Anna Ella Carroll would have been an exceptional woman at any point in history. Born in 1815, her father was the governor of Maryland, and she was the granddaughter of a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. From her place at heart of the American political elite, she took an active role in politics throughout the 1850s, and as the nation marched towards civil war she took an increasingly pro-Union and anti-slavery stance—she freed her own slaves in 1860 when Lincoln was elected to the presidency. Carroll was an ardent Lincoln supporter, and her outstanding work in the authorship of political pamphlets convinced the president that her intellect was a powerful asset. In 1861 she worked with secret agents on the feasibility of a Union invasion of Texas. This led her to reassess the Union’s planned Mississippi River expedition, which she found wanting. On her own initiative, Carroll developed a plan for a campaign to invade the south via the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This plan was implemented and achieved remarkable success, but Carroll’s involvement was kept secret at the time, and credit for her contribution denied after the fact. In fact, in a blatant attack, apparently founded on prejudice against her sex, Carroll suffered protracted abuse, which sought to deny and discredit her pivotal and demonstrably successful role as an advisor to Lincoln on vital political and military matters. Though she was eventually exonerated, it is probably fair to say that, in consequence of being born before her time, Anna Ella Carroll does not hold her justified place as one of the most outstanding women of her nation.
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The Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia, to whom were referred the memorial and papers of Miss Carroll, of Maryland, claiming to have furnished the government with the information which caused the change in the military expedition which was preparing in 1861 to descend the Mississippi River front that river to the Tennessee River, submit the following report:
Miss Carroll placed in the hands of Hon. Thomas A. Scott, Assistant Secretary of War, on the 30th of November, 1861, the following paper:
The civil and military authorities seem to be labouring under a great mistake in regard to the true key of the war in the Southwest. It is not the Mississippi, but the Tennessee River. It is well known that the eastern part or farming interests of Tennessee and Kentucky are generally loyal, while the middle and western parts, or what are called the planting districts, are in sympathy with the traitors, but, except in the extreme western parts, the Union sentiment still lives. Now all the military preparations made in the West indicate that the Mississippi River is the point to which the authorities are directing their attention. On that river, many battles must be fought and heavy risks incurred before any impression can be made on the enemy, all of which could be avoided by using the Tennessee River.
This river is navigable for medium-class boats to the foot of the Muscle shoals in Alabama, and is open to navigation all the year, while the distance is but two hundred and fifty miles by the river from Paducah, on the Ohio. The Tennessee offers many advantages over the Mississippi. We should avoid the almost impregnable batteries of the enemy, which cannot be taken without great danger and great risk of life to our forces, from the fact that our boats, if crippled, would fall a prey to the enemy by being swept by the current to hills and away from the relief of our friends. But even should we succeed, still we will only have begun the year. for we shall then have to fight to the country front whence the enemy derives his supplies.
Now, an advance up the Tennessee River would avoid this danger, for, if our boats were crippled, they would drop back with the current and escape capture.
But a still greater advantage would be its tendency to cut the enemy’s lines in two, by reaching the Memphis and Charleston railroad, threatening Memphis, which lies one hundred miles due west, and no defensible point between; also, Nashville, only ninety miles northeast, and Florence and Tuscumbia, in north Alabama, forty miles east. A movement in this direction would do more to relieve our friends in Kentucky and inspire the loyal hearts in east Tennessee than the possession of the whole of the Mississippi River. If well executed, it would cause the evacuation of all those formidable fortifications on which the rebels ground their hopes of success; and, in the event of our fleet attacking Mobile, the presence of our troops in the northern part of Alabama would be material aid to the fleet.
Again, the aid our forces would receive from the loyal men in Tennessee would enable them soon to crush the last traitor in that region, and the separation of the two extremes would do more than one hundred battles for the Union cause.
The Tennessee River is crossed by the Memphis and Louisville railroad and the Memphis and Nashville railroad. At Hamburg the river makes the big bend on the east, touching the northeast corner of Mississippi, entering the northwest corner of Alabama, forming an arc to the south, entering the State of Tennessee at the northeast corner of Alabama, and if it does not touch the northwest corner of Georgia, comes very near it. It is but eight miles from Hamburg to the Memphis and Charleston railroad, which goes through Tuscumbia, only two miles from the river, which it crosses at Decatur, thirty miles above, intersecting with the Nashville and Chattanooga road at Stephenson. The Tennessee River has never less than three feet to Hamburg on the “shoalest” bar, and, during the fall, winter, and spring mouths, there is always water for the largest boats that are used on the Mississippi River. It follows from the above facts that in making the Mississippi the key to the war in the West, or rather in overlooking the Tennessee River, the subject is not understood by the superiors in command.
That this plan as suggested was adopted, we submit the following letter from Hon. Thomas A. Scott, then Assistant Secretary of War:
Hon. Jacob M. Howard, United States Senate:
On or about the 30th of November, 1861, Miss Carroll, as stated in her memorial, called on me as Assistant Secretary of War, and suggested the propriety of abandoning the expedition which was then preparing to descend the Mississippi River, and to adopt instead the Tennessee River, and handed to me the plan of campaign, as appended to her memorial, which plan I submitted to the Secretary of War, and its general ideas were adopted. On my return from the Southwest, in 1862, I informed Miss Carroll, as she states in her memorial, that through the adoption of this plan the country had been saved millions, and that it entitled her to the kind consideration of Congress.
Thos. A. Scott.