Ellis Harper


Born in Richland Station (now Portland), Tennessee, Ellis Harper began his military career as an infantryman with the 30th Tennessee in November 1861. After a few weeks of training, the 30th Tennessee went to Fort Donelson, which fell in February 1862. Harper and his fellow soldiers were captured and sent to the Federal prison Camp Butler in Springfield, Illinois. After five months, Harper escaped and returned to Tennessee. As an escaped prisoner, he was a wanted man. He joined John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry in plots to disable the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Due to Harper’s knowledge of Sumner County terrain, Morgan commissioned Harper as a major and authorized him to organize a company to interrupt rail transportation. Harper’s crew served under Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command for a short time and was personally responsible for killing approximately 20 people during guerilla activity along Tennessee’s northern border, typically silencing informers. After Kentucky resident Harvey Travelstead, disclosed Harper’s movements to Federal authorities, Harper travelled to the church where Travelstead was attending services, dragged him outside, and shot him to death. Harper later visited the house of Hensley Harris, whom he feared would leak information on his whereabouts. When Harris wouldn’t open the door, Harper’s crew shot into the house, killing Harris’ three-year-old son. In May 1865, Harper was paroled by Federal command in Gallatin, but the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee still had warrants out for his arrest for wartime offenses. Harper’s crew continued vigilante acts well into 1866 and 1867, in and around Richland Station. The state of Kentucky pardoned him and, in July 1868, Tennessee Governor Brownlow rescinded the warrant. Harper moved to Lebanon for a fresh start after marrying into a wealthy family. He established a successful business transporting livestock to Texas. Though he and his wife had a daughter, the couple separated. He had a shrewd, violent, and spontaneous reaction to things he did not like, character traits that ultimately caused his death. During a political argument with William Suit in 1908, Harper attacked Suit with a stick. Suit, armed with a gun, shot and killed Harper.

  • Captured at Fort Donelson, escaped Federal prison
  • Worked for John Hunt Morgan, disabling railroads
  • Violent guerilla fighter in Tennessee and Kentucky