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Great Necessities: The Life,times And Writings Of Anna Ella Hardcover – June 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



James S. Wheeler, Professor of History (retired),
United States Military Academy

Kay Larson's insightful account of the contributions made to our nation by Anna Ella Carroll redresses a major inequity in the historiography of nineteenth-century America. Carroll played an important role in Maryland politics and was instrumental in efforts to keep that state in the Union in 1861. As a major force in Maryland politics, Carroll was a close confidante of that state's leading politicians. She also played a crucial role in the development of Federal military strategy in late 1861, and this is the part of her life that is so very often ignored by most American historians.

Larson's interest in Anna Ella Carroll stems from multiple sources, to include gender, religious affiliation, and Civil War curiosity. Larson has conducted thorough research in available political and military archives in her efforts to understand fully Carroll's place in American history and to determine why Carroll's important political and military efforts have been ignored or often underestimated. Larson's account of Carroll's contributions makes for riveting reading and will certainly affect the way historians and the public understand American political and military history.

Anna Carroll was involved in Maryland politics for over twenty-five years. She was an influential member of the Know-Nothing Party and a firm advocate of the unionist cause in the 1850s. Through her letters to the major political figures in Maryland, Carroll helped keep the state within the Union. During the Civil War, she wrote well-informed pamphlets concerning the issues involved in the war, thereby helping to sway Maryland public opinion in a manner favorable to Lincoln's Administration and the Federal war effort. These contributions alone make her a major figure in our history.

Perhaps more surprising to most students of history and historians is the role that Kay Larson indicates Anna Carroll played in the development of Federal military strategy in 1861-62. In 1861, a critical part of the Federal struggle was to keep the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri in the Union, and to develop a military strategy that would lead to the defeat of the Confederacy. Gen. Winfield Scott, Commanding General of the United States Army, developed what is known as the Anaconda Strategy to defeat the Southern rebellion. This strategy called for the encirclement of the Confederacy by Federal naval and army forces. The land component of that strategy was for Union forces to drive down the Mississippi River, cut the Confederacy in two, and open the river to the shipment of agricultural products from the Northwestern states to ocean commerce at New Orleans.

The concept was sound, but the idea to make the main thrust in the West down the Mississippi River was misguided. Anna Carroll, while on a visit to St. Louis, Missouri, in mid-1861 came to the conclusion that the Mississippi was not the proper route for Federal fleets and armies to follow. She determined this after being informed by a river pilot that the Mississippi often was unsuitable for the passage of ironclad warships and that the Confederates could easily interdict such an advance with strong fortifications overlooking the river at places such as Vicksburg. Carroll evaluated this intelligence and decided that the proper strategy in the West should rely on a thrust southward, up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. These rivers, she learned, were suitable for the passage of large ironclads and supply ships the year round. And they were much more difficult for the Confederates to defend than was the Mississippi. This avenue of advance also would allow the Union to interdict Confederate west-east railroads at Chattanooga and further south.

Anna Carroll acted on her new-found insights and wrote a letter to Asst. Secty. of War Thomas Scott, whom she had met earlier in Washington, D.C. She related to Scott the intelligence she had gathered about the rivers and outlined to him the modification of the Anaconda plan. Secretary Scott was immediately impressed with her ideas and relayed them to President Lincoln. According to Larson, Lincoln, who was already frustrated with the lack of strategic insight and innovation displayed by senior army leaders such as McClellan, adopted Carroll's plan and looked for a suitable secretary of war to oversee its implementation. Edwin Stanton, who also had been informed of, and impressed with the Carroll plan, was the man Lincoln found. According to Larson, he was willing and able to force senior army leaders to concentrate the main effort in the West to the Tennessee-Cumberland Rivers, rather than to dissipate Union strength on the Mississippi avenue.

Stanton was confirmed as secretary of war on 15 January 1862, three weeks before Ulysses Grant and Admiral Foote captured the Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson, on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. This thrust, Larson maintains, was a direct result of Lincoln's faith in Carroll's plan, and that Stanton was appointed largely because of his belief in the plan.

There is no question about the fact that the drive up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers split the Confederacy and made rebel positions on the Mississippi untenable. It also secured Kentucky and much of Tennessee for the Union and allowed Federal forces to cut major Confederate rail lines to the West.

