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.