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Carroll, Anna Ella (1815–1894)

American who wrote books and pamphlets supporting political causes and claimed authorship of the Union's Tennessee Campaign during the Civil War. Born on August 29, 1815, in Somerset County, Maryland; died on February 19, 1894 (gravestone misdated as 1893), in Washington D.C.; daughter of Thomas King Carroll (a lawyer and legislator) and Julianna Stevenson; attended Miss Margaret Mercer's boarding school in West River, Maryland (did not graduate); never married; no children.

Began career by writing promotional material for hire, then wrote books and pamphlets in support of political candidates and parties; during Civil War, assisted the federal government in procuring and delivering military correspondence; claimed sole authorship of the Tennessee Campaign to split the Confederate forces; spent much of her later years seeking recognition and compensation for both her controversial claim and her written work for the government.

As Americans experienced the escalating tensions that would eventually result in the Civil War, one woman insisted that her thoughts on the matter be known. Through her writing, Anna Ella Carroll entered the male-dominated arena of politics and government. Her opinions were to influence elections and policy, while her contributions to military strategy would embroil her in controversy.

When Anna Carroll was born on August 29, 1815, the family resided at Kingston Hall, their ancestral plantation located on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It is perhaps no coincidence that Anna would make a name for herself. Her lineage boasted of the Reverend John Carroll, the

first Catholic archbishop in the United States, and Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. These, along with many other distinguished predecessors, would give her the advantage of a respected and influential family. In following the high expectations of his ancestors, Anna's father Thomas King Carroll had received a master's degree in law from the University of Pennsylvania. At 21 years of age, he was the youngest man elected to the Maryland legislature. Anna benefitted greatly from the attentions of her well-educated father, in whose personal library she was known to indulge. She much preferred the world of deep, analytical thought to the expected feminine pursuits of needlework, music, and domestic tasks. Her mother was kept busy with eight Carroll children, of which Anna was the eldest.

Anna attended Miss Margaret Mercer 's boarding school in West River, Maryland, at the age of 15. Along with the expected curriculum, Mercer attempted a balance with "the refinements and delicacy which communicate an appropriate and attractive grace to the female character." Unfortunately, Carroll was unable to finish her schooling because of financial difficulties and had to return home. Thomas Carroll, who had a history of poor financial planning, faced bankruptcy and the loss of their Kingston Hall plantation. The family rented a house, and Anna started a briefly successful school for girls.

Now a mature woman of 30, Anna Carroll moved to Baltimore to make a living and help support her parents and siblings. Though the nature of her employment is unclear, sources suggest that she was a contributing political writer for local newspapers; she also wrote promotional material for railroad interests. As she hustled to find jobs, she augmented the social network formed over the years from her father's friends and connections. After the death of her mother in 1849, Anna's name had enough influence to get her father appointed as a naval officer in Baltimore.

Her whole course was the most remarkable in the war; she found herself, got no pay, and did the great work that made others famous.

—Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War

This success gave Carroll the confidence and credibility to expand her political connections, and to offer advice to any diplomat or distinguished gentleman she deemed in need of it. After a cordial but brief correspondence, her tone would often change to requesting, if not demanding, a position be filled by one of her friends or relatives, or a candidate of her choice. This, she rationalized, would certainly be in the best interest of the nation. Much to her chagrin, only a very small minority took her advice.

In spite of a reputation as a nuisance (doubtless exacerbated by bias against her gender), Carroll's political image continued to hold a certain credibility. In 1855, she became involved in the American Party, otherwise known as the "Know-Nothings." This seemingly self-deprecating name was actually the stated answer given by party members when questioned about their internal administration ("We know nothing about that"). Wasting little time, she drafted an unwilling Millard Fillmore as the Know-Nothing candidate for president in 1856 and proceeded to promote him with a barrage of articles, pamphlets, and books in what was to be her most prolific period. Titles such as "The Great American Battle," "The Star of the West," and "Who Shall be President?" addressed many of the controversial issues of the time.

The Know-Nothing agenda, which included an anti-Catholic movement, alleged that there had been a large-scale purchasing of Catholic votes, especially those of new immigrants—a grand, Papal conspiracy to gain control of American life and government. The party also cultivated a strong sense of nativism, with little tolerance for those new to the United States. Carroll addressed such issues with a multitude of exclamation points, unsubstantiated evidence, and threats of the horrible consequences if the Know-Nothing candidate or point of view were not supported. Millard Fillmore lost the election to James Buchanan and the Democrats.

