Annie Briggs Harrison and Her Secret Life as a Confederate Spy
By Katie Shands
One day in the 1860s, Annie Briggs carefully put on her mother’s long cape and mourning veil before leaving her family’s home in Franklin. The twenty-something woman had an errand to run, but this wasn’t a trip to buy groceries or sundries. She was on a secret mission, one that could cost Annie her life if things went wrong.
The country was in the midst of the Civil War, and Annie was a Confederate spy, heading straight into Federal territory to collect needed information. After crossing enemy lines, she obtained the valuable document, pinned it in her hair and headed home. It seemed the mission was a success until she realized scouts were following her.
Annie managed to slip into her house, which was located on the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue, where 55 South now operates. Once inside, she yanked off the black cape and veil and hid them behind a bed.
Always the quick thinker, Annie threw on a different hat and dashed out the back door. With a deep breath, she collected herself before strolling through a side gate and out into the street in front of the men. The disguise worked because Annie overheard the soldiers behind her, trying to figure out where their target had gone off to.
This was just one of many tales concerning Annie’s years as a spy. Though some details may have been embellished over time, they still make for a good yarn. Take, for instance, the time Annie secreted a sketch of Fort Granger across Federal lines to Confederate troops. The paper was inserted inside a hollowed-out corn cob and placed in a bottle of fine liquor. As the story goes, Annie even allowed some of the Union soldiers to take a few swigs. On another occasion, she and her friend Betty Vaughn traveled from Nashville to Franklin with sketches of Federal fortifications sewn into the top of their buggy.
Another example of Annie’s bravery is detailed in a Confederate soldier’s written account of his experiences after the bloody Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. Mississippi soldier John C. Rogers had been assigned to be a nurse for his sick brother. The pair stayed at a house-turned-hospital in Franklin until they were transferred to a nearby church. Here, Annie regularly brought food to the men. When John mentioned he would likely be sent to the North as a prisoner after his brother’s inevitable death, she offered to help him escape.
Annie’s plan was simple: John was to visit her grandfather’s house in town, and each time, she would sneak him a piece of a citizen’s suit. Once he had the entire outfit, John would make a run for it, first hiding out at the home of Annie’s sister, Elizabeth. After John’s brother died a couple weeks later, the plan went into motion. John arranged to meet Annie on February 8, 1865, and followed her to Elizabeth’s house in the country. The sisters’ cousin Font Degraffenreid supplied John with a horse and helped him travel home to his mother in Mississippi.
After the Civil War, Annie led a decidedly tamer life. In 1869, she married James W. Harrison, a prominent Franklin businessman who later founded the Williamson County Savings & Loan. At the time, it was the area’s largest financial institution. He also served as mayor from 1894 to 1899. Interestingly, Annie had used his grandfather’s home, known as the Harrison House on Columbia Pike, for secret meetings during her time as a spy.
James and Annie built a lavish home on the corner of West Main Street and Fifth Avenue, where they entertained the high society of Franklin. In 1931, the house was torn down to make way for a commercial building. The couple never had any biological children, but they did adopt their niece, Annie James.
In her later years, Annie Briggs Harrison often spoke of her Civil War experiences. She died on June 20, 1922, at the age of eighty-six and was buried alongside her husband in Mount Hope Cemetery. Her obituary stated that Annie “belonged heart and soul to her town and its people.”