Friday, January 16, 2015


On the Fourth of July, 1865, a prosperous farmer, John Breckenridge Preston McConnell, and Frances Narcissa Wright, daughter of a Church of Christ preacher, married in Barren County, Kentucky.  It was his second marriage, his first wife having died, and her first.  She was 20 years old. John and Fannie, as she was called, ultimately had 8 (or 9) children, but sadly, only three of them lived to maturity.  In the late 1870s the family left Glasgow, Kentucky and settled in Limestone County, Texas.  Later they moved to Colorado.  John died in 1898 and Nannie lived until 1915. These two people were my great-grandparents.

One of them was a Confederate Spy.

In 1905, the Colorado Gazette newspaper had a feature story on page 15 of the Sunday October 22 issue that reads

Get a good look at her in her wedding picture above.  It's 1865 and she's 20.  She obviously was a teenager when she was spying.  Let me share some of the details from the newspaper.

"I was a spy under General Bragg," she said, "and I made more than one visit to General Rosecrans' headquarters on one pretext or another when he invaded Kentucky and I carried information back to General Bragg.  Men could not go anywhere in those days unless they were with an army, and so I, like many other southern women, rendered much service in bearing dispatches.

"When Bragg concluded to send the raider, John H. Morgan, through Kentucky to destroy bridges and railroads in order to cut off Rosecrans' supplies, it was I who carried him the message to report at General Bragg's headquarters.  After that I aided Morgan by bringing him quinine and percussion caps.  These articles were sewed in a quilted skirt which I wore, and the dispatches were sewed between the soles of my shoes.  I made trips across the Ohio river to Indiana towns where a confederate furnished the skirts filled with caps and quinine.

"Often the skirts were loaded so heavily that they became a burden.  I usually went on horseback across the country and had several narrow escapes from being captured by the Yankees.

"I cultivated the acquaintance of Captain George Stone, a Union officer.  He gallantly showed me around his camp.  Then I told him I wanted to see what a fortification looked like and in his innocence he took me over the breastworks and I mentally noted the weak places.  That night I rode 40 miles to inform Magruder and at noon the next day his cavalry dashed in where I told them to and captured the camp, as well as a large quantity of supplies without the loss of life.

"When the Federals were in Glasgow, I was suspected on several occasions of being a spy.  They had my hair searched for dispatches.  One day I got mad and had a barber cut if off and I threw it in a Union Colonel's face who chanced to be present.  He laughed and seemed pleased to get it.  This made me madder still and I took it away from him.

"My duties led me to Shiloh and I shall never forget the horrors of that battle scene.  The dead and dying lay in windows and the wounded were piteously begging for water.  There were so many of them, and so few of us to attend their wants, that I took off a new pair of shoes and carried water to them from the creek to the poor fellows in both the blue and the gray who were only too glad to drink from anything."

There is a bit more to the article, but not about spying.

Did any of this story filter down to my generation?  Not a bit of it.  She died in 1915 when my dad was 7 and his sister was 11.  Nannie's daughter Susan Maud was my grandma and she never told any stories about her mother being a spy.  I found out about it through the kindness of a Kentucky genealogist who saw a reprint of the article in the "Hart County [KY] Historical Society Quarterly and wondered if she might be able to find descendants researching her.  Her curiosity was satisfied when she found my name on the Internet as a descendant of John and Narcissa Frances Wright McConnell and sent me an e-mail.

And I think that while all the people I write about in this blog are truly Immortal Nobodies, my "SPY" is probably as close as I will come to having an Immortal Somebody!

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