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Isham Green Harris

Gov. Isham Green Harris

  • November 3, 1857 - March 12, 1862
  • Democratic
  • February 10, 1818
  • July 8, 1897
  • Tennessee
  • Married Martha Maria Travis; eight children
  • Succeeded
  • Senator
  • Army


Born in Franklin County, Tennessee, ISHAM GREEN HARRIS moved to Paris, Tennessee at the age of fourteen, becoming a clerk in a mercantile establishment. He later studied law and was admitted to the Bar in 1841. After serving in both the state House and Senate, he returned to Memphis to practice law. While there, he was chosen as a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket of James Buchanan in 1856 and was unanimously nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor the following year. After serving two terms, he ran again in 1861 as a Secession Democrat, easily winning the election. When President Abraham Lincoln called for troops after the fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, Harris answered that Tennessee would not “furnish a single man for the purpose of coercion, but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers.” He then turned over 100,000 Tennessee troops to the Confederate government, earning the title “the War governor of Tennessee.” In 1862 Andrew Johnson was appointed Military Governor of the state by President Lincoln and Harris was driven from Tennessee by Union forces, becoming a volunteer on the staffs of several Confederate generals. At the end of the Civil War, facing a charge of treason and a $5,000 reward for his capture, Harris fled to Mexico and later to England. But after several years in exile he was permitted to return to the United States and resume his law practice. He was later elected to the U.S. Senate by the Tennessee legislature, winning reelection three times and serving until his death in Washington, DC. His remains were returned to Tennessee to lie in state in both Nashville and Memphis, and he was buried in Memphis.


Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Company.

Past Governors of Tennessee

Philips, Margaret I. The Governors of Tennessee. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

White, Robert H. Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1857-1869. Nashville: The Tennessee Historical Commission, Vol. 5, 1952.

Recent Tennessee Governors