Celebrating Anna Ella Carroll

By Pat Behles
Gov. Docs. & Reference Librarian
University of Baltimore Law Library

Anna Ella Carroll

“Once in a while, a real hero is forgotten.”

Maryland honored one of those forgotten heroes, as November 20, 2010 was designated Anna Ella Carroll Day.

Anna, long footnoted in history, was a secret member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. Cloaked in obscurity and forgotten by all but a few for over 150 years,  Ann, as she was known by her contemporaries, was recognized in her home county of Dorchester with a day of festivities.  A ceremonial wreath laying (by Brig. Gen. Wilma L Vaught, USAF Ret), unveiling of a special painting, and the premiere of a movie entitled Lost River: Lincoln’s Secret Revealed.

Ann was born in 1815, and was the granddaughter of Charles Carroll and the daughter of Maryland Governor Thomas King Carroll.  Her father educated her in law and politics, which was very unusual for a woman in that era, for as a woman she could neither vote nor hold office.  Though only 15, she ran the family business and the household while her father was governor.  She was a pamphleteer and lobbyist, and she naturally gravitated towards politics.  She got a job at the National Intelligencer, a Washington investigative  newspaper.

Not satisfied with political parties of the time, she helped to form the American Party (known in history as the Know Nothing Party), noted for their nativist policies.  They backed Millard Fillmore, who lost to James Buchanan.  In 1860, the party merged with the Republican Party and helped to make the deals that led to Abraham Lincoln’s nomination as the candidate.  Ann was instrumental in suggesting to Lincoln the strategy that he used to keep Maryland from seceding; she prepared a brief for him of his presidential powers.  She continued to prepare briefs on relevant issues, including battle strategies.  Travelling to the west to visit relatives, Anna talked to troops and generals and researched the rivers in the area.  She developed the battle strategy for the Tennessee River campaign (1861) and suggested General Grant as commander. Her strategy  was accepted and used, and the victory is credited with shortening the war and saving lives.  President Lincoln couldn’t give her credit during the war for morale purposes, because she was a civilian and a woman, but promised her that he would do so after the war.  She was accepted by other members of Lincoln’s cabinet but not by the First Lady, Mary Lincoln, who was jealous of the attention that was paid to her.  When artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter painted “Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation” in 1862,  originally Ann was part of the painting as part of Lincoln’s cabinet.