One of the most well-known, yet most mysterious characters of the Battle of Gettysburg is Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s scout Henry Thomas Harrison, or more commonly known as simply, Harrison. Harrison gained fame and acknowledgement with the release of Ron Maxwell’s motion picture, Gettysburg and Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels . Portrayed by the actor Cooper Huckabee, Harrison is brought into the limelight and given credit for providing intelligence to General Longstreet, allowing the confederates to brace for a potential engagement with the Federal army. While General JEB Stuart, and the majority of his cavalry force were out of contact with Confederate headquarters, Harrison’s information regarding enemy strength and position served as the only clues to the intentions of their foe.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Harrison fell into the ranks to fight for the confederacy with the 12th Mississippi. Later though in 1861, Harrison was discharged and began functioning as a scout for the rebel forces. Then, in early 1863, Harrison was assigned as a scout to the first corps, Army of Northern Virginia, reporting to General James Longstreet.
Longstreet sent Harrison to the Federal Capital, Washington D.C., in search of intelligence and to gauge the intentions of the Union Army as General Lee and the Confederate army decided to make an attempt to capitalize on their decisive victory at Chancellorsville and wage war on Northern soil. On June 28, Harrison reconnected with the Confederate army, and reported to Longstreet that the Union army was located in Frederick, MD and the surrounding areas, and was on the move North in the direction of General Lee and the Confederates. As shown in the movie and novel, Harrison also brought the news that Joseph Hooker had been removed from command of the Union army, and replaced with General George Meade.
As a result of his reports, Longstreet sent Harrison to General Lee to convey his findings. Having yet to hear from General Stuart and the cavalry, Lee was left with little choice other than to take Harrison at his word, and act according to his information. So, Lee ordered for the concentration of the Confederate army, leading to the Battle of Gettysburg.
Thanks to research in recent years, we have learned much more about Harrison and his impact on the most well known battle of the Civil War, and because of The Killer Angels and Gettysburg, knowledge of Harrison and interest in his role has grown dramatically.
Adkin, Mark. The Gettysburg Companion The Complete Guide to America’s Most Famous Battle. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008. Print.