Isham G. Harris (1818-1897)

Tennessee's Governor (1857-1862) and United States Senator, and the only "Confederate" Tennessee Governor (1861-1862).

Isham G. Harris was born February 10, 1818, son of Isham Green and Lucy (Davidson) Harris, in Franklin County Tennessee, near Tullahoma. He attended the "common schools" and Winchester Academy, Franklin County. At age of fourteen, "with the consent and blessing of his father," he moved to Paris, Henry County, Tennessee to become a store clerk. He studied law, was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Paris, Tennessee in 1841.

On July 6, 1843, Harris married Martha Maria Travis, of Henry County, a native of Virginia, daughter of Edward Travis. They had eight children: Eugene T., Edward K., James H., Charles H., Isham Green, III, Harris and three whose names are not yet found.

A Democrat, Harris served in the Senate, 27th Tennessee General Assembly, 1847-49, representing Henry, Obion, and Weakley counties. While still at Paris, in addition to term in the General Assembly, he was a presidential elector in 1848, on the Democratic ticket of Lewis Cass and William O. Butler. He was elected to U.S. House of Representatives of the 31st and 32nd Congresses, March 4, 1849 - March 3, 1853. He served on the Committee on Invalid Pensions in 32nd Congress.

He declined the nomination for the 33rd Congress because of his plans to resume practice of law at Memphis, Shelby County. He moved to Memphis in 1853. Although highly successful in law practice, Senator Harris devoted a large portion of his life to public affairs. He again was a presidential elector for state-at large in 1856, on the Democratic ticket of James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge.

He was elected Governor of Tennessee, 1857, and reelected 1859 and 1861, serving from November 3, 1857 to 1862. Governor Harris was regarded as the leader in Tennessee of those who favored separation from the United States after the election of President Lincoln in 1860.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. Governor Harris's message to the Tennessee General Assembly on January 7, 1861 amply displays his sentiments toward the Union, and the possibility of a "homogeneous Confederacy of Southern States."

On February 9, 1861, the Tennessee electorate voted against secession. A law provided that the voters were to cast their ballots For Convention or No Convention .Tennessee voted 57,789 For Convention, 69,675 No Convention. There would be no Convention, but even if there had been one the vote for the Delegates, 88,803 for Union Delegates, 24,749 for Disunion delegates, assured that Tennessee would not yet secede from the Union.

After the fall of Fort Sumter, April 14, 1861, President Lincoln called for troops from the states, including Tennessee. On April 17, 1861, Governor Harris replied to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, "Tennessee will not furnish a single man for the purpose of coercion, but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers". On April 25, 1861, Harris sent another message to the Tennessee General Assembly, in which he again elucidates and endorses the Southern cause. In the election on the subject of withdrawal from the Union, June 8, 1861, the vote for separation was 102,172 in favor and 47,238 against separation. On June 24, Harris issued a proclamation declaring that "all connections by the State of Tennessee with the Federal Union dissolved, and that Tennessee is a free, independent government, free from all obligations to or connection with the Federal Government of the United States of America." In the period between the fall of Fort Sumter and the election of June 8, Governor Harris took the lead in preparing the state for eventual hostilities. Harris was instrumental in the formation of the Provisional Army of Tennessee, forerunner of the C.S.A. Army of Tennessee. On May 6 the legislature adopted "An Ordinance for the Adoption of the Constitution of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America," for the Tennessee electorate to vote on June 8, 1861. The Governor appointed commissioners to enter into a Military League with the authorities of the Confederate States. So it was that Tennessee became a state in the Southern Confederacy. In the state election in August 1861, Harris was reelected governor by a majority of more than 31,000 votes.

The General Assembly was in session at Nashville when Fort Donelson fell on February 16, 1862, and Federal occupation of Nashville was soon to follow. On February 16, 1862, Governor Harris issued a call for the legislature to assemble at Memphis on the February 20, and the executive office was moved to that city. On February 20, Governor Harris sent a message to the Tennessee General Assembly about the the current precarious position in which Tennessee found itself.

By March 20, the legislature adjourned sine die, and the Union forces took possession of Memphis on June 6, 1862. In the meantime President Lincoln had appointed Andrew Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee, on March 3, 1862, and he took possession of the Executive Offices in the Capitol at Nashville. The C.S.A. Army of Tennessee fought bravely on until the war ended.

Harris was still nominally governor but driven from the state by the enemy. He became a voluntary member of the staffs of Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, Braxton Bragg, and Joseph E. Johnston.

After the war ended, with a reward of $5,000 for his capture, Harris fled to Mexico and later to England. He returned to Memphis in 1867 and resumed the practice of law.

He was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1877 and reelected in 1883, 1889, and 1895. He served from March 4, 1877, until his death in 1897. He served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the 53rd Congress; chairman, Committee on District of Columbia (46th and 53rd Congresses), Committee on Epidemic Diseases (49th through 52nd Congresses), Committee on Private Land Claims (54th and 55th Congresses).

He died in Washington, D.C., on July 8 1897. Following the funeral service in the Senate Chamber on July 10, his remains were sent to Nashville to lie in state for one day in the Hall of Tennessee's House of Representatives, then on to Memphis to lie in state in the First Methodist Church of that city, where final services were conducted. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis. He was a member of Free and Accepted Masons, having been elected Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee in 1851 and again in 1868. He was brother-in-law of James R. McMeans, Joseph H. Travis, and William E. Travis, sometime members Tennessee General Assembly.

From The Biographies of Our Ancestors site (with corrections).