Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Anna Ella Carroll (1815-1894)
MSA SC 3520-2900

Although a savior to some and an egotist to others, no one can doubt that Anna Ella Carroll was a staunch Unionist devoted to her country.  She integrated herself into the traditionally male world of politics and war, corresponding with and advising the nation's leaders during the mid-19th century.  While the exact details of her involvement in the military strategy of Civil War are unclear, there is no doubt that she was involved in politics to an extent unprecedented for a woman of her time, and played an important role in the cause of saving the Union.

Anna Ella Carroll was born on August 29, 1815, at Kingston Hall in Somerset County to a notable Maryland family.  Her grandfather, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and her father, Thomas King Carroll, served as governor from 1830 to 1831.1  Her mother, Juliana Stevenson Carroll, was the daughter of a prominent Baltimore physician. While living in Annapolis, Anna became one of the city's social elite, even calling herself, on occasion, "Princess Anne." 2  She was the eldest of eight children, and enjoyed a close relationship with her father.  He educated Anna himself, reading to her from Shakespeare, Scott, Kant, Coke, and Blackstone in the plantation house library. In 1840, Thomas King Carroll encountered financial difficulties, and was forced to sell Kingston Hall and half of the family's slaves.  He moved his family to Warwick Fort Manor on the Choptank River. 3

After the sale of her childhood home, Anna Ella Carroll relocated to Baltimore, where she began working for shipping and railroad companies as a lobbyist and fact-checker.  Through her business connections with many prominent Whig members, Carroll became acquainted with Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.  She succeeded in persuading President Taylor to give her father a job; Thomas King Carroll was appointed as the Naval Officer of Baltimore in 1849.  In 1854, Anna Carroll moved to New York and accepted a position with Mutual Life Insurance to write a "promotional history."  While in New York, Carroll became heavily involved with the American, or Know-Nothing, Party.  As a member of this anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic group, she wrote and published two books: The Great American Battle, or, The Contest Between Christianity and Political Romanism, and The Star of the West. 4 Both publications proclaimed anti-Catholic themes. 5  Carroll also worked tirelessly to get Millard Fillmore re-elected for President under an American Party nomination and was deeply disappointed when Fillmore only won the state of Maryland. 6

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Anna Ella Carroll was initially unsure of his ability to serve in that capacity.  She quickly became a proponent of Lincoln's plan to preserve the Union, however, and devoted herself to the Union cause.  Carroll began by freeing her remaining slaves.  She then corresponded frequently with Maryland Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks concerning the question of secession.  A firm believer that Maryland belonged in the Union, Carroll managed to convince Governor Hicks, who was wavering on the issue, that secession was not  in Maryland's best interest.  Governor Hicks later thanked Carroll for her advice and work: "When all was dark and dreadful in Maryland’s future, when the waves of secession were beating down furiously upon your frail executive, borne down with private as well as public grief, you stood nobly by and watched the storm and skillfully helped to work the ship, until, thank God, helmsman and crew were safe in port." 7

Carroll also voiced her opinion on the issue of slavery by writing, "The Relation of the National Government to the Revolted Citizens Defined.  No Power in Congress to Emancipate Their Slaves or Confiscate Their Property Proved.  The Constitution As It Is, The Only Hope of the Country."   When Congress debated the issue of emancipation, she continued to view the matter as a constitutional and military issue: "I do not think there is any grant in the Constitution, but rather and express inhibition upon the power of Congress to abolish slavery or confiscate the property of rebels," adding, "If Congress will but abstain from all interference, there is no doubt about the ability of the President and his patriotic army to suppress the rebellion in every part of the territory." 8

The Civil War continued to inspire Anna Ella Carroll, including what became her most controversial work.  She used her political background and professional experiences as stepping stones to military work.  In her role as a military strategist, she traveled to the Western Theater with Army Officer Lemuel Evans, without official authorization, to determine how the Union army could best exploit its presence in the area.9  Moving along the Mississippi River, Carroll visited Chicago, St. Louis, and Tennessee.  She rejected the plan to send gunboats downriver on the Mississippi because of the heavy Confederate fortifications in the area, and proposed instead to send the boats down the unfortified Tennessee River.  The Union army accepted the plan, and in February 1861, Union forces captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, destroying Confederate communication capabilities from East to West. 10  

