JAMES R. HARRIS, Sergeant, Company "K"

Research By Linda Fluharty.

     James R. Harris was born in Ohio, according to the 1860 Census. However, a record at the War Department gives his birthplace as Wheeling, W. Va. He was the son of John and Lydia Harris. His brother, Isaac N. Harris, also in Company "K" of this regiment, was shot by police in Wheeling September 19, 1864 and died the next day.

     Although James does not appear in the 1850 census of Ohio County when he was about sixteen, it is believed he was a member of this family, based on information in the regimental history book of the Fifth West Virginia Cavalry.

     When James enlisted 30 Aug 1861, he was a 29 year old clerk, 5' 11' tall, with light complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. He served in Company "K," commanded by Captain Archibald Rowand.

     The text, presented below, indicates that Harris Brothers of the 1st Cavalry served as scouts (spies). The account of James R. Harris's death, while serving in this capacity, is included. His death is also mentioned in an excerpt from another book, "On Hazardous Service."

     The roster of the deaths of the 1st Cavalry gives a name to James R. Harris, since a nickname is used in the stories. The account in the Fifth Cavalry regimental book refers to James as "Spike" Harris. Archibald Rowand, a 1st Cavalry scout featured in the book, "On Hazardous Service," called him "Ike" Harris. Yet, there is no doubt that both references pertain to James R. Harris.

     James R. Harris was married to Mary E. Fry (alternatively "Frey") 21 Sep 1857, by Benjamin Fry, M. G., in Franklin County, Ohio. They were residing in Wheeling with her family in the 1860 census.

     James and Mary had a son and daughter, both born prior to the Civil War. Ina (in later records, "Inez") M. was born 15 Dec 1858. John A. was born 20 Jan 1861.

1850 Census, Ohio County, W.Va.
HARRIS, John, 50, Cabinet Maker, $500, MD
Lydia, 42, MD
Henry, 19, Bricklayer, OH
Lee, 10-M, OH
William, 8, OH
Isaac, 6, OH
Ann, 3, OH (d. 1851; b Walnut Grove, Martins Ferry, OH)

1860 Census, Ohio County, W.Va.
FRY, James C., 45, Tinner, $250
FRY, Phebe A., 44
FRY, Mary E., 21
FRY, Wm. ?, 17
FRY, Isaac A., 16, Nailer, b Va.
FRY, Sarah L., 11, Va.
FRY, Frank ?, 9, Va.
FRY, George T., 6
FRY, Clarence ?, 4, Va.
HARRIS, James R., 26, Clerk, b OH
HARRIS, Mary E., 22, b PA
HARRIS, Ina M., 2, b Va.

History of the Fifth West Virginia Cavalry (Second Infantry)
By Frank S. Reader, 1890. Chapter XVIII; Pages 267-269.


