Harrison, William McClanahan (1819–1894)

By: Jennifer Eckel

Type: Biography

Published: April 14, 2011

Updated: February 20, 2021

William McClanahan Harrison, Confederate officer, planter, and legislator, was born on April 26, 1819, in Christian, Kentucky, to John and Elizabeth (McClanahan) Harrison. Later that year, his family emigrated from Kentucky, where John was engaged in distilling, and settled in Howard County, Missouri. Raised on a farm near what is now Glasgow, Missouri, William was educated in the common schools and left home at age sixteen in favor of a position in his brother James's store in Hempstead County, Arkansas.

In the fall of 1836 William Harrison established his own small mercantile in the disputed territory which would soon become Red River County, Texas. He later settled down in the county seat of Clarksville, Texas, in 1841 and purchased a plantation there in 1849. On July 1, 1845, Harrison married Elizabeth Shields, the daughter of a former congressman from Tennessee. Elizabeth died in 1853, and William married Elizabeth Ann Epperson in 1855. William M. Harrison had nine children in all—three from his first marriage and six from the second. By the time war broke out, Harrison had reportedly accumulated a personal fortune of around $150,000, much of it in slaves or in debts owed to the mercantile.

Although he had opposed secession, he enlisted in the Confederate Army on October 9, 1861, and was appointed captain and quartermaster of what would become the Ninth Texas Infantry. Captain Harrison survived illness and the battle of Shiloh with the Ninth Texas, but he resigned his commission following the army's retreat to Corinth, Mississippi, in late April 1862. Harrison spent the remainder of the war on his plantation and served a term in the legislature as a representative of Red River County.

Following the Confederate surrender, Harrison sold his plantation, and with his partner, J.W. Russell, established a "warehouse[ing], wholesale grocery and commission business." In March of 1871 William M. Harrison was elected the first president of the National Bank of Jefferson. Soon after, he was also named a president of the nascent East Line and Red River Railroad, which was acquired by Jay Gould in June of 1881. By this time Harrison had once again accumulated a sizable personal fortune in land, stock, and residential and commercial properties. In 1882 his daughter Sally Harrison marred Charles A. Culberson, who later served as the Governor of Texas (1895–1899) and a United States Senator (1899–1923).

Although Harrison was "reared as an ardent Henry Clay Whig" he was a member of the Democratic Party after the war. He was also long-time Mason, taking chapter and council degrees and admitted as a member of the Legion of Honor. In addition, William M. Harrison and much of his family were members of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. He died on September 16, 1894, at Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Eugene C. Barker, Texas History for High Schools and Colleges (Dallas: Southwest Press, 1929).

  • Tenth Legislature (1863-1864)
  • House
  • Agriculture
  • Plantation Owners
  • Business
  • Military
  • Confederate Military
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • East Texas
  • Northeast Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jennifer Eckel, “Harrison, William McClanahan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/harrison-william-m.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

April 14, 2011
February 20, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: