Volunteer presenter, Carnegie hero, and Civil War historian dies
Carnegie Hero Charles S. Harris, 81, died Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, at his home in Ooltewah, Tennessee. Harris was a renowned Civil War historian and author, specifically known for finding Civil War artifacts in wilderness throughout the South. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal for a 1962 water rescue that he performed at age 21. He then began a long volunteer association with the Hero Fund, traveling to present the Carnegie Medal to newer recipients of the award or their families.
At the age of 22, Harris was awarded the Carnegie Medal for pulling two girls, ages 8 and 10, from a submerged vehicle in Big Spring Creek near Guntersville, Alabama. The girls were in the rear seat of a coupe that entered the creek and sank in water, 11 feet deep. While the girls’ family escaped, Harris entered the vehicle multiple times to search for and ultimately remove the girls from the vehicle. One of the girls was revived, but the other had drowned.
Harris was born to Martin and Lou Harris. He later married his wife, Teresa Harris. He worked as an aerial photographer for the mapping division of the Tennessee Valley Authority – which provides electricity for 153 local power companies. He also spent time writing for American Digger magazine, showing his relics at his museum-like home and at trade shows, and authoring books about relic hunting.
“To me, the relics talk,” Harris said in a 2015 NQ Explorers video. “In high school, college, I hated history. Memorizing dates and names, I just couldn’t get into it. But as far as getting into a story, let the relic talk for you. It will tell you a story. To me, that’s it.”
NQ Explorers is a relic hunting duo out of Australia that produces videos about their adventures and those of others on YouTube.
Harris presented the Carnegie Medal to newly awarded heroes or their families throughout the American South making numerous presentations. Harris said his first presentation, to Carnegie Hero McKenzie McKay Guffey, was one of the proudest moments of his life. His last presentation was in 2019 to Joshua Stewart Wright.
Wright saved a 2-year-old girl from a burning vehicle in 2014.
Harris said he connected with Wright, because one of his victims could not be revived.
“I know that Joshua’s biggest regret is that the girl’s brother could not also have been rescued. Not everyone is successful in their rescue efforts, nor does every hero survive,” Harris said after the presentation. “Joshua unconsciously and selflessly laid his life on the line for another and for that he will be eternally remembered in the face of God and his friends.”
Harris’ death has also been announced in the Civil War relic hunting community.
“With a heavy heart we announce the passing this morning of relic hunting legend, Charlie Harris,” posted Anita Holcombe, marketing director of American Digger Magazine, posted on the magazine’s Facebook page. “He was also one of American Digger Magazine’s original staff members as well as a wonderful friend. We are empty with his passing as will be the Civil War relic community at large.”
On CivilWarTalk.com, one user created a thread announcing Harris’ passing.
“Charlie was a hell of a man, author, and relic hunter,” the user wrote.
“We lost a legend,” another user replied.
Harris is survived by his wife; brothers, Martin and Richard Harris; children, Stephanie Bell, Jennie Puckett, and Jon Chadwick; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.