     When Gen. Sigel assumed command of the forces in the Shenandoah valley, in the spring of 1864, Smitley's scouts were ordered to report to his headquarters for duty. They did so, when Smitley as chief, and Willhide, Bailey, Lock, and E. F. Smitley were retained, the rest going with General Averell to the Kanawha valley. To these General Sigel added others, among whom were two brothers from the First West Virginia Cavalry, named Harris, familiarly known as "Spike" and "Lasses." The scouts were placed under the direction of Gen. Julius Stahel. On May 10, 1864, they were ordered to report to Gen. Sigel's headquarters in Winchester. The general told Smitley he had sent 500 cavalry to Moorefield, and it being long past the time they should be heard from, and having sent several other scouts for information without any of them returning, the general felt considerable anxiety about them and inquired of him if he had a scout suitable for the emergency. All members of the old Second Virginia would understand the situation. Sending 500 cavalry over there at that time, with green scouts, meant their capture or a bad defeat; to send green scouts to see about them, meant for McNeil or Moseby to pick them up as soon as outside our lines. Smitley's scouts, that were suitable, being overworked, he offered his services. The general demurred at first, then asked how many men he wanted with him, and how soon he could make the trip. Smitley told him if the cavalry were not captured he could go to them and return in about thirty hours; if captured, he could get reliable information and return in twelve hours, and would go alone. But the general decided he must have a lieutenant and twenty-five cavalry with him. Scout "Spike" Harris had a few hours previously, complained to Smitley of fancied partiality to the old Second scouts in his details, and requested to go along the next time and he would prove he was true blue. So Smitley hunted the poor fellow up, taking him to what proved his grave. About 11 P. M., May 10th, Smitley and Harris, a lieutenant and twenty-five cavalry left Winchester, the lieutenant with written dispatches and Smitley with oral, in case the written ones failed to go through. They were nearly all night getting outside our lines, and a little after daylight they passed through Wardenville. Soon after, coming to a stream of water, along the shore of which their road led, a short bend disclosed to them about fifteen or twenty rebel cavalry approaching, not more than 150 yards off. Harris was riding close by Smitley's side. Smitley turned, and anticipating his question, Harris said, with a suppressed oath, "we will go through them quicker than croton oil." Smitley led and sent Harris to keep the rear closed up. The enemy in sight proved a very small obstruction, as they, no doubt, felt secure in their backing. Close to their rear was a regiment of cavalry, into the midst of which the scouts plunged, horses at full speed. To say the rebels were thunder struck would be very weak language, as they literally rode some of them down, and the little squad they first met was simply whirled by them into the midst of their friends. The reader can imagine the confusion. Harris proved to be a prodigy of strength, valor and ingenuity in eluding the grasp of the enemy. In the shock, friend and foe were mixed indiscriminately. Harris, whose suit of blue was covered with one of grey, coming in contact with rebels in blue, cursed them for Yankees, and in tones of thunder, would call on them to surrender, at the same time knocking them right and left; this did not turn back or stop the fight, but they cleared their way in any manner they could, and, singular to relate, escaped in the confusion without a scratch, although pursuit was immediately instituted by the enemy. Smitley and Harris were the only ones to escape capture and they were now inside the enemy's lines; and if the reader will picture to himself a ring hunt for game, he will have the best description that could be given of their condition. Having made up their minds to return to camp with such information as they had been able to glean during the day, they halted at a farm house for supper and horse feed, so much needed. They fed their horses on the ground close to the door. Entering the room they found a bright fire in the old-fashioned fire place and sat down to wait a few moments for supper. Having carried a brace of heavy revolvers about his waist twenty-four hours, Smitley loosed his bolt and placed them on the floor by his chair. In a moment he was asleep. Harris must have remained awake, as it appeared but a moment till he, in a loud voice, called out, "the rebels are coming." Smitley was startled, and, half awake, thought Harris was hurrying him to supper, when the report of a revolver brought him to a realization of his surroundings. There was a door and window on each side of the room, and three rebels had entered the room. Harris had escaped through a door on the opposite side. As Smitley was rising from his chair, a rebel picking up his revolver off the floor, he was grazed on one temple by a bullet fired by Harris through the window. Harris made things lively until his revolvers were emptied, and then ran from the house, when he was shot through the heart and instantly killed, while Smitley was a prisoner.

On Hazardous Service
Scouts and Spies of the North and South

By William Gilmore Beymer, 1912; pages 2-4

Complete text - Archibald H. Rowand, Jr.

     "But why did you volunteer?"

     He peered at me over his glasses. "I don't know! We were boys - wanted to know what was the 'extra dangerous duty,' and" -- chuckling to himself at a hidden recollection - "when we found out we hadn't the face to back down." And that's how it all began.

     This, you must know, is not the story of a spy, but, gray clothes and all, of a scout! The point was rather insisted upon.

     "This," he said, "is what I would say is the difference between a scout and a spy: The regular spy was a man who generally remained inside the enemy's lines, and was not supposed to fight except in self-defense. [And, let me add, was usually a civilian.] We scouts were men who dressed in the enemy's uniform in order to deceive their pickets and capture them so that the main body could be surprised. Or, we would ride up to a Southern citizen, man or woman, for information, and since we were dressed in the Confederate uniform they would tell us everything they knew. Of course, under strict military law, we were subject to the penalty of spies if taken within the enemy's lines."

     It was in the fall of '62 that Rowand and Ike Harris had looked into one another's eyes, discovered that they were of one mind, and had stepped forward - into the gray uniform. Since July 17th of that year Rowand had been with Company K of the First West Virginia Cavalry, under General Milroy. He had come to the cavalry from a Pennsylvania infantry regiment, which - he all but whispered it, lest Disgrace should find him out - was "not much better than a home guard," and where "the musket was too heavy to tote." But the cavalry just suited him, and in the rough scouting through rugged West Virginia he grew from the stoop-shouldered, cough-racked railroad clerk into the tireless young daredevil who would volunteer for extra dangerous duty just to see what was extra dangerous about it.

     "It was exciting," he said.

     It must have been! With each day of service in the ranks of the scouts danger became more imminent; the chances increased of meeting again some party of Confederates with whom previous lies and explanations would not tally with present movements. Also, in the Federal army there were sure to be Southern spies whose business it was to report descriptions of the scouts, and, if possible, their movements; within the Confederate lines recognition because of these descriptions might take place at any moment. That meant death by the noose, or, at best, to be shot down in a last-stand fight. Rowand tells how a man rode into their lines at Salem and claimed to be one of Averell's scouts. He was recognized as being a particularly dangerous Confederate spy, and they shot him where he stood, without even the formality of a drumhead court martial.

