George W. Harris was born on February 7, 1842, in Lowell, Kent County, Michigan.
George stood 5’9” with gray eyes, brown hair and a light complexion, and was a 19-year-old farmer possibly living in Kent County when he enlisted with the consent of the Justice of the Peace in Company F on May 13, 1861. (He was quite possibly related to Charles Harris, who was also from the vicinity of Lowell in Kent County and who would also reenter the service in the Tenth Michigan cavalry. See below.)
George was reported missing in action at Glendale or White Oak Swamp, Virginia, on July 1, 1862, and in fact he had been taken prisoner during the battle for Malvern Hill. He was confined for one month and five days, exchanged, probably on August 5, 1862. On August 6 the Richmond Dispatch reported that at
About 1 o’clock yesterday three thousand of the Federal prisoners on Belle Island left the city for “Varina,” (the farm of Albert Aiken, Esq., twelve miles from Richmond,) a guide having been procured from Capt. Alexander’s detective force to pilot them thither. They went under flag of truce to be exchanged, and were to be met by officers of the United States Army, empowered to effect that object. The party consisted wholly of soldiers, no commissioned officers being in the party. The guard attending the party was composed of a portion of the 42d Mississippi regiment, under Col. Miller. The prisoners were permitted to go by the C. S. Military Prison, and while in front of the building they cheered their imprisoned compatriots, (Generals and other officers,) and otherwise testified their respect for them. They appeared elated at the prospect of going home. The day was intensely hot, and it was intimated, after they had been gone for some hours, that many of them broke down, and had to be left on the way-side, while two or three died. There are 1,700 Yankees yet to go.
George was quite probably with that very detachment. In any case he was soon returned to the Regiment at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia.
After he rejoined the Regiment he wrote on August 17, 1862, to his “Dearest Mary” and told her of his recent ordeal.
It is with pleasure amounting almost to agony that I am permitted to write to you once more. Strange as it may seem to you until explained I have been unable to write to you for more than a month. I was taken prisoner by the rebels at the battle of Malvern Hill and kept in confinement for the period of one month and five days but am now exchanged and have returned to my Regiment. I am as yet very weak in consequence of the suffering that I endured while a prisoner of war.
I will not attempt to describe my capture and sufferings as we have matters nearer our hearts which we will talk of first. Firstly with regard to that likeness. If you have got it taken for gracious sake send it to me immediately for I long to look upon your fair form once more. Please send it in a case as a package, as it is almost I think quite an impossibility for me to procure a case here. But pray send it immediately. It will soon be pay day and as I was a prisoner until yesterday I missed Regimental muster but my officers tell me that they think they can arrange it so that I will get at least a part of my pay. [If] I do I will try and send enough to procure that pen that I promised you some time ago. . . . I must explain myself. When I arrived in camp last night after dark I found two letters at the office: One from yourself and one from father. Yours was dated June the 22nd. I have another thing to explain. My comrade John Miller, the man who swore to stand by me through thick and thin before we left Grand Rapids and has always kept that pledge inviolate, he has stood by me in danger and we have fought side by side; we tented together and slept together and are as firm friends as ever. He of course knew your address having seen me direct my letters many a time and when he was sure that I was either killed or captured he considered it his duty and in fact it was my request that if I fell in action he should in case he survived to acquaint my friends with the facts. He answered yours of about the 19th of July which I thanked hastily for doing when he told me what he had done for I naturally supposed my love that it relieved your mind of a great deal of anxiety. And now love goodbye; you shall know all in my next but by all means write immediately and send the likeness with it.
George and Ohio native Mary A. (b. 1842) eventually married. They had at least four children: Emily (b. 1863), Walter (b. 1867), Andrew (b. 1870) and Franklin O. (b. 1876).
George was absent sick in the hospital from October through December of 1862, and discharged on December 22, 1862, at the Patent Office hospital, Washington, DC for “chronic diarrhea, great emaciation and debility contracted in service.”
He listed Lowell, Kent County as his mailing address on his discharge paper, and returned to Michigan after he left the army.
In 1863 he applied for and received a pension (no. 401872).
George apparently reentered the service for one year as a Private on February 9, 1865, in Company I, Tenth Michigan cavalry. (Curiously, so did Charles D. Harris, who also served in the Old Third and who was also from the vicinity of Lowell before the war. See above.) George joined the regiment on March 16 at Knoxville, Tennessee, and was mustered out with the regiment on November 11, 1865, at Memphis, Tennessee.
George again returned to Michigan after the war, and in 1867-68 he may have been working as a shoemaker for H. G. Porter, and living on the west side of Greenwich between Fulton and Louis Streets in Grand Rapids. George was working as a boot-maker and living with his wife and three children in Nelson, Kent County in 1870. He was working as a Baptist minister and living with his family in Mundy, Genesee County in 1880 and living in Grand Rapids in 1882 when he attended the annual Old Third Infantry association in December. In fact he was a charter member of the Michigan Association of Survivors of Southern Prisons, and a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. He was also a member of the Michigan Association of Ex-Prisoners of War.
By 1888 he was residing in Bannister, Gratiot County, and by 1890 he was living in Elba, Bannister Township. Toward the end of his life he was living in or near Ashley, Gratiot County, where in 1900 he served as pastor of the Ashley Baptist Church. He was also a member of the GAR Kirby Post No. 323 in Ashley.
He was married a second time to one Fanny M.
George died on September 14, 1913, in Ashley, and was buried in North Star cemetery.
In 1914 his widow was still living in Michigan when she applied for and received a pension (no. 837461).