Larson's discussion of how Carroll affected American politics and strategy is a major contribution to our understanding of the Civil War. It is also a major addition to the study of women in American history. Larson properly criticizes military and political historians for ignoring Carroll's roles, and for their omission of the role women played in mid-nineteenth- century American politics and war. This fine book is an important contribution to a more balanced understanding of our history.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 693 pages
  • Publisher: Xlibris Corp (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1413427499
  • ISBN-13: 978-1413427493
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,431,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

C. Kay Larson, an independent scholar and Midwest native, has been a Civil War buff since childhood. In 2004, she published Great Necessities: The Life, Times, and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894. Carroll was a political/legal advisor to Pres. Abraham Lincoln and Gov. Thomas H. Hicks, playing a critical role in keeping Maryland loyal during the secession crisis of 1861, as well as in the planning of the Tennessee River military campaign of 1862.

Based on research expanded from her Carroll research, Larson published articles on women's nontraditional roles in the Civil War (MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Spring 1990/Summer 1992). She is the editor of "Springing to the Call: A Documentary View of Women in the American Civil War," ( that resides on the webpage of the NY Military Affairs Symposium on the board of which Larson serves.

Inspired by the information collected for her website, in 2005, Larson developed a composite character, Nell Churchill, and turned her into the heroine of her very fact-based work of fiction, South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal o Nell Churchill, US Army Nurse & Scout. Larson's wide knowledge of Midwest culture and the Civil War blends with family and local history to create this realistic account of a young Illinois woman gone to war.

In 1993, when the World War II 50th Anniversary commemorative period commenced, Larson became involved through the Coast Guard Auxiliary. While researching the Auxiliary's role in the war in newspaper accounts, she encountered mentions of women that surprised her. It was also clear that like the Civil War nurses, those of WWII were combat nurses. Hence Larson determined that a military history of women's war work was needed. Thus, in 1995, Minerva Press published her first book, 'Til I Come Marching Home: A Brief History of American Women in World War II. In it she uncovered roles not previously well known: women conducting antisubmarine patrols as members of the Civil Air Patrol and U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; women merchant mariners; American women resistance workers, etc. Given that the work came out during the WWII commemoration period, it was an instant hit and eventually completely sold out. An expanded version is slated for publication with McFarland Press. An updated summary article can be found also at the NYMAS site.

Larson specializes generally in early American political, military, maritime, and women's history. She holds a B.A. degree, cum laude, in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.B.A. from Baruch College (CUNY). For a decade she was active in foreign policy circles, notably working for an NGO heavily involved in the Northern Ireland Peace Process; previous to that she held executive staff and consulting positions in New York City and State governments.

For readers' comments and more book information see the description material on her Amazon book pages.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard H. Hall on January 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
C. Kay Larson is one of the pioneering scholars on the issue of women who served as soldiers and in other capacities during the American Civil War. In this scholarly and thorough treatise, she does justice to a remarkable Maryland woman who played a prominent role in state and national government in the 19th Century, including the Civil War period. This is a meaty biography of an underrated, intellectual, and highly influential woman who interacted with Senators and Presidents.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Armstrong on October 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
C. Kay Larson has a lot of contextual material in this book, ranging from the first English translation of the Bible; to the history of Presbyterianism and its relation to the Know-Nothing movement; to Baltimore labor strikes; to the politics of the Mexican War, the 1860 election, postwar Maryland, and Reconstruction.

But for Civil War and Lincoln buffs go right to the Secession and Tennessee River campaign chapters. In these are apparently new facts on Confederate plans to stage a coup of Washington DC in April 1861 and Lincoln's appointment of Stanton (see James Wheeler's analysis above) to carry out the Tennessee R. campaign.

Carroll, herself, directly contributes with 3 newly discovered "Hancock" columns on Seward's, Bell's, Bates's and Botts's candidacies in the 1860 presidential election. Reprinted here also are her 4 most important pamphlets that Carroll wrote for the Lincoln administration on the war powers of the presidency and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

This book may upend much thinking on the war as it seemingly takes us to new places. It just doesn't resift the same facts and myths. The extensive reprinting of primary sources solidifies arguments and makes for great reading of eloquent spokepersons.

Patricia Armstrong
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By Elizabeth A. Hartman on August 31, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kay Larson creates an accurate and excellent portrayal of Anna Carroll and her contributions to American history.
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