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Henry Thomas Harrison


Henry Thomas Harrison

Henry Thomas Harrison

Henry Thomas Harrison (1832 – October 28, 1923), known to most simply as "Harrison", was a spy for Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet during the American Civil War. He is best known for the information he gave Longstreet and Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Gettysburg Campaign, which results in Lee converging on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, thus causing the Battle of Gettysburg.


  • Early life and early Confederate States Army service 1
  • Career as a Confederate spy 2
  • Postbellum 3
  • In Popular Culture 4
  • References 5

Early life and early Confederate States Army service

Harrison was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He was an actor who did not get many large parts due to his small stature. At age 29, at the start of the Civil War in spring 1861, Harrison joined the Mississippi State Militia as a private.

Career as a Confederate spy

In November 1861, Harrison was discharged from the Militia and eventually became a spy for CSA Secretary of War, James Seddon. In April 1863, Harrison met James Longstreet during the Battle of Suffolk. From that point on, Harrison provided information for Longstreet, which usually proved to be reliable. Also, to maintain the loyalty of his prized spy, Longstreet frequently paid Harrison in U.S. gold coins and/or greenbacks.

On the night of June 29, 1863, Harrison came to General Robert E. Lee with information about the Union positions. Lee had never heard of Harrison before, yet he came compliments of Longstreet, who had known Harrison since the beginning of that year. In addition, Longstreet's chief of staff, Moxley Sorrel, said that Harrison "always brought true information." In the end, Harrison's information was plausible enough for Lee to halt his entire army. Harrison reported that the Union had left Frederick, Maryland, and was moving northward, which was true. As a result of Harrison's information, Lee told all of his troops to concentrate in the vicinity of Cashtown, PA, eight miles from Gettysburg, thereby triggering the events that led to the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee even said after hearing the news from Harrison, "A battle thus became, in a measure, unavoidable."

After Gettysburg, Harrison operated mostly in the North, gathering intelligence while living in New York with his newly wed wife, Laura Broders, yet none of his future intelligence ever matched the importance of his discovery in the days before the Battle of Gettysburg.


After the war, Harrison took his wife and daughter to Mexico. But in 1866, facing marital difficulties, Harrison left Mexico to prospect for gold in Montana. For the period of 1867 to 1892, Harrison's exact whereabouts remain unknown. Laura Broders assumed that he was dead and later remarried. In 1893, Harrison moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1901, Harrison got a job in Cincinnati as a detective for the Municipal Reform League. In 1912, he moved to Covington, Kentucky and applied for a Confederate pension. On October 28, 1923, Harrison died in Covington at the age of 91. He is buried at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.

In Popular Culture

Harrison was a major character in Michael Shaara's historical novel The Killer Angels, and was played by Cooper Huckabee in the film version Gettysburg. Huckabee also portrays Harrison in the director's cut of Gods and Generals, with scenes depicting him in off-stage conversation with John Wilkes Booth.


  • Hall, James O. "A Modern Hunt for Fabled Agent: The Spy Harrison." Civil War Times Illustrated. Vol. 24, No. 10 (1986): 18-25.
  • Henry Thomas Harrison
  • Flagel, Thomas R., and Allers Jr., Ken, The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg, Cumberland House Publishing Inc., 2006, ISBN 978-1-58182-509-1.
  • Shaara, Michael, The Killer Angels, The Random House Publishing Group, 1974, ISBN 1-58663-524-7.
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