Fannie Battle: Confederate ‘spy’ turned social reformer
By: MIKE WEST, Managing Editor
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mary Frances (Fannie) Battle is best known as a social reformer who established one of the first day care centers in America.

But she was also a Confederate spy.

Born in the Cane Ridge community near the Davidson/Rutherford County line, Fannie was a teenager when the Civil War began.

Her father, Joel Allen Battle, raised a company at Nolensville and was soon the commander of the 20th Tennessee Infantry. Her three brothers joined the Southern war effort. Two of them, Joel Battle Jr. and William Searcy Battle, were killed at Shiloh where the father was captured and transported to the Federal prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio. A fourth brother, Frank, fought with distinction at Stones River, but was captured late in the war.

Fannie, like many other Southern women, wanted to play a part in the war effort.

Following the occupation of Nashville in March 1862, Battle and her future sister-in-law, Harriet Booker, joined a group of scouts and spies who gathered information about the Union forces stationed in the city and smuggled medicine and other scarce supplies across federal lines.

Fannie and Harriet were arrested slightly more than a year later on April 7, 1863, by military police acting under orders of Col. Truesdail, chief of police at Nashville. Truesdail had the girls sent immediately to Camp Chase, a prison camp near Columbus, Ohio.

A flurry of letters and telegraphs followed claiming that Fannie Battle was the brains of the operation and was swaying the less intelligent Harriet.

Here are some of them:

Official Records. Series II , Vol. 5, page 514-5
Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio, April 23, 1863,

Maj. L.C. Turner, Judge -Advocate:

As to Miss Fannie Battle, aged nineteen years, of Davidson County, Tenn., arrested on the 7th day of April, A.D. 1863, by order of Col. Truesdail, chief of police at Nashville, and brought to Camp Chase on the 15th day of April, 1863, charged with being a spy, with smuggling goods and with getting a forged pass, I have the honor to report that the prisoner denies the allegation of having been a spy but admits that she is a rebel and she had a forged pass. She further denies that she was smuggling goods at the time she was arrested. There can be no doubt from the manner of the prisoner in replying to inquiries that she has been engaged in smuggling. The prisoner is affable and attractive and well qualified by manners and mind to be influential for evil to the loyal cause. She is a daughter of the rebel General Battle. I recommend that she be exchanged and sent beyond our lines as soon as it may be convenient to our Government.
Saml. Galloway, Special Commissioner.

Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio, April 23, 1863,

Maj. L. C. Turner, Judge -Advocate:

As to Miss Harriet Booker, aged twenty-four years, of Davidson County, Tenn., arrested on the 7th day of April, A.D. 1863, by order of Col. Truesdail, chief of police at Nashville, and brought to Camp Chase on the 15th Day of April, 1863, charged with being a rebel, a spy, with forging a pass and altering the same and with smuggling goods through lines and conveying letters and information to the enemy, I have the honor to report that the prisoner denies the charge of smuggling, of being a spy or conveying letters to the enemy, but admits herself to be a rebel and to have altered a foraged pass, knowing the same to have been forged for the purpose of being fraudulently used. The prisoner is less intelligent than Miss Battle and more ingenuous. She has been obviously under the control of Miss. Battle. There can be no doubt as to her active and cordial co-operation in the acts of Miss Battle. If she could be removed from the influence of

[that] designing woman she would be harmless. I recommend that she be exchanged and sent beyond our lines, and if convenient and practicable that she be separated from the companionship of Miss Battle.
Saml. Galloway, Special Commissioner

April 24, 1863:
Ohio State Journal

General Mason [commanding at Columbus] has under his control the female rebel prisoners at this post and the arrangement of the new hospital. The upper story of the residence in front of the Heyl Seminary [commonly so called from the name of its Principal, Lewis Heyl] has been fitted up for the females, of who, there are now five in number: Mrs. Samuels, of Nashville, Tennessee, and two daughters [Anna and Roberta]; Miss Booker and Miss Battles. The two latter occupy a separate room furnished with two single beds, chairs, &c. They are permitted to write letters, subject to inspection, to their friends, read papers and books, walk in the open air under guard, and enjoy more than the ordinary comforts of prison life. These young belles persist that the southern army contains braver boys than northern, and that there is no danger of their long imprisonment, for, say they, Morgan will be in Columbus before two years. They are directly under charge of Mrs. Powers, who, though firm in her government, exercises every possible kindness to them.

