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Isham G. Harris
Isham G. Harris

18th Governor of Tennessee
In office
November 3, 1857 – 1862
Lieutenant John C. Burch (1857-1859)
Tazewell W. Newman (1859-1861)
B.L. Stovall (1861)
Edward S. Cheatham (1861-1862)
Preceded by Andrew Johnson
Succeeded by Andrew Johnson (Military Governor)

United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
March 4, 1877 – July 8, 1897
Preceded by Henry Cooper
Succeeded by Thomas B. Turley

Born February 10, 1818
Tullahoma, Tennessee
Died July 8, 1897 (aged 79)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic

Isham Green Harris (February 10, 1818 – July 8, 1897) was an American politician. He served as Governor of Tennessee from 1857 to 1862 and as a U.S. Senator from 1877 until his death.

As governor, his decision not to respond to President Abraham Lincoln's request for troops to quell the secession of the Southern states helped make Tennessee the last state to join the Confederacy. During the American Civil War, Harris served as staff officer in the Confederate Army.

Following the defeat of the CSA, Harris fled to Mexico, but returned to Memphis after learning most Confederate officials were not being prosecuted for treason. He was subsequently elected to four terms in the United States Senate and served as its President pro tempore.

Early life[]

Harris was born near Tullahoma, Tennessee. He was educated at Winchester Academy in Winchester, Tennessee. He moved to Paris, Tennessee, to become a store clerk. He studied law while there and was admitted to the bar in 1841 and began his practice in Paris.

Early career[]

He was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1847, serving one term there and then two in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1849 to 1853. During his first term in the House, he chaired the Committee on Invalid Pensions. A Democrat, he was his party's nominee for governor in 1857 and was elected, succeeding Andrew Johnson.

Civil War period[]

Perhaps rather surprisingly given the troubled and volatile nature of the times, he was re-elected twice, in 1859 and 1861. When President Abraham Lincoln declared that there was rebellion in the South in 1861 and asked for troops to help quell it, Harris refused to make the call, and none were provided. This helped push Tennessee to become the last state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

The Confederate government had lost control of much of Tennessee, including the capital, Nashville, by early 1862. Apparently, upon learning that Lincoln had appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee, Harris, while not resigning formally, ceased to make any real effort to function as governor, serving instead as a staff officer in the Confederate States Army, first for Albert Sidney Johnston and then for Joseph E. Johnston. Gov. Harris was present at the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing), Tn. on April 6–7, 1862. At 2:15pm on the afternoon of April 6 at Shiloh, Gov. Harris found General Albert Sidney Johnston slumping in his saddle he asked the General "General are you wounded?" to which Johnston replied "Yes, I fear gravely so". Harris and other Staff officers moved General Johnston to a small ravine near the famous "Hornets Nest" and desperatley tried to aid the General. A bullet had cut the main artery in his leg and he bled to death at 2:30pm. on April 6, 1862. Governor Harris and the others secretly moved General Johnston's body to Shiloh Church so as not to cause moral damage to the troops, where his body remained till the Confederate Army withdrew to Corinth, Ms. the next day, April 7, 1862. ending the Battle of Shiloh.

Post-war career[]

After the war, Harris fled with General Hylan B. Lyon and other Confederates to Mexico, hoping to rally with Maximillian. Harris then sought refuge in England. Upon learning that only the highest-ranking officials of the Confederacy were being punished, and that it might be possible for all others to have their civil rights restored, he returned to Tennessee and resumed the practice of law in Memphis, Tennessee. He was subsequently elected to four terms in the U.S. Senate, serving from 1877 until his death, and is, to date, Tennessee's second-longest serving Senator, next to Kenneth McKellar. From 1893 to 1895 (53rd Congress), Harris was President pro tempore of the Senate. Other Senate assignments in his career included chairing the District of Columbia Committee in the 46th Congress and the 53rd Congress, the Committee on Epidemic Diseases in the 49th Congress through the 52nd Congress, and the Committee on Private Land Claims in the 54th and 55th Congresses.

Death and legacy[]

File:Isham G. Harris - Brady-Handy.jpg

Isham G. Harris

His funeral was held in the Senate chamber of the United States Capitol and he is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, where many prominent West Tennessee political figures are buried.


Preceded by
Andrew Johnson
Governor of Tennessee
Succeeded by
Andrew Johnson
As Military Governor
Preceded by
Charles F. Manderson
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
March 22, 1893 – January 7, 1895
Succeeded by
Matt Whitaker Ransom
Preceded by
Matt Whitaker Ransom
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
January 10, 1895 – March 3, 1895
Succeeded by
William P. Frye
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Lucien Bonaparte Chase
Member from Tennessee's 9th congressional district
Succeeded by
Emerson Etheridge
United States Senate
Preceded by
Henry Cooper
Senator from Tennessee (Class 2)
Served alongside: James E. Bailey, Howell E. Jackson,
Washington C. Whitthorne, William B. Bate
Succeeded by
Thomas B. Turley

Template:USSenPresProTemp Template:Governors of Tennessee Template:USSenTN

  • Elliott, Sam Davis. Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United Senator. Baton Rouge, LA.:Louisiana State University Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-8071-3490-0

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