Saturday, June 06, 2009

Anna Ella Carroll

Although I had not heard of her, the Wikipedia entry for Anna Ella Carroll, mentioned in my last post, is very intriguing. A Maryland Whig and Know-Nothing (and Fillmore supporter in 1856!), she freed her slaves, opposed secession, supported Lincoln and allegedly forwarded intelligence of Confederate plans.

Most interesting probably to Civil War buffs, in 1861 Carroll allegedly investigated and advocated the use of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers as an invasion route into Tennessee, the basis for Grant's Forts Henry and Donelson campaign, and later in the War advised Lincoln on colonization and emancipation. I don't vouch for the Wikipedia description of her role, but here it is:
In the fall of 1861, Carroll traveled to St. Louis to work with secret agent, Judge Lemuel Dale Evans, who had been appointed by Secretary of State William H. Seward, to assess the feasibility of an invasion of Texas. Carroll worked on her second war powers paper at the Mercantile Library where she sleuthed out information from the head librarian who was Confederate General Joe Johnston’s brother. She took military matters into her own hands when she initiated an interview with a riverboat pilot Capt. Charles M. Scott about the feasibility of the planned Union Mississippi River expedition. Scott informed her that he and other pilots thought the advance ill conceived due to the fact that there were many defensible points on the Mississippi River that could be reinforced and it could take years just to open it up to navigation. Carroll then questioned Scott about the feasibility of the use of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers for a Union invasion. Scott provided Carroll technical navigation details. Based on this information Carroll wrote a memorandum that she sent to Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott and Attorney General Edward Bates in late November 1861, advocating that the combined army-navy forces change their invasion route from the Mississippi to the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Scott took the plan to Lincoln who deemed the plan viable, although no actual documentary evidence of this meeting exists. Evidence indicates that on the advice of Senator Benjamin F. Wade, chairman of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Lincoln appointed Edwin Stanton secretary of war in January 1862 to implement the Tennessee River plan. Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin, on the other hand, argues in her Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, that Lincoln chose Stanton to replace the crooked Simon Cameron on the advice of Secretary of State William Henry Seward and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, surprising the entire Cabinet with his selection, having consulted no one but Seward and Chase, the latter of whom claimed full credit for the choice of Stanton.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, Major General Henry W. Halleck was planning the same movement without Lincoln’s knowledge. Upon learning that Confederates were possibly sending reinforcements west from Virginia, Halleck ordered Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote to immediately move on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in a telegram dated January 30. Scott was dispatched to the Midwest to mobilize reinforcements for Halleck on the night of January 29. On February 6, Fort Henry fell to Foote’s gunboats and on February 13, Fort Donelson fell to Grant’s and Foote’s combined forces. These comprised the first two “real victories” of the Civil War for the Union as Gen. William Sherman wrote later. Thus Carroll’s submission was critical to providing needed reinforcements for Grant and to gaining Stanton the appointment as secretary of war. At the time Carroll’s role in the effort was kept secret, and immediately following the war, she herself gave credit for the plan to Capt. Charles Scott in a letter printed in a leading Washington newspaper, but years later Assistant Secretary of War Scott and Senator Wade testified to it before Congress.

During the remainder of the war, Carroll worked with Lincoln on issues pertaining to colonization and emancipation. She and Aaron Columbus Burr lobbied him to establish a colony of freedmen in British Honduras, today Belize. Although Carroll had freed her own slaves, she lobbied Lincoln against issuing the Emancipation Proclamation fearing that support of Southern Unionists would be lost and resistance to the Union would be stiffened. But, she wrote that Lincoln did have the constitutional right to free the states as a temporary war measure under his power as commander-in-chief, since the proclamation would help cripple the organized forces of the rebellion. Yet the measure was not a transfer of title and would have to be suspended once the war emergency ended. To free the slaves required a constitutional amendment.

Wikipedia further asserts that the empty chair at the right of the painting at the top of this post, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1864) is "believed by some to be an allusion to Carroll."


  1. Dear Elektratig,

    As the author of Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll,1815-1894, I can vounch for my own information, although it appears that some edits have been done. You can read thw whole Tennessee River chapter at -- right sidebar scroll down.

    C. Kay Larson, independent scholar/author

  2. More than six generations of vigilant attention by residents of Dorchester County Maryland, where Anna Ella Carroll lived and is buried, have prevented her life story from being a Cold Case. President Lincoln planned on honoring her after the Civil War with a title and pension equal to that of a Major Generals, he died six days after the war ended and did not have a chance to do it. By the time Congress assembled to give honst consideration for her many contributions they were too distracted with tactics denying Women wanting the Right To Vote ! For continuing information on this subject visit

  3. Additional Information is also available by joining Friends of Anna Ella Carroll on facebook


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