Carroll’s admirers take the story several steps further, conjuring a woman who was among Lincoln’s closest advisers and who was sent west by the government to spy on the Confederates.
To her champions, Carroll was a brilliant strategist who wrote the plan calling for the Union to invade the South via the Tennessee River. They argue that Carroll’s work helped doom the Confederacy and that her writing laid the legal foundation for the Emancipation Proclamation.Lincoln knew this, they say, and pledged to give her the formal acknowledgment that she’d earned. But he was assassinated before he could fulfill that promise, denying a trailblazing woman of her proper place in history.
“Hands down, she was the most important political woman of the 19th century, suffragists aside,” said C. Kay Larson, an independent scholar who self-published a 2004 biography of Carroll titled “Great Necessities: The Life, Times and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894.” “Very few can compete with her in terms of political influence, legal influence, intellectual influence and military influence — male or female.”
But some historians describe her differently — as a mercenary self-promoter who did not hesitate to lay claim to a place in history that simply is not hers.
“It really makes me sad that people waste so much time on Anna Ella Carroll, on something she did not do, and try to give her a status that she does not deserve,” said Janet Coryell, a Western Michigan University history professor and author of a 1990 Carroll biography titled “Neither Heroine Nor Fool.”
Jean Baker, a women’s history expert and professor at Goucher College, boiled the debate over Carroll’s legacy down to this:
“There are facts in history, but they are boring.” The heart of history, she said, lies in the interpretation of facts, “and with interpretation, you can also believe what you want to believe.”
Frank Bittner, 58, a retired telecommunications specialist from Baltimore and the founder of the Friends of Anna Ella Carroll, first learned about Carroll through local oral history when he moved to Dorchester County in 1997.
Then he did some reading of his own, including an 1891 biography of Carroll by Sarah Ellen Blackwell, a suffragist, and a 1952 volume by married historians Sydney and Marjorie Greenbie. Both books drew conclusive connections among Carroll, the Tennessee River Campaign and Lincoln. Bittner was impressed.