     And then there was the danger of meeting death at the hands of their own men. It happened not once, but many times, that, discovered and hard pressed by the enemy, the scouts in their gray uniforms rode for their lives for the safety of the Union lines, only to be met by the murderous volley of their own mistaken pickets. But it was exciting!

     As compensation they had freedom and privileges beyond those of any men in the army. For them there were no camp drudgeries, no guard or picket duty; their courage and their duties bought them immunity from camp discipline; and their quarters, where they all lived together, were the best that could be obtained in the field. Each man was entitled to keep four horses - the pick of the command. In their scoutings through the countryside they lived on the best that the land afforded; in those parts nothing was too good for the "boys in gray," and the gulled Confederate sympathizers fed them like wedding-guests.

     Then there was the money, good gold - no less. They were paid in proportion to the value of the information they brought in and the services they performed; expense money was portioned out with a prodigal hand from the Secret Service chest. They were the Aristocracy of the Army! But most of all they risked their necks because it was exciting.

     Training came chiefly from dear-bought experience, except that given them by "Old Clayton," one of the scouts who had come with General Fremont from the West. He conceived a great fancy for "the boys," and gave them a deal of advice and instruction. There was one thing that even old Clayton could not give Rowand - Rowand's command of the Southern manner of speech. The years spent at Greenvi1le, South Carolina, as a child of from two to seven, stuck the speech to his tongue - so that not even the next ten years in Pittsburgh could entirely efface the mark of the South, and now, with the need, he slipped easily back into the tongue that seemed to identify him with the gray; it was too obviously unassumed not to deceive. To this Rowand attributes his great success as a scout.

     Courage, too, must have had something to do with it! It was Rowand and Ike Harris who carried General Milroy's despatches to Halltown, West Virginia. They were discovered and recognized as couriers the moment they left the Union lines, and a rebel battery turned its entire fire on them in an effort to check the message known to be for help; theirs was a wild ride under the bursting shells.

     It was Rowand who, in the Winchester battle the next week, rode General Milroy's wounded and hobbling horse across the battle-field, and brought back the great white charger of the General. In that same fierce fight the man on either side of him was killed, and Ike, poor Ike Harris - that was his last battle. He was killed soon afterward. The Confederates, Lee's advance, brushed aside and scattered Milroy's little command, and swept on unchecked till rolled back from the high-water mark of the northern field of Gettysburg. Rowand was back in his regiment, but Custer needed scouts, and Rowand was chosen. And there he proved that he possessed the great qualification of the born scout - the illusive seventh sense. He had been in the locality but once before, and at that in the confusion of a fight at Piedmont Station, yet he established a "V" of couriers through nineteen miles of a country cross-hatched by innumerable byways, and reported them placed that same dark night. That was no small achievement."

DEATHS - Wheeling Intelligencer:

31 May 1864 - HARRIS, James R. (Sergeant), 11 May 1864; killed near Romney; funeral from residence of his father-in-law on 4th St. Friends of the family and military are invited.

5 May 1864 - HARRIS, William James, 4 May 1864, youngest child of J. R. and Mary E. Harris. Funeral from residence of grandparents on Fourth Street.

10 Nov 1865 - FRY, Phebe Ann, 9 Nov 1865, 51st year. Funeral from her residence on corner of 4th and Market Alley.

John T. Ferrel married Mrs. Mary E. Harris, 9 Sep 1868 in Ohio County, W.Va. (Bk 8, page 24)

In the following census, Anna M. (Ina M.) & John are the children of James R. Harris.

1870 Census, Ohio County, W.Va.
FERRELL, John, 36, B&O Rail Road, b Md
Mary E., 31, Keeps House, b Va
Anna M., 12, At school, b Va
John, 10, At school, b Va
George I., 1, b Va
FRY, Clarence, 13, Works Rolling Mill, b Ohio
FRY, Isaac, 25, Grocer?, b Ohio - Married in April
FRY, Mary, 18, b Va - Married in April
FRY, James C., 55, Tinner, b Pa

     John & Mary Ferrel had two children, one a son, George, born 29 Jul 1896; died 10 Jun 1899. The other child was living in New Mexico in 1903.      According to allegations in court records, John T. Ferrel, an unemployed, habitual drunk, abandoned Mary in 1884. They divorced in 1902/1903.

     Following her divorce, Mary applied to the government to have her Widow's Pension, based on the service of James R. Harris, reinstated. Her request was granted and she received a pension until her death, 2 Sep 1915. She is buried at Mt. Wood Cemetery, Wheeling, W. Va.