Not only did Fillmore have to deal with his failed election bid, but Carroll began to test his patience. After receiving a request for a letter of introduction for her upcoming book tour, Fillmore graciously yielded. When she altered and published his letter to imply a stronger endorsement of her political accomplishments, a flabbergasted Fillmore demanded his letter back. The published letter, she replied, "has done you more good than that of any letter you ever wrote in your whole life before. No one living has done so much for you." Carroll's desire for recognition would cause her to overstate her social or political contributions over and over. While this behavior may be deemed unseemly or even dishonorable, certainly many persons in government and business have benefitted by adopting such a strategy. For Carroll, it became a consistent dynamic in her tactical career maneuvers.

In the late 1850s, she continued applying her political pen, most notably in addressing the anti-Catholic issue. She assisted in the gubernatorial elections in Maryland and began planning for the 1860 presidential elections. While still a Know-Nothing, she began to be welcomed by the Republicans. With headstrong resolve, Carroll decided to support the experienced politician and pro-Unionist, John Minor Botts of Virginia. As his campaign manager, she presented Botts as an attractive compromise candidate who would unite Republicans and Know-Nothings to win the presidency. This was easier said than done, as closed-door politics and party affiliations effectively killed the nomination. Carroll rallied and decided to support her old friend Thomas Corwin for speaker of the house. Corwin's eventual defeat was another addition to a string of political disappointments for Anna. This was followed by personal tragedy with the death of both her sister Julianna and her close friend and suspected lover John Causin.

As the fractured North and South headed toward Civil War, Carroll's strength and sense of purpose rose to meet her new goal, saving the Union. She wrote letters and pamphlets for the Union cause and successfully worked to keep her home state of Maryland from seceding. Her support for the North soon expanded to support for the president, as Abraham Lincoln's actions were openly questioned by John C. Breckinridge. A former Kentucky senator and vice-president under Buchanan, Breckinridge argued that Lincoln exercised powers that he did not have, and that, in effect, the war was illegal. In her highly regarded work, "Reply to Breckinridge," Carroll claimed that Lincoln's actions were in defense of the Constitution and the Union and therefore justifiable.

Her pamphlets were widely distributed and earned her a meeting with the assistant secretary of war, Thomas A. Scott. Evidently, an agreement was made in which Carroll would be paid for any such future contributions, if approved by Scott's office. With this sanction, she continued her work by writing "The War Powers of the General Government." This again supported Lincoln's position and also addressed the divisive topic of slavery.

Although slavery had been a part of everyday life even for Carroll, she was convinced that it was wrong. When her father considered selling and hence separating the few remaining slaves he owned, she solicited for contributions to purchase them herself and then set them free. As a political pragmatist, however, her opinion was not that of a true abolitionist. Fear of bipartisan strife and an economic collapse of the South, if full freedom was granted, caused her to adopt a more gradual approach. Slavery should not be stopped by the government but by the "preservation of the Union, and with that silent progress of intelligence and virtue which the Union alone can guarantee." In addition, Carroll sided with the popular notion of colonization for freed slaves. She was hired by a business interest as a lobbyist, to convince the government to colonize a section of land in British Honduras, Central America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation would eventually prove such prospects to be in vain.

In the fall of 1861, the stage was set for a protracted political battle that would become Carroll's central focus in life; a controversy that continues. Legend has it that while she and her good friend Lemuel D. Evans visited St. Louis, ostensibly to research another pamphlet, Carroll stumbled upon what appeared to be a previously overlooked strategic alternative for the Union. Control of the Mississippi River had been considered the key to winning the war. The Confederate forces were strong, however, and taking the river would be difficult and costly. Why not push up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, which ran roughly parallel to and east of the Mississippi? There would be less resistance, and, if accomplished, the South would effectively be split. Carroll sought the help of seasoned riverboat pilot Captain Charles M. Scott, who could answer her specific and detailed questions. A plan was written, and Carroll returned to Washington for a meeting with Thomas Scott. Apparently, Scott was impressed with the scheme and promised to present it to the president. Lincoln was equally interested and began military preparations.

At this point, history can validate the resulting events: the operation began on February 6, 1862, when Fort Henry on the Tennessee River was captured, soon to be followed by Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River and the surrender of Nashville. Union general Ulysses Grant continued up the Tennessee where on April 6–7, 1862, he would win the bloody battle of Shiloh near Pittsburg Landing. The surrender of New Orleans that same month marked the successful end of the Campaign and a great advantage for the Union.

