Frances M. "Dolly" Harris was not an enlisted soldier in the Civil war, but she was buried with the same full military honors that were afforded each Civil War veteran upon their deaths. Dolly Harris, daughter of a Greencastle cabinet maker, James and Elizabeth Harris, was likely born about November 2, 1845. She lived with her family in a weatherboard house at 37 North Carlisle Street, where the north annex to the old Citizens Bank was located.
It was about June 15 when Confederate Rebel troops, in mass, started to march across the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time and touched the homeland soil of citizens in Antrim Township and Greencastle. The invasion of Pennsylvania had begun. By the end of June, the citizens of Antrim and Greencastle had watched from their farms, homes and the sidewalks, for days on end, as the Confederates made their way to Gettysburg. They marched; they rode horses; they drove wagons, all the while plundering food, supplies, livestock, and animal feed from township farms and homes and businesses in town.
As Pickett’s troops, preceded by the General and his staff, marched through town on North Carlisle Street on June 27, 1863, the following account was given in the Public Opinion newspaper’s obituary account for Dolly Harris. For whatever reason, only known to Dolly, herself, “Dolly Harris…rushed to the street in front of the leader of the southern band, waved the stars and stripes in his face and roundly denounced the troopers as traitors to their country, cut throats, and plunderers.”
It was more than 20 years later, at the Gettysburg Reunion in 1887, that the flag-waving girl incident was first mentioned in a speech made by Col. William Aylett, of Pickett’s division. Aylett said, “Why the bravest woman I ever saw was a Pennsylvania girl who defied Pickett’s whole division as we marched through the little town called Greencastle. She had a United States flag as an apron which she defiantly waved up and down as our columns passed by her and dared us to take it from her.”
At this point, the Harrisburg Telegraph picked up on Aylett’s story. The assigned reporter was to investigate and find out who this young girl was. The reporter tracked down Robert E. Garrett of Baltimore, who during the Civil War was an officer in the 4th Alabama regiment, which was part of Pickett’s division. He remembered the flag-waving girl as “dark haired with a dark complexion.” Garrett was even able to identify her home on North Carlisle Street.
The Harrisburg Telegraph’s reporter also traced John Boyd, a southern family friend of the Harris', to Roanoke, VA where he interviewed him under the circumstances of an affidavit, dated September 17, 1887. During the Northern invasion, he was a member of Company K, 55th Reg VA Vol. Receiving permission from his commander, General Lewis Armistead, Boyd left camp (which was south of town) to visit the Harrises, not the night before Pickett's troops marched through Greencastle, but the morning of. Over the years, only portions of the affidavit had been quoted in various newspaper articles and words and phrases were changed, unintentionally. Two more affidavits were also acquired in September 1887 – one from Dolly’s mother and one from Dolly herself. Both of their accounts agreed with that of Col. Aylett and John Boyd’s.
For several years, I have been searching for the original affidavits, to no avail. Several weeks ago, Todd A. Dorsett, Antietam Historical Association, Inc., emailed me Boyd's full affidavit which was printed in Waynesboro's newspaper, The Village Record, on September 22, 1887. It was taken from The Pilot, which had printed it the week before. Why do I trust Boyd's memory 24 years after the flag-waving incident? Because John Boyd kept a diary during the Civil War and he jotted notes down each day. The affidavit was taken before Justice of the Peace, John S. Campbell, Roanoke, VA. Here follows John T. Boyd, Sr's affidavit, verbatim.
The Village Record – Thursday, September 22, 1887, column 4
IT WAS DOLLY HARRIS.—It has been a question among some of our exchanges as to whether it was "Dolly Harris," Mrs. John Lesher, or Miss Sadie Smith, since deceased, who waved the stars and stripes and defied a rebel regiment on its march through Greencastle, in June, 1863. From what we know of Mrs. L. we think she would have been the young Miss ready for such an emergency. But the following letter from a gentleman who was at the time a private in-the Rebel army, a cousin, stopping at her father's house, clearly evident this fact. The letter reads as follows.
