West: The true story behind Fannie Battle
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By MIKE WEST

Back when I was a youngster I would beg my mother to put a light in the window so the Fannie Battle carolers would stop by and sing Christmas carols.
If memory serves right, one year she agreed, but alas no carolers ever showed at our door that Christmas.

The answer to that terrible dilemma was simple. The Fannie Battle Singers were in Nashville, which was something the TV and radio ads never specified.
There was something else the ads never pointed out. Mary Frances (Fannie) Battle was 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:

OFFICE SPECIAL COMMISSIONER,
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.
Respectfully,
Saml. Galloway, Special Commissioner.

OFFICE 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.
Respectfully,
Saml. Galloway, Special Commissioner

Fannie's father, finally receiving word of her arrest, approached Tennessee Gov. Isham G. Harris for assistance in freeing both women. Harris, in turn
wrote CSA secretary of war James A. Seddon about the two imprisoned women.
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.
Seddon in his letter to Ould said:
"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."
Ould was successful and soon reported the news back to Secretary of War Seddon: "Miss Battle and Miss Booker were delivered at City Point, Va., May 13, 1863, via flag-of-truce boat."
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.
Then 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 90-plus year tradition, Christmas caroling for Fannie Battle.

And the tradition continues on ... but just in Davidson County.

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