Few knew of Carroll's alleged authorship, and she kept strangely silent. During Congressional hearings to congratulate those responsible, she sat and watched anonymously from the gallery. Years later, in March of 1870, Carroll would voice her claim as originator of the plan, in hopes of both personal recognition and monetary reward. In the meantime, another dispute began regarding payment for her writing.

After completion of "Reply to Breckinridge" in 1861, Carroll encountered difficulty when she approached the War Department for payment. While Scott had dealt with her in good faith, evidently it was not within his authority to have granted the agreement to begin with. In remorse, he gave her $1,250 from his own pocket to cover her expenses. Subsequently, Carroll, who was always struggling financially, presented him with another bill for later works written in support of the administration. Her original charge was $5,000, which quickly grew to the sum of $50,000 and included the provision that Carroll visit Europe to distribute Union propaganda. An exasperated Lincoln considered her request "the most outrageous one ever made to any government on earth." In September of 1862, Carroll received $750 and was told in no uncertain terms that she no longer worked for the government. This only strengthened her resolve, and she persisted in her requests for compensation.

Following the Tennessee Campaign, Carroll continued to give the government military advice and wrote politically supportive pamphlets for which invoices were futilely submitted. Her opinions, however, became less notable, and her contributions to the political world decreased, never again to attain their former status. In March of 1870, she gave up pursuing the War Department and petitioned the U.S. Senate. Along with her request for "compensation commensurate with the service" of writing for the government, she now desired recognition for influencing the government "to adopt the Tennessee River instead of the Mississippi" strategy. Her bill now totaled $250,000.

Years of political wrangling followed, including confrontations with the riverboat pilot Captain Charles M. Scott, who disputed Carroll's claim. In the winter of 1871–72, her now intimate friend Lemuel Evans wrote an anonymous pamphlet in her support, stating that Carroll "must be given the credit of having solved the problem of the military destruction of the 'Southern Confederacy.'" He went on to suggest that her contributions warranted a rank of major general, with retroactive pay dating back to late 1861.

On February 18, 1879, after years of effort, the Senate Committee on Military Affairs ruled against her claim, citing a lack of supporting evidence. She would receive no more than the $1,250 and $750 already paid out, and if additional funds were desired for her strategic contributions, "the deficit should be supplied from the large store of gratitude which … republics should bestow upon their citizens." Carroll's vain search for monetary compensation now ruled her life. She sought support from the National Woman Suffrage Association who publicized her story and lowered her dollar request hoping for a compromise. In dire financial need and following a decline in health, Anna Ella Carroll died on February 19, 1894, in Washington D.C.

Some believe that Anna Carroll was a victim of male-dominated politics while others dismiss her every assertion. The truth can probably be found in the title of Janet L. Coryell's biography, Neither Heroine nor Fool: Anna Carroll of Maryland. To date there are several theories on the authorship of the Tennessee Campaign, none of which seem more valid than the next. Conflicts regarding the government contract for Carroll's writing have many possible explanations as well, including prejudice, overstepped authority, misunderstanding, or a willful interpretation by Anna Carroll herself.

Be that as it may, the influential nature of her written opinions and her tenacious drive to be included in the political machinery, attest to her intellect and desire to serve. Without the gender restrictions of her day, one could easily imagine Anna Ella Carroll to have been a leading politician of her time.


Armstrong, Walter P. "The Story of Anna Ella Carroll," in American Bar Association Journal. Vol. 35. March 1949, p. 198.

Bowman, John S., ed. The Civil War Almanac. NY: World Almanac, 1983.

Coryell, Janet L. Neither Heroine nor Fool: Anna Carroll of Maryland. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990.

Denney, Robert E. The Civil War Years; A Day-by-Day Chronicle of the Life of a Nation. NY: Sterling, 1992.

Greenbie, Marjorie Barstow. My Dear Lady. NY: Arno Press, 1974.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Vol. I. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McPherson, James M., ed. Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, 1862. NY: Macmillan, 1989.

Ward, Geoffrey C. The Civil War: An Illustrated History. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Wise, Winifred E. Lincoln's Secret Weapon. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton, 1961.


Papers and correspondence kept at the Maryland Historical Society.

Matthew Lee , Colorado Springs, Colorado

Carroll, Anna Ella (1815–1894)

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Carroll, Anna Ella (1815–1894)