History Of Ritchie County
By Minnie Kendall Lowther
General Thomas Maley Harris was the second physician in 1843. General Harris needs no introduction to the people of Ritchie county, since there is, perhaps, scarcely a man, woman or child within its boundary that are not familiar with the name of this late distinguished citizen, whose long and useful career belongs not only to local history, but to State and National as well.
In the "rude log cabin days" when this section of the "Little Mountain State" was one vast wilderness, "dotted here and there with a hunter's cabin and a patch of corn," he was born - not far from the present site of the Lorama depot, at Harrisville - on June 13, 1813.
He came of the union of two prominent pioneer families of this county, being the eldest son of John and Agnes Malcy Harris, and one of a family of seven children.
At the time he stepped upon the stage, educational advantages were in their swaddling clothes, and his environments promised but little in the way of a career, but he improved his every opportunity, and at an early age joined the ranks of the teacher. His first experience was in the schools of this wilderness, but he later taught in Clarke and Greene counties, Ohio, and while there became interested in the science of medicine.
In October 1848, while engaged as first assistant of the Parkersburg Seminary, he led the principal of the female department of this institution, in the person of Miss Sophia Hall, sister of Dr. M. S. Hall, to the altar as his bride, and during the following winter, attended medical lectures at Louisville, Kentucky; but returned home in the spring and began the practice of his profession in his native town.
In 1856, he removed to Glenville, where he was established when the bugle-notes of the great Rebellion called men to action; but he brought his family back to Harrisville, and recruited and organized the 10th West Virginia Regiment Volunteers, and entered the army as Lieutenant Colonel; and in May, 1862, was commissioned Colonel. During the years of 1862 and '63, his service was in West Virginia, he being in command of the posts at Buckhannon and Beverly; and while stationed at Beverly, on July 2, 1863, his regiment of seven hundred fifty men was attacked by a Confederate force of two thousand two hundred strong under the command of Col. William L. Jackson. (Col. Jackson had been an old acquaintance of General Harris, he having resided at Harrisville in the ante-bellum days, where he figured prominently as a lawyer and filled the office of judge as early as 1848. He (Col. Jackson) was the step-son of Thomas Stinchcomb, the first clerk of the Circuit court In this county. He was a native of Lewis county, and a cousin of "Stonewall" Jackson, and in order to distinguish him from his eminent cousin, he was called "Mudwall.") And though this was the first time that Col. Harris' regiment (in a. body) had met the enemy, they succeeded in holding them at bay for two days, notwithstanding their superiority in number, until re-enforcenients arrived, and helped to put Col. Jackson and his host to flight.
In June, 1864, General Harris was transferred to the valley of Virginia and with his command became incorporated in the Army of West Virginia under General Crooks, and had part in the various engagements in the valley during the summer and autumn. At Winchester he had command of five regiments, and at Cedar creek, on October 19th, when Col. Joseph Thoburn fell mortally wounded, he came into command of the First Division of the Army of West Virginia on the field, the Division flag having fallen to him as the next ranking officer; and for gallantry on this occasion, he was brevetted Brigadier-General. During this same year, at the close of the Shenandoah valley campaign, a new division was formed, and he was placed in command with orders to report to General Grant at City Point; and in March 1865, when this division was reviewed by Secretary Stanton, he (the Secretary) remarked that General Harris' promotion had been urged by Generals Grant and Ord, but that there was no vacancy. However, turning to General Harris, he said, "You stay here with your command. I will go home and make a vacancy. I will muster out some fellow that we can spare." A few days later while enroute to Petersburg, General Harris received the commission of Brigadier-General, and three days after, broke the Confederate lines around Petersburg, and with his brigade took Fort Whitworth, one of the outer-posts of the city. And for this act of bravery, he was brevetted Major-General.
At Appomattox. by a forced march, his division was thrown between General Lee's army and Lynchburg, and when it became evident that General Gordon was trying to slip out of the surrender with his command, it was General Harris' division that compelled him to abandon the idea, and when he had finally succeeded in silencing the guns of this command, hostilities in Virginia were at an end, as this was the last firing done in the ''Old Dominion."
In recognition of his service on the field, Secretary Stanton proffered him the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the Thirty- seventh Regulars, but owing to his advanced age he declined the honor.
At the close of the Rebellion when an assassin's bullet had laid the form of our beloved President low, and had turned a Nation's rejoicing into one of mourning and of sorrow, General Harris was again called into service (in May '65) as a member of the Military Commission that tried the conspirators of this dark tragedy, and upon this ever interesting trial, he wrote a book entitled the "History of the Great Conspiracy," which attracted wide attention and added new laurels to his brow in the eventide of his life (The date of this production was 1893).
He was the last survivor of this distinguished military body, among which were numbered the late Generals David Hunter, and Lew Wallace, whose "Ben Hur" has found a welcome among the lovers of literature in every civilized land.
His military duties being at an end., he returned to his native town and resumed the practice of his medical profession, which was destined to be again interrupted, in 1867, by his election to the House of Delegates, and by his appointment to the office of Adjutant-General of the State under Governor Stephenson, in 1869. He also served as United States Pension Agent at Wheeling from 1871 to '75, (having been commissioned by President Grant) but this agency being abolished, he once again returned to Harrisville and continued the practice of his profession until 1885 when he retired to private life. Here, in his old "mansion house," only a few hundred yards from the spot where he first "saw the light" the evening hours of his long life were spent. The loving devotion of his second wife, who was his cousin, Miss Clara Maley, of Iowa, was the staff and comfort of his declining years. His old age was characterized by that peaceful serenity which comes from the consciousness of a well spent life, and the sunset scene was one of tranquillity and perfect peace. It was the hour of noon, on Sunday, September 30, 1906, when the last ray vanished, when the announcement came from the silent chamber that the struggle was o'er; that Ritchie county's most distinguished son had passed. "He died rich in the love and esteem of all who knew him," and not a few demonstrations of respect were in evidence at his funeral. Beneath the shadow of the beautiful old town that gave him birth, beside the companion of his youth who was laid there in 1885, he lies at rest.
The one cherished hope of his last hours was that a County High school, bearing his name and perpetuating his memory, might be established at Harrisville. He had given the grounds for this purpose, and the Legislature had passed favorably upon the measure, but this proved to be one of the unrealized hopes, as the movement was defeated at the November election, a little more than a month after his death.
He was the father of four children; viz., Agnes died in infancy. Mary Virginia, in early womanhood; Martha was the late wife of the Rev. J. R. Johnson, of Washington, Pennsylvania; and John T. Harris, the well-known Court stenographer of Parkersburg, is the only son.