If you’ve seen the movie “Gettysburg”, and who hasn’t on this forum seen it at least twice, you will know the storyline of James Longstreet’s trusty scout, Harrison. His name was Henry Thomas Harrison and in his book “Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer” Gilbert Moxley Sorrell writes about Harrison getting his mission before the Gettysburg campaign.
“Longstreet sent for his favorite scout, Harrison. His instructions were to proceed into the enemy’s lines, where he was to stay until the last part of June. Then he was to report to General Longstreet, it was hoped, with the amplest and most accurate information. “Where shall I find you, General, to make this report?” asked Harrison. “With the army,” was Longstreet’s grim answer; “I shall be sure to be with it.” He was very far from giving even to his trusted scout information as to his movements. But Harrison knew all the same; he knew pretty much everything that was going on.”
J.E.B. Stuart was away from the Army Of Northern Virginia so Robert E. Lee had no intelligence about where the yankees were and in what strength as he headed farther into Pennsylvania. Harrison appeared at Longstreet’s headquarters near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on the night of June 28, 1863 with news that Federal forces centered around Frederick, Maryland and were on there way north. At that moment Lee’s army was dispersed over a wide area of south central Pennsylvania. Moxley Sorrell continues with his narrative.
“At night I was roused by a detail of the provost guard bringing up a suspicious prisoner. I knew him instantly; it was Harrison, the scout, filthy and ragged, showing some rough work and exposure. He had come to report to the General, who was sure to be with the army, and truly his report was long and valuable. I should here say that in every respect it was afterwards fully confirmed by events and facts. Harrison gave us the first complete account of the operations of the enemy since Hooker left our front. He brought his report down to a day or two, and described how they were even then marching in great numbers in the direction of Gettysburg, with intention apparently of concentrating there.
He also informed us of the removal of Hooker and the appointment of George Meade to command of the Army of the Potomac. How many commanders had Lee made for that army! Harrison’s report was so exceedingly important that I took him at once with me, and woke Longstreet. He was immediately on fire at such news and sent the scout by a staff officer to General Lee’s camp near by. The General heard him with great composure and minuteness. It was on this, the report of a single scout, in the absence of cavalry, that the army moved. Important as was the change, the commanding General was not long in deciding. He sent orders to bring Ewell immediately back from the North about Harrisburg, and join his left. Then he started A. P. Hill off at sunrise for Gettysburg, followed by Longstreet. The enemy was there, and there our General would strike him.”
Based solely on the information from a spy, Lee directed his army to converge near Gettysburg. Harrison’s news saved Lee from a potential disaster and thus altered the course of history. Sorrel knew nothing about Harrison’s identity and no one on Longstreet’s staff even knew his first name. Longstreet must have known because he obtained a photograph of Harrison for his published memoirs, “From Manassas to Appomattox”. But Longstreet continued to maintain his secrecy in this matter.
The identity of General James Longstreet’s famous scout, known only as “Harrison” remained a mystery for more than a century. However, in 1986 historian James O. Hall identified this elusive man. Researching the Civil War records at the National Archives, Hall found conclusive evidence that Longstreet’s scout was Secret Agent H. T. Harrison.