Anna Carroll's Commentaries

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March 31, 1991|By Carleton Jones

Anna Carroll was born into the Somerset County gentry an perhaps vaguely related way back to the wealthy Carrolls of Howard County, the greatest landowners of Maryland.

Her dad had been governor of Maryland (briefly), but had gradually lost the family's patrimonial plantation on the Eastern Shore.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Anna was in her mid-40s, well-known to the nation's capital and to national politicos as a topical author.

Her views were exacting and generally advanced for her day. What made her unusual was her willingness to express them at a time when "ladies" took a back seat. She did not hesitate to bombard celebrities, even the president of the United States, with her causes, over and over again.

She had freed her family's slaves to make sure that they could not be sold south, but she did not think that the government

could do the same. She saw clearly that the Lincoln administration was stuck with a terrific legal headache with slavery. As long as the federal government maintained that the South was simply an area in insurrection rather than an independent power it was fighting, the Constitution still ruled in Dixie, she said. And the Constitution said you could not unlawfully confiscate private property, i.e. slaves.

Her interesting summaries of wartime military and legal challenges were frequent adornments to the National Intelligencer, a Washington newspaper widely read throughout the East and popular in Maryland.

In October of 1861 she discovered the great theme of her life. While visiting the Western states she found that most of the emphasis of Union strategy involved freeing the Mississippi River from rebel control and splitting the Confederacy. There was an alternative, she found, after interviewing an experienced riverboat captain, Charles Scott.

Grasp control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in central Tennessee and you would have a watery pathway into the Deep South, paralyzing Memphis, Nashville and upper Alabama, she thought. By November, she had returned east and presented her ideas to important government figures. But others had seen the light, too.

"Both Carroll's and Scott's claims to be authors of the Tennessee campaign rest primarily on circumstantial evidence," writes a leading contemporary scholar of the war. At the same time, there seems no doubt that "Scott and Carroll had an equal share in developing what each called the Tennessee campaign."

Researchers can quote U. S. Grant to the effect that he had long ago seen the significance of the river route and that he was sure his boss (Gen. Henry Halleck) had seen it also, despite the Carroll-Scott claims. Moreover, the South had defended the river routes at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson before Carroll arrived on the scene.

But for a generation beyond the war, Carroll would insist that her ideas had played a major role in the western Civil War victory (and continue to demand payment for her work).

Anna Carroll would die at 78 in 1894, not quite forgotten but almost penniless. The wealthy Carrolls of Catholic faith would not help her because of her outspoken views on religion and her support of the federal union. She had been by all odds the most famous Maryland woman of the 19th century, and, in a certain political sense, the most influential. At the beginning of her career, she had summed up her character, so full of aggressive loyalties, both good and misguided:

"We want no Joans of Arc to make America vascular and alive," she had written. "We want faithful and true women . . . who are neither heroines nor fools, but American women who can stand in their shoes."

For more on the career of Anna Ella Carroll, see "Neither Heroine nor Fool: Anna Ella Carroll," by Janet J. Coryell, Kent State University Press, 1990, $22.

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