Anna Ella Carroll Facts

Anna Ella Carroll (1815-1893) was a political writer and helped Presidents Lincoln and Grant during the civil war and reconstruction. Her patriotism and diligence helped secure a victory in the north.

On August 29, 1815, Anna Ella Carroll was born in a sumptuous twenty-two-room manor called Kingston Hall, which stood on a large Maryland plantation stocked with cotton, wheat and tobacco. Anna was a bright, blue-eyed girl with dark red curls and pale complexion. As a child she had a fierce temperament and an independent spirit, balanced with an equally strong tendency to overwhelm her family with love. Her sense of independence would remain with her, leading her to the adventures that awaited her.

For generations, the Carrolls have been an influential family in America. Thomas King Carroll and Juliana Stevenson Carroll, Anna’s parents, were extremely wealthy and respected people in the South. As teenagers, Juliana had been an expert organist for the Episcopal Church. Thomas Carroll was a powerful lawyer whose partners included Francis Scott Key, the composer of the American Episcopal Church.

national anthem. Anna Carroll’s paternal grandfather, Charles Carroll, signed the Declaration of Independence. Her maternal grandfather, Dr. Henry Stevenson, served as an officer and surgeon in the British Navy during the War of Independence. He operated on both Tory soldiers and American prisoners of war, earning the respect of men on both sides.

Life at Kingston Hall

Anna Carroll was the first of eight children, of whom only two were boys. She soon became Anne for her family and friends, rarely using her real birth name, even in adulthood. Anne led a privileged life as a child, with a carer slave, Milly, who took care of her from birth. She also had a personal servant, a beautiful slave of her age named Leah, who looked after her for many years. Anne and Leah became friends, yet they always observed the boundaries of their positions as mistress and servant.

Secretary to her father

In the spring of 1829, when Anne was thirteen years old, Democrat Andrew Jackson was elected president, and Thomas ran and was elected governor of Maryland by a legislature that supported Jackson. His new appointment took him to Annapolis, Maryland, away from his family. Back in Kingston Hall, Anne took on new responsibilities as her father’s secretary, monitoring visitors and answering letters in his name. She even started a book of newspaper clippings for him, selecting articles that dealt with the growing tension between farmers in the South and people in the North, whose views and lifestyles were very different. In the spring of 1831, Anne and her family went to Annapolis to visit Thomas. She was enthusiastic about this opportunity to see first-hand how the government worked.

Many years later, in 1837, after Thomas had returned home from his governorship, the nation fell into a terrible depression, and the Carrolls lost much of their fortune. The plantation and Kingston Hall were becoming too expensive to afford. Although they had at least 200 slaves to account for, they were unwilling to sell them to slave traders who would separate the families that had been kept together. Fortunately, a distant relative returned to the United States from South America had enough money to buy the house and well over half the slaves. The remaining slaves went with the family to a smaller plantation up the Choptank River called Warwick Fort Manor.

Off in Baltimore

After his family settled into their new environment, Carroll decided it was time to leave home and try to make his way in the world. Now twenty-two years later, she announced to her parents that she and Leah were headed to Baltimore, Maryland, the second largest city in the United States at the time. She hoped that not only would they be able to support themselves, but that they would have enough money to send home.

Leah, an experienced seamstress, found work almost immediately for the wealthy families of Baltimore. Working in their homes, she listened carefully to their gossip about new activities and brought the word directly to Anne. Anne learned to act quickly in Leah’s footsteps, tracking down new entrepreneurs and using her ability to write letters for mailing lists, generate advertisements, and create advertisements. Her public relations work soon earned her enough to send home a few extra dollars to her brothers and sisters. She worked steadily for seven years in Baltimore, making a name for herself as a skilled advertising writer.

From railroad to politics

At the age of twenty-nine, Carroll began writing press releases for Baltimore railway companies. Her work for the railways, as well as her family’s strong political background, allowed her to slip easily into the world of politics that was so familiar to her. She sharpened her skills at the Whig Party, meeting people like Army Chief of Staff Winfield Scott. With Carroll, Scott discussed his strategies for war in the invasion of Mexico, which led to the acquisition

in California, New Mexico and parts of Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

Because of her knowledge of Scott, Carroll began to sit regularly at the Senate visitors’ gallery, where she met many powerful men and future presidents, such as James Buchanan, with whom she dated for a short time. She also became close friends with Millard Fillmore in the early 1850s, shortly after he was sworn in as president following the death of Zachary Taylor.

Free slaves

In the midst of his budding political career, Carroll had many discussions with Northern abolitionists about slavery. To satisfy his personal belief that slavery was wrong, Carroll freed all his twenty slaves, which he had inherited from his father. This was a dangerous move in 1853, a year when freed slaves were considered a fair game for the reconquest. So Carroll used his political influence to persuade the abolitionists to accompany his former slaves to salvation in Canada.


