Gen. William A. Harris was a brave officer of the Confederacy, a pioneer railroad engineer, a successful and leading stock raiser of improved breeds and, both in state and national bodies (including the Congress of the United States), an untiring and effective promoter of agricultural interests. Born in Loudoun County, Virginia, October 29, 1841, as a boy he was educated in his native state and at Buenos Aires, Argentina, whither his father had been sent as United States minister. In June, 1859, he graduated from Columbia College, Washington, District of Columbia. Immediately afterward he went to Central America and spent six months on a ship canal survey, but returned home and entered the Virginia Military Institute in January, 1860. He was in the graduating class of 1861, but in April of that year he and his classmates entered the Confederate service. He served three years as assistant adjutant-general of Wilcox’s brigade and as ordnance officer of Gens. D. H. Hill’s and Rhodes’ divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia. In 1865 he came to Kansas and entered the employ of the Union Pacific railroad as civil engineer. The road was then completed to Lawrence, and his first work was to build the Leavenworth branch, which he completed in 1866.
Mr. Harris was resident engineer of the road until it was completed to Carson in the fall of 1868, when he accepted the agency for the sale of the Delaware reservation and other lands, in connection with farming and stock raising. In 1876 he became interested in short-horn cattle and in a short time his herds were known throughout the country for high quality. When he was nominated for Congressman-at-large by the populists in 1892, he was in Scotland, improving his home stock. His nomination was indorsed by the Farmers’ Alliance and the democratic party and he was elected. In 1894 he was defeated for Congress, but in the fall of 1896 was elected to the State Senate from the Third District, and the following January was sent to the United States Senate to succeed William A. Peffer. Mr. Harris took an active part in railroad legislation in his state and in Congress, but was unable to have his ideas carried out. He was deeply interested in the Nicaraguan canal project when it came before the United States Senate, and was a member of the committee having the question of the proposed eanal in charge. He saved millions to the government in the Pacific Railroad claims when that question came before Congress for settlement. Although an ex-Confederate he was loyal to his state and country. After retiring from the United States Senate he made one political campaign as the democratic candidate for governor of Kansas. From 1906 he resided in Lawrence, Kansas, although connected with the National Live Stock Association with headquarters in Chicago. He was appointed regent of the State Agricultural College at Manhattan and took an active interest in the development of that institution and the United States experimental stations. He died at the home of his sister in Chicago, Illinois, December 21, 1909.