Henry T. Harrison

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Henry Thomas Harrison
Personal
Date & Place of Birth April 23, 1832
Nashville, Tennessee
Parents Henry Hargrove Harrison
Rebecca Pearson
Religion
Spouse Laura Broders
Children Elizabeth "Bessie" Harrison Kagay
Date & Place of Death October 28, 1923
Covington, Kentucky
Place of Burial Highland Cemetery, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
Military
Education
Branch of Service Confederate States Army
Years of Service 1861
Highest rank promoted Private
Commands assigned to Co. I, 12th Mississippi Infantry
Battles participated in Suffolk
Post-war career Detective, Municipal Reform League, Cincinnati, Ohio


Henry Thomas Harrison (1832 – 1923), stage actor and Confederate spy, best known for supplying information about Union movements to generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet in late June, 1863; their actions led to the Battle of Gettysburg a few days later.

History

Born in Nashville in 1832, Henry Thomas Harrison was the third child of Captain Henry H. and Rebecca Harrison. The elder Harrison was a steamship company controller and owner on the Mississippi River, and in 1848 he would provide the ships used between New Orleans and Vera Cruz for troop transportation during the Mexican War. One of his ships - the Ann Chase - was built and commanded by him, and named for a woman who stayed in Tampico, Mexico, providing the information about the city which enabled the Americans to take it with a small force.

This doubtless must have impressed the younger Henry, for soon after the outbreak of war in 1861 he had enlisted in the 12th Mississippi Infantry, seeing action at the Battle of Suffolk, and acting as a scout for Major General Earl Van Dorn near Manassas, Virginia. He was discharged by the end of the year though, and in February, 1863 became a spy for Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon, impressing him with his information that General Grant was on the move north in Mississippi. Seddon would assign him to Longstreet in March 1863, where he would be paid in gold for his spying efforts. A close call, however, nearly derailed his service: Harrison was arrested by Union soldiers near New Berne, North Carolina, and kept locked up for a month; his acting ability convinced his captors that he was a civilian avoiding conscription, enabling his release.

Gettysburg

Reporting back to Longstreet in June, 1863, Harrison was assigned to track the movements of General Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac as it headed north through Maryland; the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee had already entered Pennsylvania. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, assigned by Lee to reconnoiter with his cavalry around the enemy, had failed to deliver any information as to enemy movements, leaving Lee in effect blinded.

On June 28, 1863, Harrison reported to Longstreet at his headquarters that Union forces were advancing north of Frederick, Maryland; they would be in the area within days. Furthermore, Hooker had been replaced by Major General George G. Meade. Longstreet, knowing Confederate forces were stretched thin across south-central Pennsylvania, sent Harrison to relay the information directly to Lee; Lee in turn gave the order to his commanders to regroup around Gettysburg. This action prevented the Federals from engaging and taking small groups of Confederates, but it also resulted in the epic three-day Battle of Gettysburg, where over 50,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing in action. Harrison himself would pick up a musket and take part in the fighting on the third day of battle.

Later career

Longstreet released him by the following September, and Harrison married Laura Broders that month in Washington D.C. Harrison would stay in the North for the remainder of the war, continuing his spying from the capitol and New York City. His marriage would produce a daughter, Elizabeth, whom he nicknamed Bessie.

After the war, Harrison moved his wife and daughter to Mexico, but left them due to marital problems in 1866, and went to Montana to go search for gold. He would stay missing from their lives for 25 years, Laura remarrying during that time after assuming he was dead.

He later worked as a detective in Cincinnati from 1901 to 1911 before moving to Covington, Kentucky, where he died in poverty 12 years later. An application for a military pension in 1912 lists him only as a Confederate veteran. Simply known by his last name only - Longstreet ensuring that until his own death - he was not revealed to the world under his full name until 1986.

References