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.
Henry Thomas Harrison c.1861
|Memorial Service at Highland Cemetery|
|Frequently Asked Questions|
|Spy Harrison in the movie Gettysburg|
|Harrison's Coded Message|
|Link to Associate Websites|
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
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.
1832 - Henry Thomas Harrison born near Nashville, TN. [BFH]
1861, May - Harrison is mustered-in to the 12th Mississippi Infantry at Corinth, MS. [NA]
1861, September - Harrison scouts for Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn near Manassas, VA. [NA]
1862, April 30, Corinth, Mississippi - Harrison reports to Gen. Jordan. He request equipment so that he can enter service there. [ NA]
1863, January 6 - Harrison sends a report to Maj. Gen. Loring from Holly Springs, MS, with details about Grant's forces moving north through that area. [NA]
1863, February 20 - Harrison reports to Confederate Secretary of War, James A. Seddon in Richmond, VA. [NA]
1863, March 7 - Assigned to General Longstreet, he is dispatched to spy for General D. H. Hill in Goldsboro, NC. [NA]
1863, March - April - Union soldiers arrest Harrison near New Berne, NC. After being held prisoner for nearly a month, Harrison convinces his captors that he is an innocent civilian avoiding conscription. [NA]
1863, April - Harrison reports to General Longstreet at Franklin, VA. [Longstreet]
1863, early June - Harrison is sent to Washington to track General Hooker's Army of the Potomac. [Longstreet]
June 28 - Harrison reports to Longstreet near Chambersburg, PA.
Harrison has details about locations of Union troops around Frederick, MD. In addition, Harrison reported that within the past 24 hours General Meade has been made commander of The Army of the Potomac. [Longstreet, Sorrel, Fairfax]
This alarming information prompts General Robert E. Lee to regroup his divided army near the Cashtown/Gettysburg area and thus avoids a potential disaster. [Longstreet, Sorrel, Marshall]
1863, September - Harrison is released by Longstreet and ordered to report back to Secretary of War, Seddon. [Sorrel]
September - Harrison marries Laura Broders in, of all places, Washington, DC.
The happy couple immediately travel to New York on their honeymoon. Harrison continues his espionage activities in Washington and New York for the remainder of the war. [BFH]
1865, Harrison takes his wife and daughter to Mexico. [BFH]
1866, Facing marital difficulties, Harrison leaves home to prospect for gold near Helena, MT. [BFH]
1867 through 1892 - Harrison's whereabouts remain unknown. His wife assumes he is dead and remarries. [BFH]
1893-1899 - Harrison is resident of Cincinnati, OH. [WCD]
1900, November - Harrison returns to Fairfax, Virginia in an attempt to visit his daughter. His overture is rebuffed by his daughter's family. He then proceeds to Dunfries, VA to visit Col. Fairfax, a former member of Longstreet's staff. [BFH]
1901-1911 - Harrison is employed in Cincinnati as a detective for the Municipal Reform League. [WCD]
1912, June 13 - Harrison becomes resident of Covington, KY and applies for a Confederate pension. [WCD, KCL and KSA]
1913-1923 - Harrison is resident of Covington. [WCD and KCL]
1923, October 28 - Harrison at age 91, dies in Covington, KY.. He is buried at Highland Cemetery, Fort Mitchell, KY. [KCL and KSA]
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
|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.
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.
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.
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].