Private Francis Kelly Harris

by Erik Skov

My wife’s great grandfather, Private Francis Kelly Harris, 5th Texas Infantry, Company B commanded by Captain J. D. Roberdeau (John Bell Hood’s Regiment) was born in Croydon, Surrey, England in 1830 into an upper class family of landowners and professionals. His paternal grandfather was a druggist, his father a surgeon and his maternal grandfather Lieutenant Colonel Edward Kelly (1771-1828) fought at Waterloo and later served in India. His brother Edward was an attorney.
Francis received excellent schooling, learned 5 languages, became a Civil Engineer, and was established in business as a Land Surveyor. He married Mary Rendell in 1850 and his eldest daughter Mary Louisa was born in 1851. His Son Thomas was born in 1857, and his second daughter Sarah was born in February of 1861. His brother Edward dies in March of 1861. In the April 7th, 1861 English Census, his wife Mary lists herself as Widow and Head of Household. That was 5 days before Fort Sumter was fired upon.

Francis Kelly Harris LetterFrancis mustered into Company B of the 5th Texas Infantry in Columbus, Texas on the 11th of March 1862. He is listed as being 6ft 2inches tall, fair complexion, grey eyes and auburn hair, his avocation is listed as Civil Engineer and he is a Subject of the Kingdom of Great Britton. It is speculated that Francis came through a Mexican Port and then overland to Columbus due to the Union Blockade of the ports.

On May 4th, during the Peninsula Campaign, Francis was taken prisoner near West Point, King Williams County, Virginia. Other prisoners from that engagement were taken to Fort Delaware but Francis was taken to the Union Headquarters at Fortress Monroe where he was held until June 9th when he was delivered to Fort Delaware by Captain W. Lyons of the NY 6th Cavalry. Captain Lyons is the Adjutant and Personal Escort of Major General Edwin Sumner, Commander of the 2nd Corp of the Union Army.

On August 5th, Francis appears on a list of prisoners on the Steamer Catskill and he is exchanged at Aikens Landing. On August 7th, Francis is back with Company B. On August 22nd, Francis is wounded by a shell, his left femur is broken in several places and his ribs broken and his chest “caved in”. He is initially cared for locally but as he does poorly, he is transferred to Hospital 8 in Richmond, Virginia by order of “Surgical Officer” dated December 2nd, 1862. On January 27th, 1863, he appears on a register of Hospital 8 and is designated “Paymaster” for the Hospital. On February 10th, the doctors issue a Certificate of Disability stating that he is unable to serve due to shortening of the left leg due to compound fractures, organic decease of the heart, and contraction of the chest due to fractured ribs. On February 13, Francis is discharged from the Army of the CSA by order of Major General Arnold Eltzy Jones, Jr. Commander of the Department of Richmond.
On March 12, 1863, Francis wrote a letter to Curtis Gustavo Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederate States of America seeking his help in obtaining other employment as Hospital 8 was slated to close. In his letter, he lists former US Senators Oldham and Wigfall, now Confederate Senators, as his references.
In 1864, Francis’ wife, or presumed widow, marries again and has several more children.

We are not aware of any records of Francis’ whereabouts or activities between 1863 and 1881 when he and a second wife, Maria live in Kirkcudbright, Scotland where Francis is first an umbrella maker and later a sheriff’s officer. I 1889, he is awarded his brothers substantial estate, 28 years after his
brother’s death. In 1890, Francis and Maria adopt my wife’s grandmother Minnie and her sister Louisa Donnelly after their parents and some of their siblings have perished in a house fire. In 1895, at the age of 65, Francis dies in Scotland. Presumably because of what he had experienced in Hospital 8, Francis’ will specified that his heart was to be pierced with a dagger before he was buried.

According to – as of yet – unconfirmed “Oral Family History”, Francis was a spy for the North in the South in the American Civil War and went, in later years, each month to “an American Office” in the UK where he was paid a pension “in gold coin”.

So – Hero or villain – some day we may know.