A controversy would later arise over the origins of the plan to use the Tennessee River. Carroll, and her supporters, claimed that she alone created the Tennessee plan and that she should receive both credit and compensation for that plan.  Instead, many others were attributed with the idea. Futhermore, one historian argued that the idea was not necessarily a stroke of genius: "The plan was as patently obvious then as it is now." 11  Anna Ella Carroll also wanted recognition and compensation for other work that she had done, particularly the promotional pamphlets she wrote for Lincoln and the Union.  Carroll wrote to the President asking for $5,000.  Lincoln, apparently appalled, responded by saying that this was the "most outrageous one [demand], ever made to any government, upon earth!" 12

In addition to her work on the Tennessee Plan, Carroll advised Union General Ulysses S. Grant on the planned attack on Vicksburg in 1863.  Carroll advocated for an attack on the city by land from the rear, but Grant rejected this and first attacked the city from the Mississippi River.  Vicksburg did not succumb to the Union army, however, until General Grant changed his strategy, manuevered his army inland, and laid seige to Vicksburg, which is what Anna Ella Carroll had suggested. 13

After the Civil War, Anna Ella Carroll repeatedly appealed for recognition for her work.  Her appeals fell on deaf ears, however, and she eventually retired to Washington to live with her sister, Mary, who was a government clerk.14  The closest she ever came to receiving formal recognition was in 1864, when painter Francis B. Carpenter painted President Lincoln and his cabinet signing the Emancipation Proclamation.  In the scene there is an empty chair, against which rests some documents likely carried by Carroll.  It is said that in this way she was shown as the "unrecognized member of the cabinet." 15

Anna Ella Carroll never married and had no children.  She died of Bright's disease on February 19, 1894, in Washington, D.C., and was buried in her family plot at Trinity Chapel, near Cambridge, MD. 16  Carroll's work went mostly unrecognized during her lifetime.  As the women's suffrage and women's rights movements gained strength in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, the lack of recognition Carroll received during her career was looked at as a "symbol of male injustice," and Carroll herself became a model of a woman who had accomplished significant work in male-dominated areas. 17  Whatever the truth may be regarding her role in the formulation of the Tennessee Plan, it is unquestionable that she served in capacities that went beyond the traditional role of women of her time.  By playing a role in partisan politics, by assisting state and national officials in keeping the Union intact, and by devising military strategy during the Civil War, Anna Ella Carroll managed to break many of the rules governing the behavior of  women during the nineteenth century. Long before women had the right to vote, Carroll actively participated in American politics and showed future generations of women what was possible.


1. Sylvia Bradley, "Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894: Military Strategist--Political Propagandist," in Notable Maryland Women (Cambridge: Tidewater Publishers, 1977), 62-70. Return to text
2. Edward James, Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 289-292. Return to text
3. Bradley. Return to text
4. Ibid. Return to text
5. James. Return to text
6. Bradley. Return to text
7. Adam Goodheart, "The Woman Who Saved the Union?" The New York Times, 18 January 2011. Return to text
8. Anna Ella Carroll, The Relation of the National Government to The Revolted Citizens Defined. No Power in Congress to Emancipate their Slaves or Confiscate their Property Proved. The Constitution as it is, the Only Hope of the Country. Library of Congress:  The African American Pamphlet Collection 1824-1909. Return to text Accessed 24 July 2012.
9. James. Return to text
10. Bradley. Return to text
11. Ron Soodalter, "For Maryland and the Union," Maryland Life, October 2011. Return to text
12. Ibid. Return to text
13. Bradley. Return to text
14. James. Return to text
15 Bradley. Return to text
16. James. Return to text
17. Ibid. Return to text

Biography written by 2012 summer intern Anne Powell.

Return to the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame

Return to Anna Ella Carroll's introductory page

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