Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Thomas Maley Harris


General Thomas Maley Harris (June 17, 1813-September 30, 1906) was born at present Harrisville. He rose to prominence after the Civil War, when he served on the military commission that tried conspirators who acted with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

His book, Assassination of Lincoln: A History of the Great Conspiracy, published in 1892, made Harris a target for critics of the verdict. The main complaint concerned the execution of Mary Surratt, a woman thought by many to have been innocent. However, historians later located a signed confession by George Atzerodt, who was executed July 7, 1865, along with Surratt and two other conspirators. The statement of Atzerodt clearly implicates Surratt in the conspiracy. Her hanging was said to have been the first time the federal government executed a woman.

In his youth, Harris took advantage of limited opportunities for education. As a young man, he began a teaching career at the Parkersburg Institute. He studied medicine at Louisville, where he graduated in 1843.

When the Civil War began, Harris was practicing medicine in Gilmer County. He recruited the 10th West Virginia Infantry Regiment for service in the Union army and, on May 20, 1862, was made colonel of his regiment. Harris was commissioned brigadier general March 29, 1865. He was promoted to brevet major general April 2, 1865, for his part in the Union assault on Petersburg, Virginia.

Harris had always been against slavery. He gave an oration July 4, 1849, in which he attacked slavery on moral and economic grounds, for which he was criticized in the newspapers. Previously a Whig, he joined the new Republican Party about the time of the Civil War. He served in the House of Delegates in 1867, as state adjutant general (1869–71), and was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor.

Harris was once mayor of his hometown of Harrisville. He also served as U.S. pension agent 1871–76. Harrisville, the county seat of Ritchie County and previously known as Solus, was named for Harris in 1895. He died there at the age of 93.

Written by Sandra L. Moats-Burke


  1. Conley, Phil, ed. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing, 1929.

  2. Comstock, Jim, ed. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia vol. 10. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1976.

  3. Bak, Richard. The Day Lincoln was Shot. Dallas: Taylor Pub., 1998.

  4. Harris, Thomas Maley. The Assassination of Lincoln: A History of the Great Conspiracy. Boston: American Citizen Co., 1892.

  5. Matheny, H. E. Major General Thomas Maley Harris. Parsons: McClain, 1963.