To ALL Whom it may concern.— Roanoke Va., Sep. 17, 1887 In regard to Mrs Dolly Lesher being the lady or girl who wore an apron made of the stars and stripes and waved it at our men as they marched through the streets of Greencastle in 1863—if said Dolly Harris or Lesher is a daughter of James Harris, who was a cabinet maker and lived in Greencastle from the year 1859 to 1865, she is undoubtedly the lady that waved the stars and stripes at the rebels. The Second Brigade of Gen Pickett’s Division camped all night one mile South of Greencastle on 26th of June 1863. The morning of the 27th I got a permit from my Gen who was Gen. Armstead, went to Greencastle early in the morning to see my friends. The Harris family, myself and others were standing by the porch as the confederate army passed by.— Col Aylett I think was among the first to come into the town. Dolly was anxious to see Rob. Lee and other officers. I pointed them out to her. An officer of rank rode up and asked her to take it off, her answer was, not for you nor any of your men. He raised his hat and rode away. The next was Gen Pickett and staff. As they passed by she waved the stars and stripes at him and he saluted her. The boys giving her one of the old rebel yells that extended all along the line. I was a private in Company K of the 57th Reg. VA Vol. Our Brigade was commanded by Gen Armstead who was killed at Gettysburg battle As he was passing by I said Dolly that is my General. He was a soldier of the Mexican war too, as she waved the flag at him he smiled at her and raised his hat an he always honored the stars and stripes. His brigade gave her a good old yell Mrs. Dolly Lesher is surely the lady that done the flag waving, all honor is due to her for it.—My memorandum book gives day and date of all the time I was in the war, as to her wearing a badge I remember she wore one and think it was a Lincoln badge. I have given you every thing in reference to the matter as far as memory and my note book would serve me
JOHN T. BOYD, SR.
This certifies that the above letter has been duly sworn to before me, John S Campbell, a justice of the peace in the city of Roanoke, in the state of Virginia, and county of Roanoke, this seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighty-Seven
JOHN S. CAMPBELL, J. P.
Besides the Harrisburg Telegraph and the Greencastle, Waynesboro, and Chambersburg newspapers, the Dolly Harris and Gen. George Pickett incident was also written about in the New York Times and the Cosmopolitan and Confederate Veteran.
The Dolly Harris incident also inspired a number of published poems, well into the first three decades of the 20th century. Some of the authors include: Charles W. Gaff, editor of the Valley Echo, who believed the girl was actually Sadie Smith; Helen Gray Cone, a professor of literature at Hunter College; W. W. Jacobs of Waynesboro; J. Howard West; George W. Keetoman, Highfield, Md., known as the South Mountain Bard; and Moody Rock, a well-known teacher in Montgomery Township.
Dolly married John R. Lesher, a Civil War veteran and GAR member. She and her husband lived in Waynesboro, where they raised four sons and two daughters. In her adult years, Frances’ nickname was Fannie(y). In about 1898, the Leshers moved to Chambersburg.
Frances “Dolly” Harris Lesher died suddenly on Saturday, February 17, 1906 of a heart attack, while helping Mrs. Simon at her ice cream parlor on Memorial Square in Chambersburg. She was a member of the Methodist church and was buried on February 19, 1906, with full military honors, in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Chambersburg. The military ceremony was led by the officers of Chambersburg’s Col. Peter B. Housum Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Dolly Harris is the only woman from Franklin County who was considered to be a Civil War heroine and was the only woman buried with military honors!
Thursday, June 27, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Frances “Dolly” Harris flag-waving incident. To honor Dolly, Allison-Antrim Museum is conducting a capital campaign to raise $37,000 to have a life-size bronze statue erected on a small piece of land where her home once stood, 150 years ago on North Carlisle Street in Greencastle. Based upon recent census figures, if every female (infant to elderly) in Franklin County donated just 42 cents, the bronze statue would be paid for. Donations can be made to the Dimes and Dollars for Dolly account by sending a check made out to Allison-Antrim Museum, Inc., 365 S. Ridge Ave, Greencastle, PA 17225.1157, with a notation that it’s for Dimes and Dollars for Dolly or a donation can be made at any of the BB&T Bank branches (formerly Susquehanna Bank). Your support is greatly appreciated!
Allison-Antrim Museum, Inc
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