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General David Bullock Harris, C. S. A.

A brief Sketch of his life and services.

Brigadier-General David Bullock Harris, a descendant of an early settler and planter of Henrico, one of the eight original shires of the Colony of Virginia, was born at Frederick's Hall, Louisa county, Virginia, September 28, 1814. His father, Captain Frederick Harris, served in the war of 1812; was one of the founders of the old Louisa railroad and its first and continuous president until his death. This road became, subsequently, the Virginia Central railroad, and is now known in its extension as the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.

David B. Harris, after having enjoyed the advantages of the classical schools of his native county, entered West Point Military Academy July 1, 1829, and was graduated thence July I, 1833, the seventh in his class of forty-three cadets, which included Generals John G. Barnard, George W. Cullum, Rufus Smith, Edmund Shriver, Alexander E. Shiras, Henry Dupont, Benjamin Alvord, and H. W. Wessell, of the Federal army, and Generals Francis H. Smith and Daniel Ruggles, and Colonels A. C. Myers (Quartermaster-General) and J. Lucius Davis, of the Confederate army. His grade of graduation was most creditable, his age being considered. His drawings in the [396] Engineering class were deemed by Professor D. H. Mahan as equal to any executed at the celebrated German school at Metz, and they were kept at West Point as studies.

He was appointed brevet second lieutenant First United States Artillery July 1, 1833, and served in the war with the Creek Nation of Indians until March 6, 1834, when he was promoted second lieutenant First Artillery, and March 18, 1834, assigned to duty as Assistant Professor of Engineering at West Point, serving as such until his resignation, August 31, 1835, at the request of his father, and against his own inclinations, which were predominantly for a military life. His resignation was much to the regret of General Winfield Scott, who wrote to his father that he was the most promising young officer in the army. He served as assistant engineer in the construction of the James River and Kanawha canal, 1835-1837, and latterly in some railroad surveys in the mountains of Virginia. In 1835 he joined a relative in large operations in tobacco at Cloverport, Kentucky, meeting with much success financially. He originated the Scrap hogshead, in which a large business has since been done. He visited Europe in 1848, and met in London Miss Eliza L. Knight, who became his wife in 1849. He engaged in farming at his seat, ‘Woodville,’ Goochland county, Virginia, from 1845 to 1861, never relinquishing, however, his operations in tobacco at Frederick's Hall and Petersburg. He was also interested in other mercantile ventures. He, like many other Virginians, was not an original Secessionist, and hoped that the impending strife might be averted. The call, however, of President Lincoln for troops from Virginia in 1861 instantaneously decided him, and he tendered his services to the Confederacy. A command was offered him, which, from his long abandonment of military life, he felt a hesitancy in accepting. At the request of General Lee he was assigned to the Engineer corps as captain. He it was, it is said, who placed General Jackson in the position, the stern holding of which gained for him the famed soubriquet of ‘Stonewall.’ He planned the fortifications of Centreville and other points, and made, it is said, the most correct map of the battlefield of Manassas extant. Accompanying General Beauregard to the West, he planned the fortification of Island No.10, Fort Hilton, and Vicksburg. He also accompanied a reconnoitering expedition into Kentucky, sent out by General Bragg. When General Beauregard was ordered to Charleston, by his request, General Harris accompanied him as engineer, and constructed the defences there with such [397] consummate skill that they withstood all assault, and only fell into the hands of the enemy upon evacuation.

He directed the irresistable armament of Battery Wagner, the defence of which is so thrillingly depicted in the eloquent address of Colonel Twiggs in preceding pages of this volume. He was subsequently sent by General Beauregard to Florida, and after the battle of Ocean Pond (Olustee), drove in the enemy's pickets and established a line of General Finnegan's force. When General Beauregard was called to Petersburg to aid in the vital defence of Richmond, General Harris followed from Florida and began at once the construction of his grand series of fortifications which as Grant facetiously remarked ‘bottled up Butler.’ He also planned the defence of Drewry's Bluff and advised the countermining at the Crater, but was not present at the explosion, his services having been called to another point. His services were next solicited at Mobile, but his shattered health, occasioned by his long and arduous service, influenced the War Department to give him a leave of absence to try the effect of home comforts in recruiting his health. The duration of his leave was left to his own discretion as to his ability for service.

On his return to Richmond, still in feeble health, he was ordered by President Davis to proceed at once to Charleston.

The yellow fever prevailed there at the time, and contracting the dread disease General Harris died at Summerville, South Carolina, in less than a week after his arrival there, on October 10, 1864. His remains were subsequently removed to Richmond and interred in Hollywood Cemetery.

He left a wife and eight children; three sons—David, Richard and Alexander Barrett, and five daughters—Frederika (wife of Page Morton, of Richmond, Virginia), Charlotte, Juliana (wife of Judge A. R. Leake, of Goochland county, Virginia), Eliza and Eva Virginia.

Distinguished officers of the late Confederate army have borne the warmest testimony to the merit of General Harris.

General Beauregard wrote: ‘He was the only officer in his command who never made a mistake; that he always exceeded his most sanguine expectations; that his rank never equalled his true position, and that Charleston and Petersburg should each erect a monument to his memory.’ General J. F. Gilmer wrote: ‘His works and courage had never been surpassed, and the country had never known the extent of his services, nor had his qualities of head and [398] heart been appreciated by those whom he had served so faithfully.’ General Thomas Jordan wrote: ‘He was not only a hero but a soldier of the highest mental attainments, and the Confederacy held no man better fitted to command an army.’ General Fitzhugh Lee wrote: ‘His reputation was second to none in his native State;’ and many others bore like earnest tribute.

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