Funds sought to honor Greencastle heroine
Frances M. “Dolly” Harris was a teen when she waved the American flag in the face of danger during the Civil War. For her courage she was buried with full military honors.
Allison-Antrim Museum officials would like to see perhaps Greencastle’s and Franklin County’s greatest heroine honored for her bravery again in the 21st century with the erection of a statue. To that end, the museum will launch a fund drive next month during the Pennsylvaia Civil War 150th festivities in Greencastle aimed at purchasing a life-size bronze statue in her honor.
“Dimes and Dollars for Dolly” will kick off Saturday, April 9 following the 4 p.m. reencactment of the Dolly Harris incident. Two great-grandsons of Dolly Harris will be present to help kick off the campaign to raise money. All donations will be tax deductible.
Dolly was the daughter of Greencastle cabinet maker James Harris. She is believed to have been born Nov. 2, 1845. She lived with her family in a weatherboard house at 37 North Carlisle St., on the lot where the north annex to the Susquehanna Bank (formerly the Citizens Bank) is now located.
As Frances grew up, family and friends nicknamed her Dolly. There are no known letters, journals, diaries, or other records of what her family life was like, but it was possibly very similar to that of their neighbors. Current events were probably discussed each day during the Civil War, perhaps around the dinner table, including topics printed in The Pilot. Maybe that’s why Dolly, at about the age of 17, was so impassioned and very brave; so passionate that she was empowered with the courage to express her feelings toward Gen. George E. Pickett and his men, as they marched through Greencastle on June 26 and 27, 1863.
It was about June 15, 1863, when Confederate Rebel troops, en masse, started to march across the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time and touched the homeland soil of citizens in Antrim Township and Greencastle. 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. Could it be that Dolly was just plain infuriated with all the ravaging that had taken place over almost two weeks’ time? Or, was it a combination of both her patriotism and her anger that prompted her actions and the event on the dirt road of North Carlisle Street?
As Pickett’s troops, preceded by the General and his staff, marched through town on North Carlisle Street, 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.” Aware that his men might retaliate, Pickett rose in his stirrups, removed his hat and saluted the courageous young lady and the flag, thereby quelling an uprising in the street. Following suit, Pickett’s men also saluted young Dolly, and as the division’s band passed by, it “serenaded” Dolly by playing Dixie, also known as the Bonnie Blue Flag.
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.”
John Boyd was a southern friend of the Harris family. Receiving permission from his commander, General Armistead, Boyd left camp (which was south of town) to visit the Harrises overnight, and then rejoined his unit the next morning. Boyd remembered the following: “An earlier officer had told her (Dolly) to take off the flag apron. Dolly replied, ‘Not for you or any of your men.’ He raised his hat and passed on.” Boyd continued, “The next I remember well was General Pickett and his staff. As they passed, Dolly waved the stars and stripes at them. General Pickett saluted her and the boys all along the line gave her one of the old rebel yells.”
The Dolly Harris incident inspired a number of published poems, well into the first three decades of the 20th century.
Frances “Dolly” Harris, who married John Lesher following the Civil War, later moved to Waynesboro where they raised their family. Later in life, she moved to Chambersburg to live with one of her daughters. Dolly Harris Lesher died suddenly Saturday, Feb. 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 Feb. 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.
For more information on the kickoff event for Pennsylvania’s Civil War 150th which begins in Greencastle-Antrim, visit www.greencastlemuseum.org call 717-597-4610 or follow us on Twitter at greencastlemuzm
The kickoff event is partially supported by the Franklin County Visitors Bureau.