Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator

By Sam Davis Elliott | Louisiana State University Press | $48 | 352 pages | 2010

If you are traveling in Coffee County on State Highway 130 not far from the heart of Tullahoma, you can slow down for a moment to read historical Marker Number 2E 11. It announces that Isham G. Harris was "Born near here, 1818. Was the only governor of Confederate State of Tennessee. In congress 1849-54; elected governor, 1857-59-61. When U.S. forces captured Nashville, joined staff of Army of Tennessee for remainder of War. Fled to Mexico, 1865; returned 1867. Was U. S. Senator from 1877 until his death in 1897."

In his compelling biography of Isham G. Harris, our colleague and Civil War historian par excellence, Sam Elliott, makes clear why Tennessee has seen fit to mark Harris's birthplace. Green Harris (as his family called him) was a dominant and forceful leader in the Democratic Party during the 19th century. He was perhaps the most influential, if not the most important, Tennessean during the Confederacy.

Harris was a businessman and a successful lawyer (he was admitted to the bar in 1841). But politics was his true element. Harris's political career spanned five decades. He served in the Tennessee Senate, was the "War Governor of Tennessee" during secession, and later went to Washington as U.S. Senator from Tennessee. Elliott does not just tell us the story of Harris's most interesting life. With evocative and meticulously documented detail, Elliott tells the story — and the back-stories — of the political and military worlds in which Harris operated. In detailing how Harris grappled with many of the issues " federalism, states' rights, strict construction of the Constitution, the workings of democracy — that continue to occupy us even now, this book offers much food for thought and perhaps some lessons for today.

Like Elliott's 2004 biography Soldier of Tennessee: General Alexander P. Stewart and the Civil War in the West (also published by LSU Press in its Southern Biography Series), Isham G. Harris of Tennessee chronicles an influential yet almost-forgotten life and, at the same time, makes a major contribution to the broader historical understanding. Sam Elliott does all this in the most accessible way. This newest biography is extremely lucid and enlightening.  


Andrée Sophia Blumsteen ANDRÉE SOPHIA BLUMSTEIN is a partner at Sherrard & Roe PLC in Nashville. Her practice, which concentrates on appellate litigation, includes a special focus on state and federal antitrust counseling and litigation. She received her law degree from Vanderbilt University, where Don Paine taught her all about summary judgments and the other intricacies of Civil Procedure. She currently serves as chair of the Tennessee Bar Journal Editorial Board.