREDERICK COUNTY CIVIL WAR ROUND TABLE
COLONEL WILLIAM NORRIS SVC CAMP #1398
NORTHERN VIRGINIA RELIC HUNTERS ASSOCIATION

Feel free to contact Bernie Becker [mailto:BernieB@aol.com] for comments or questions.

 

Abbreviations:

ACW - America's Civil War Magazine.
BFH - Broders Family History -- letters, documented histories and photographs from the Broders family.
KCL - Kenton County Library.
KSA - Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives.
NA - National Archives and Records Administration.
OR - Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Union and Confederate Armies.
WCD - Williams, City Directories.

Bibliography:

Hall, James O. "A Modern Hunt for Fabled Agent: The Spy Harrison." Civil War Times Illustrated. Vol. 24, No. 10 (1986): 18-25.
Longstreet, James, Gen. CSA. “Lee in Pennsylvania.” Annals of the War. Edison, NJ: The Blue & Grey Press. 1996, pp. 419-20 (originally published in the Philadelphia Weekly Times 1879.)
Longstreet, James, Gen. CSA. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Century Co., ©1887.
Longstreet, James, Gen. CSA. From Manassas to Appomattox, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1896 [c.1895] [Mallard Press, 1991.]
Marshall, Charles (Frederick Maurice, ed.). Lee's Aide-De-Camp, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000
Sorrel, G. Moxley. Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. NY: Bantam Books, 1992 [orig. pub. by the Neale Publishing Company, 1905].

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