Lewis Harris was born into slavery in Harford, Maryland. Almost nothing is known about his early life. When he was nineteen, Harris enlisted with the 30th Colored Infantry, Company H, based out of Maryland. According to his USCT (United States Colored Troops) enlistment, Harris was 5’5” and had a relatively fair complexion. He was recorded as “griff,” which was a racial term for someone who was lighter skinned.
After enlisting with his regiment on March 11, 1864, he served in major campaigns such as the Sieges of Petersburg and Richmond, and the battles for Weldon Railroad, Poplar Grove Church, and Boydton Plank Road. Harris’ company also participated in the first and second expeditions against Fort Fisher, as well as its eventual capture on January 15, 1865. When Wilmington, North Carolina was captured, Harris’ company was there as well. When Confederate General Joseph E. Johnson surrendered to Union Major-General William T. Sherman at Bennett Farm April 26, 1865, Harris was there for the largest surrender of Confederate troops in the Civil War.
Harris mustered out of the USCT on December 10, 1865, and in early April 1875, Harris enlisted with Troop A of the 10th Cavalry in Baltimore, MD. The enlisting officer was Benjamin Greirson who was known to respect African American soldiers. Harris served almost continually from 1875 to his retirement December 3, 1901.
During Harris’ service to the United States, he spent time at Fort Sill and Fort Supply in Oklahoma, Bonita Canyon and Fort Apache and Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and in Cuba. While stationed at Bonita Canyon, Harris was among more than 60 Buffalo Soldiers who carved their names into stones which formed a monument to President Garfield. Harris served in the 10th Cavalry and 24th Infantry during his military career. According to his re-enlistment papers, Harris held the rank of Farrier and Private.
It is remarkable to think that this man who was born into slavery and had little control over his destiny was able to fight for his freedom during the Civil War and see the world during a time when few people, no matter their color, did not travel very far from home. All that is currently known about Harris is gleaned from his enlistment records. If you have any information about Harris, please contact Chiricahua National Monument.