anna ella carroll, anna ella carroll civil war

Anna Ella Carroll, American Propagandist and Civil War Strategist

March 02, 2010
by James Sullivan
Anna Ella Carroll was a pamphleteer and political theorist. Her correspondence with President Lincoln on the subject of Civil War strategy arguably steered the Union toward victory, and her fight for recognition in the war’s aftermath made Carroll an icon for suffragettes and feminists in the decades that followed.

Anna Ella Carroll’s Early Days

Carroll was born in Pokomoke City, Md., on Aug. 29, 1815. She was the eldest of eight children in a prominent Maryland family. Long involved in Maryland state affairs, her father, Thomas King Carroll, served as governor from 1830-31.

Anna was trained and educated by her father and under his tutelage, entered the male-dominated world of politics. Her early political efforts were as a pamphleteer and propagandist for the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party during the 1850s. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, during this period she published a lecture series about the “Catholic menace,” wrote a Know-Nothing apology titled “The Great American Battle” and campaigned for Know-Nothing candidate Millard Fillmore.

At the onset of the Civil War, Carroll moved to Washington, D.C., where she “switched her allegiance, and talents as a pamphleteer, to the Republican party, supporting many of Lincoln’s policies.”

Carroll’s Notable Accomplishments

During the early 1860s, Carroll self-published two important pamphlets on the subject of secession, and the theories she expressed eventually formed the basis of Lincoln’s assumption of authority during wartime. Britannica summarizes her conclusions: “She held that the general rebellion was merely the sum of individual acts of rebellion, that the states would automatically resume their former relation to the central government when the rebellion had been put down, and that therefore the executive power superseded the legislative in prosecuting both war and reconstruction.”

Carroll sought compensation and recognition for her theories, but was rebuffed when she brought her case to Lincoln himself.

In 1861, Lincoln sent Carroll to the war’s Western front to make observations and issue a report, accompanied by army officer Charles Scott, a riverboat captain and strategist. After issuing her reports, General Ulysses S. Grant drove his troops through Tennessee to Forts Hood and Donelson, a strategy that “doomed the Confederacy,” and indicated he had followed the recommendations laid out in Carroll’s memorandum. The Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame writes, “The President and his Cabinet kept her authorship a secret; the public was not to know that the Union plans were devised by not only a civilian, but by a woman.”

Other sources paint a more complex picture of the authorship of these important documents. Britannica says that Carroll, as late as 1865, credited Scott, the military strategist with whom she convened in St. Louis in 1861, with outlining the strategy for the Union invasion. But in 1870, Carroll claimed the strategy as her own and began to petition Congress for recognition and payment. According to the Brooklyn Museum, Carroll was a “relentless self-promoter” who, Britannica writes, through “questionable means secured affidavits from a number of prominent persons, and apparently altered many of the documents to strengthen their positions.”

Carroll found a strong supporter for her cause in Matilda Joslyn Gage. Writing in her 1880 pamphlet, “Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862?” Gage argued that Carroll, not Grant, was responsible for the important military campaign.

Sally Roesch Wagner, in “Matilda Joslyn Gage: forgotten feminist,” recounts Gage’s writing on the event. “Lincoln asked that the matter be kept quiet, Gage documented, as he feared that the union troops would be demoralized by the knowledge that this brilliant strategy was the product of a civilian—‘and that civilian a woman’, according to a top Congressional leader quoted by Gage.”

The Rest of the Story

In 1881, a bill was “introduced in Congress to grant recognition and pension to Anna Carroll.” Unfortunately for Carroll, while the bill was being considered, President Garfield was assassinated, and the bill “mysteriously disappeared.”

Carroll died in 1894. In the years since her death, she has been hailed as a feminist icon who was denied credit for her intellectual property on the grounds of her gender. Her story was taken up by the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which publicized the injustice done to her, arguing it could have been avoided if women were able to vote.

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