In 1854 Fillmore began to look for Carroll as a confidant and, since his first wife had died, as a possible second wife. But Carroll had a personal agenda to fulfill. He wanted to make an impact in the political world, but not as the president’s wife. Even though he rejected Fillmore’s proposal, she continued to help him in his campaign for the presidency in 1856, which he lost because of James Buchanan.

Also in 1856, Carroll met the railway magnate Cornelius Garrison. His knowledge of the railways, which he had acquired by writing press releases for various railway companies, impressed Garrison to such an extent that he hired him as an assistant to design new railway lines. The railways, in fact, pushed Carroll to write his first major political essay, “The Star of the West”, in which he discussed the importance of building railway lines to hold the Union together and improve the economy.

“The Star of the West” was quite successful among the Union’s supporters when it was published in 1856. Carroll’s writings aroused the interest of Republicans, many of whom were former Whigs, who shared his sincere desire for the Union to remain united. He met Republican senators, wrote other wise men in favor of the Union, and in 1860, watched with optimism as Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as president of a nation divided by the dispute over secession and slavery.

Marriage Policy

When he was forty-five, Carroll fell in love with Lemuel Evans, a member of the secret service in charge of protecting President Lincoln. Evans offered Carroll his second marriage proposal, which she declined. At the time, he was focusing on his political writing. Carroll began working on a new document, Reply to Breckenridge, in which he spoke out against the anti-Lincoln Southerners, led by people like Senator Samuel Breckenridge, who wanted to divide the nation. He also hinted at strategies to keep the nation together. In one part of the Reply, Carroll said: “There can be no equivocal position in this crisis; and those who are not with the government are against it, and enemy of his country”. (Wise, p. 110). His powerful writings caught the attention of Lincoln who, in the summer of 1861, not only asked the government for funding to publish 50,000 copies of the manuscript and distribute them in all states, but also sent a telegram to Carroll inviting her to the White House for a confidential interview.

A woman advises the president

By meeting Lincoln, Carroll was struck by her loyalty to the Union, a sentiment she fully shared. Even though they had already met in social situations, this was the first time they were able to talk in depth about the state of the nation. Lincoln spoke frankly with Carroll about his need for an expert strategic mind and a broad political background. He had a war on his hands and needed all the help Carroll could offer. Lincoln asked her to become an unofficial member of the Cabinet, as a high-level advisor, with access to the White House at all hours of the day and night. She accepted the offer with enthusiasm.

Carroll was immediately assigned to work directly with Deputy Secretary of War Thomas Scott. His first assignment was to travel by train to St. Louis, Missouri, to observe and report the general feeling of the soldiers stationed along the Mississippi River. As a woman, she probably would not have been suspected of being an informer to the president, because the women in government were unknown at the time. The trip proved tiring for Carroll, with hours of traveling in hot, overcrowded train cars. The more he moved along the river, the more he discovered that hopes in the Union army were not high. Many of the soldiers confessed to her that the current plan of attack, to go down the Mississippi and take the Southern army head-on, was simply too obvious. The Confederate army was ready and waiting at the mouth of the river. If a northern gunboat had been knocked out, it would have floated, with the current flowing south, straight into enemy hands. The soldiers feared that too many lives would be lost with this unimaginative battle plan.

When he arrived at his hotel in St. Louis, Carroll felt an impending sense of doom for the Union Army. He knew too much blood had already been spilled and was trying to hasten the end of the war. Under the light of an oil lamp, he studied the raw maps of the earth for a better path, which would take the South by surprise. After many hours, a brilliant alternative materialized on Carroll: the Tennessee River!

The Tennessee River Plan

Carroll worked all night on his discovery, devising a plan that would cut the forces of the South in half by intercepting the very railway lines he had helped design years earlier. The South now used these lines to transport supplies to its troops. If the troops could not obtain food and ammunition from the railroads of Charleston and Memphis, they would be forced to surrender immediately. The Union army could use the Tennessee River to surprise the Confederate army from a point of view it did not expect. Furthermore, the Tennessee River flowed northward, so any problems

the gunboats would float with the current to return to the security of the Northern Army bases.

Carroll had devised an extraordinary plan, but still had some crucial questions to answer: Was Tennessee deep enough to contain the gunboats? What were the speeds of the water current? Where were the landing points? He wasted no time looking for a river pilot loyal to the North. Charles Scott knew the Tennessee River well and gave Carroll the information he needed to ensure the success of his plan. He even pointed out that the Tombigbee River, which flowed directly into Mobile, Alabama, was a short distance from downtown Tennessee. With this information, Carroll added the Tombigbee River’s grip of Mobile to his profile. Wasting no more time, he wrote a complete version of the Tennessee River plan and sent a copy to the Secretary of War and one to the President in mid-November 1861.

