Sam Davis Elliott has just released a new book on Isham G. Harris titled Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator. LSU Press. Tennessee history buffs will especially be interested in possibly reading it.
Professor Charles C. Rable reviewed Elliott’s new book and nicely summarizes Isham’s war-time story:
Harris was a successful lawyer and staunch Democrat in heavily Jacksonian West Tennessee. Serving in Congress, he strongly defended the expansion of slavery. Elected governor in 1857, Harris could accomplish little in that constitutionally weak office until mounting sectional troubles offered an opportunity for leadership. Despite a resurgent unionism early in 1861, Harris brought Tennessee down the path of secession by making military preparations to join the nascent Confederacy before the voters had agreed that the state should leave the Union. Even as he tried to avoid needlessly antagonizing East Tennessee Unionists, Harris became quite active in raising troops and preparing the state’s defenses. But after the Federals captured Forts Henry and Donelson and the Confederates had to abandon Nashville, the governor had little left to govern. These disasters, however, hardly deterred him. While serving as a volunteer military aide, he rushed to the side of the mortally wounded Albert Sidney Johnston on the Shiloh battlefield. For the rest of the war, Harris would travel with the Army of Tennessee and its various commanders. Remarkably Harris managed to get along with Braxton Bragg, Joseph Johnston, and John Bell Hood–no small achievement in itself. Nathan Bedford Forrest lauded him as a “fighting governor,” and his tireless recruitment of Tennesseans must have greatly pleased Confederate officials. Harris accompanied Jefferson Davis on a western speaking tour and served with Hood during the disastrous Tennessee campaign. Even after Appomattox, he remained a bitter ender who hoped to keep the war going in the Trans-Mississippi theater.
Sam Davis Elliott is the author of Soldier of Tennessee: General Alexander P. Stewart and the Civil War in the West and Doctor Quintard, Chaplain C.S.A. and Second Bishop of Tennessee: The Memoir and Civil War Diary of Charles Todd Quintard. He is a practicing attorney and lives near Chattanooga, Tennessee.