Hilary Valentine Harris

Date of Birth

March 8, 1839

Date of Death

April 6, 1865

Letters Authored

1

Letters Received

0

Hilary Valentine Harris was born 180 years ago.
154 years ago, Hilary Valentine Harris passed away at the age of 26.

Letters Authored in Collection

History

INTRODUCTION
Hilary Valentine Harris was a Confederate soldier who mustered into Company G of the 11th Virginia Infantry on 23 April 1861. He would see action at Bull Run, and during the Peninsula Campaign at Williamsburg and Seven Pines, at Second Bull Run, and again at Fredericksburg, but his most notable moment was during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, when he picked up the fallen flag after multiple colorbearers had met their fate. “When the flag had struck the ground a third time they (11th Va.) were still on the west side of the high ground near Emmitsburg Road. H. V. Harris, the adjutant, grabbed the flag and carried it across the road and up the slope toward Cemetery Ridge.” (Rollins, p. 155)

The following are excerpts from an article written by Lieutenant-Colonel Rawley W. Martin and published in the Times-Dispatch 10 April 1904. Colonel Martin was wounded as he led the 53rd Virginia Infantry in Picket’s Charge.

“Having descended the slope and commenced to ascend the opposite slope that rises toward the enemy's works, the Federal skirmishers kept up their fire until we were some four hundred yards from the works. They thus being between two fires--for infantry fire broke out from the works--threw down their arms, rushed into our lines, and then sought refuge in the depression, waterway or gully between the slopes. There was no distinct change of front; but "close and dress to the left" was the command, and this gave us an oblique movement to the left as we pressed ranks in that direction.

Our colors were knocked down several times as we descended the slope on our side. Twice I saw the color-bearer stagger and the next man seize the staff and go ahead; the third time the colors struck the ground as we were still on the down slope. The artillery had opened upon us with canister. H. V. Harris, adjutant of the regiment, rushed to them and seized them, and, I think, carried them to the enemy's works….

…When the enemy's infantry opened fire on us--and we were several hundred yards distant from them as yet--we rushed towards the works, running, I may say, almost at top speed, and as we neared the works I could see a good line of battle, thick and substantial, firing upon us. When inside of a hundred yards of them I could see, first, a few, and then more and more, and presently, to my surprise and disgust, the whole line break away in flight. When we got to the works, which were a hasty trench and embankment, and not a stone wall at the point we struck, our regiment was a mass or ball, all mixed together, without company organization. Some of the 24th and 3d seemed to be coming with us, and it may be others. Not a man could I see in the enemy's works, but on account of the small timber and the lay of the ground, I could not see very far along the line, either right or left, of the position we occupied.

There were, as I thought at the time I viewed the situation, about three hundred men in the party with me, or maybe less. Adjutant H. V. Harris, of the regimental staff, was there dismounted….

… We thought our work was done, and that the day was over, for the last enemy in sight we had seen disappear over the hill in front; and I expected to see General Lee's army marching up to take possession of the field. As I looked over the work of our advance with this expectation, I could see nothing but dead and wounded men and horses in the field beyond us, and my heart never in my life sank as it did then. It was a grievous disappointment.

Instantly men turned to each other with anxious inquiries what to do, and a number of officers grouped together in consultation, Captain Fry, Captain Douthat, Adjutant Harris, and myself, who are above noted, amongst them.” (Times-Dispatch) Rawley concludes that there was little choice but to retire from the charge.

Hilary Valentine Harris would live to fight for nearly two more years, but on 6 April 1865, just three days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, he was killed at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek.

THE LETTER
The letter was written by Hilary Valentine Harris from Fredericksburg on 21 December 1863, just a week after the battle Fredericksburg. He writes about the banter between Union and Confederate pickets as they stand guard on the banks of the Rapidan, which includes some disparaging remarks directed at General Burnsides by Union soldiers. He states that he has received a letter from Fannie (his sister) and has sent it on to Abner (his brother) who is a soldier in the 12th Virginia Infantry. Mostly it seems that he is concerned about his sister Lavinia (Vin) who is ill, and in fact, dies a few days later on 1 January 1863.

THE FAMILY
The family is enumerated in the 1850 Census and living in Powhatan County, Virginia. The family is listed as Hilary Harris, 47, farmer, Ann Harris, 42, Maria Harris, 18, Nelson Harris, 15, Lavinia Harris, 13, Valentine Harris, 11, Christiana Harris, 9, Abner Harris, 6, Sarah Harris, 5, Overton Harris, 2, and Martha Harris, 1. Four others or listed with the Harris family, Robert I. Davis, 25, Overseer, Elizabeth Davis, 18, John Davis, 9 months, and Josiah Ryland, 22, occupation given as teacher. Additionally it is recorded that Hilary Harris owned 39 slaves.

The family is enumerated in the 1860 Census and living in Powhatan County, Virginia. The family is listed as Hilary Harris, 57, P. A. Harris, 51, M. M. Harris, 28, Fannie Harris, 19, Abner Harris, 17, S. O. Harris, 15, W. O. Harris, 13, M. P. Harris, 11, F. M. Harris, 8. Hilary Harris owned 51 slaves in 1860.

Lavinia Harris married Daniel Hatcher and they are enumerated in the 1860 Census, living in Powhatan County. Daniel’s occupation is given as farmer.

CITATIONS
Rollins, Richard, “The Damned Red Flags of the Rebellion,” Rank and File Publications, 1995.

Times-Dispatch, 10 April 1904. (Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 32, pages 183-195). http://www.gdg.org/Research/SHSP/shmartin.html