“Relief, joy and hope”

According to War Secretary Scott, when Lincoln received the battle plan proposed by Carroll, Lincoln expressed “overwhelming relief, joy and hope” (Greenbie and Greenbie, p. 295). The president ordered the plan to come into effect as a military strategy in February 1862, keeping silent about what his idea was. Many gunboats under the command of Ulysses S. Grant were ordered along the Tennessee River and, within two weeks, two Confederate forts, 13,000 prisoners and sixty-five rifles were captured. The enormous success of the mission made people all over the nation want to know who could have devised a plan for such success. There were rumors of a woman working in Washington, but Carroll’s name did not leak to the public. Meanwhile, Kentucky had been defeated, Tennessee was in trouble and, according to Carroll’s plans, Northern troops were heading for Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The war was far from over. While it raged, Carroll continued to work side by side with Lincoln and Grant until the end of the war in 1865. During the final months of the war, Lincoln began planning the reconstruction of the country, with Carroll at his side offering advice.

On March 1, 1865, while Carroll and the president were looking for a way to collect the pieces of the destroyed country, Carroll received an anonymous letter from Fort Delaware. It read, “Madam: In the Southern Army it is said that you provided the plan or information that led the U.S. government to abandon the expedition to move down the Mississippi River and move the armies to the Tennessee River in 1862. We’d like to know if this is true. If it is, you are the truest traitors in your section, and we warn you that you are on a volcano. Confederates” (Greenbie and Greenbie, p. 415).

The warning worried Carroll, but everyone, apparently, received threats from the Confederates. She was never harmed in any way, unlike Lincoln. His reconstruction plans were interrupted with his assassination in April 1865. Exhausted by work and pain, Carroll was now in his 50s. Yet he did not intend to abandon government business simply because of the end of the war.

Carroll recommends Grant


Grant, with whom Carroll had communicated by telegraph from Washington many times when he was on the battlefield, was supported by an overwhelming number of people for the Bureau. Grant asked Carroll to do what he did best— to advise him from his position as Union Army General to his work as President of the United States.

The search for recognition

Carroll needed Grant as much as he needed her. Feeling that the time had come for her to officially recognize her invaluable duties to the U.S. government, Carroll asked for Grant’s support. In addition, she still had unpaid invoices to printing companies, which printed copies of her speeches and brochures worth over $6,000. The Carroll family fortune had been depleted, and Carroll had lived very modestly throughout his time of service to several presidents.

Carroll prepared a statement for the Congress, “A Memorial”, and published it on June 8, 1872. In it were quotes from some of the most influential men in the government, who claimed that she had been given the recognition and monetary compensation she was rightly owed. She quoted statements like this one by Benjamin Wade, president of the Senate in 1869: “I know that some of the most successful expeditions of the war were suggested by you, among which I could mention the expedition along the Tennessee River and No. 8230;. I also know that President Lincoln and No. 8230 have greatly valued your services; I hope that the Government can still give you some sign of recognition for all these services and sacrifices” (Greenbie and Greenbie, pp. 436-37).


Secret remains a secret


Carroll also had the support of Thomas Scott and Lemuel Evans, who was now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. To their testimony, he added his own: “I cannot … belittle our brave and heroic commanders to whom the country owes so much; and … I believe … would be gratified to see me or anyone else adequately rewarded” (Wise, pp. 189-90). This may be true, but unfortunately there were too many men in the government who wanted this secret of a female military adviser to remain so. They would not have recognized her role in any official sense.

Although Grant knew the truth about Carroll’s responsibility in the war, other senior advisors chose to bury the truth and promote Grant as the true war hero. Grant did not oppose this decision, causing Carroll to lose faith in his former friend. His “Memorial” and other requests for recognition have disappeared several times from government archives, tracing the process for years. In fact, Carroll received no promise of payment from the government until James A. Garfield was elected in 1880 and Congress considered a bill calling for Carroll to receive payment in quarterly installments from November 1861 until the end of his life. However, this bill disappeared at the same time Garfield was shot, and was superseded

with another one in 1881, offering fifty dollars a month from the passing of this new law until the end of Carroll’s life. This offer was financially incomparable with the salary of a great general, and an insult to such an important political figure. However, Carroll had no choice but to accept it, because during her nine years of struggle for recognition, she had fallen ill and needed the money to take care of herself.

Final days

Carroll and his younger sister, Mary, lived together in Washington, D.C., on Carroll’s skinny government pension. Under Mary’s devoted care, Carroll continued to write well even after she was bedridden. In a room piled high with books and letters, next to a vase of fresh flowers that Mary carried almost daily, Carroll enjoyed the last years of her life near a window that gave her a view of the West. He would welcome visitors until his last days, including his longtime love, Lemuel Evans.

On the morning of February 19, 1893, Anna Ella Carroll died, surrounded by family and friends. According to her wish, she was buried on the churchyard of the Old Trinity Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next to her father, mother and other members of the Carroll family. She remains revered by those who recognize her selfless devotion and her vital contributions to her country.

More readings on Anna Ella Carroll

Greenbie, Sydney, and Marjorie Barstow Greenbie, Anna Ella Carroll and Abraham Lincoln, Tampa: University of Tampa Press, 1952.

Wise, Winifred E., Secret weapon of Lincoln,New York: Chilton Company, 1961.

Young, Agatha, Women and the Crisis: Northern Women in the Civil War, New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959.