A native of Yadkin County, North Carolina, Cowles served in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. In 1861 he enlisted in the 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment and by the war's end had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He fought under Jeb Stuart and led Stuart's rear guard when crossing the last river back to Confederate territory ending Stuart's "ride around McClellan". Upon Stuart's death in 1864, General Wade Hampton took command and Cowles was with Hampton until capture at Petersburg at the war's end. He was wounded twice during the war.
After the war, he attended Richmond Hill Law School and moved to Wilkesboro and practiced law. From 1874 through 1878, Cowles served as the elected solicitor (district attorney) for the state's 10th judicial district. In 1884, he was elected as a Democrat to the 49th United States Congress, and was re-elected for three additional terms. He did not run for a fifth term. While in Congress, Cowles chaired the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Justice (Fiftieth Congress) and the Committee on Mines and Mining (Fifty-second Congress).
United States Congress. "COWLES, William Henry Harrison (id: C000829)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
Robert B. Vance
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 8th congressional district
William H. Bower