Richard James Harding, planter, farmer, Mississippi county sheriff, and Confederate military officer, eldest child of William O. and Elizabeth Harding, was born in Virginia in 1841. In 1851 Harding moved with his parents to Moscow, Texas, in Polk County. He attended Gillette High School in Coldspring and later attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. While at VMI, Harding was one of a hundred cadets sent to assist in the execution of John Brown on charges of treason and inciting an insurrection.
Following Texas's secession from the United States on February 1, 1861, Harding returned to Polk County and enlisted in Daniel D. Moore's Company (Livingston Guards) Texas Volunteers at Livingston. On April 28, 1861, Harding was commissioned as a first sergeant, and his company soon departed Polk County and mustered into Confederate service in New Orleans on May 16, 1681. In August it was attached to the First Texas Infantry Regiment (Hoods Texas Brigade) of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Harding rose through the officer ranks. On May 16, 1861, a year to the date of being mustered into the Confederate Army, he was promoted to captain of Company B, First Texas Infantry Regiment. On January 5, 1864, Harding was once again promoted, this time to the rank of major in the First Texas Infantry.
Harding and the First Texas saw action in many of the war's most pivotal battles and campaigns such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Appomattox.
Harding took part in the action at Cold Harbor from May to June 1864. At Cold Harbor, he was wounded in the shoulder on June 7, 1864, during the regiment's counterattack near the Charles City Road. His wounds were so severe that the mere weight of his arm would cause his shoulder joint to separate.
Harding remained in the service of the Confederate Army, and on July 15, 1864, he earned another promotion, this time to the rank of lieutenant colonel. However, Harding's injuries proved so severe that he retired from service on November 9, 1864, and returned to Polk County. As with many officers and men disabled in the line of duty, Harding chose to serve in the C. S. A. Invalid Corps in order to receive his pay. In the event that an Invalid Corps soldier's physical condition improved sufficiently, they had to return to their combat unit. It appears that this was the case for Lieutenant Colonel Harding, although he never rejoined the First Texas Infantry Regiment.
Whether he was en route to his former unit and never made it or he simply opted for serving closer to home, Harding finished out the war attached to Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department. After surrendering to Union forces, Harding was paroled on June 16, 1865, in Alexandria, Louisiana.
In 1870 Harding moved to Hinds County, Mississippi, where he resumed his career as a farmer. He was elected sheriff of Hinds County in 1907 and served in that capacity until his death on September 21, 1917.