Fannie’s father, finally receiving word of her arrest, approached Tennessee Gov. Isham G. Harris for assistance in freeing both women.

Official Records. Series II, Vol. 5, page 943:
Winchester, Tenn., May 4, 1863,

Hon. I.G. Harris,
Dear Sir: A rumor reached me some days since that one of my daughters, Fannie, has been arrested by the Federal authorities and would probably be sent to a Northern prison. Yesterday I learned for the first time that report was certainly true and that she was confined closely at Camp Chase in a room adjoining a hospital. Another young lady, Miss Harriet Booker, a daughter of one of our friends in my neighborhood, was arrested at the same time and is confined with my daughter. I have no personal acquaintance with either General Johnston or General Bragg and I would take it as a very great kindness in you if you will see them and know if anything can be done by which my daughter and Miss. Booker can be exchanged or the Federals induced to give them up. I am not advised as to whether we have any ladies prisoners in the South, but if their newspaper accounts are true there are some in our lines who ought to be if they persist in their policy of incarcerating our women and burning our houses. A copy of the Nashville Union now before me of a late date gives an account of the cordial reception of Federal prisoners by ladies of Shelbyville. For a less offense my daughter is to be closely confined in a loathsome Northern prison. Will you do me the favor of attending to the foregoing request at your earliest convenience and write me at this place?
Respectfully, your friend,
Joel A. Battle.

That same day, Gov. Harris wrote CSA secretary of war James A. Seddon about the two imprisoned women.

Executive Office, Tullahoma Tenn., May 4, 1863,

Hon. James A. Seddon
Sir: I send you herewith a note which I have just received from Col. Joel A. Battle upon the subject of the arrest and imprisonment at Camp Chase of his daughter Miss Fannie Battle and Miss Booker. They are refined and very excellent young ladies belonging to the best families in the county, and where arrested alone upon the ground of their strong and openly avowed sympathies with the Confederate cause. Miss Battle has had two brothers killed in battle and her father dangerously wounded at the head of his regiment (the Twentieth Tennessee) at the battle of Shiloh. General Bragg tells me that he can do nothing here in the premises and advises me to address you upon the subject. I trust that the peculiar character of this case will be held to justify the most speedy and decided action. If these ladies are not liberated is it not legitimate to retaliate by placing in close confinement a number of Federal officers?

Very respectfully,

Seddon contacted Robert Ould about the women. Ould was chief of the Bureau of Exchange of Prisoners and represented Richmond authorities in their dealings with Washington over the formal parole and exchange of prisoners of war until the CSA’s collapse in early 1864.


Another shameful outrage of the enemy in spite of their promise to cease such arrests. Do all you can to procure the release of these ladies.


Richmond, May 19, 1863,

Respectfully returned to Honorable James A. Seddon, Secretary of War. Miss Battle and Miss Booker were delivered at City Point, Va., May 13, 1863, via flag-of-truce boat.

Agent of Exchange.

Battle returned to Nashville at the end of the war and accepted a position as a teacher at Howard School. She taught at various Nashville schools from 1870 to 1886.

In December 1881, the Cumberland River flooded leaving more than a thousand people homeless. Battle organized a charitable organization, the Nashville Relief Society, which donated food, clothing and coal to flood victims. Subsequently, Battle and other relief society members organized United Charities. She left teaching and administered the charitable group until her death in 1924.

In 1891, she founded what is now the second oldest day care center in America, “The Fannie Battle Day Home for Children.” The center was originally called the Addison Avenue Day Home. In 1916, the group started what is now a 92-year tradition, Christmas caroling for Fannie Battle.


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