General Winfield Scott’s Plan to End the Rebellion

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War
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General Winfield ScottThe prime mover of conciliation with the South in the Lincoln administration was its General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Scott was a Virginian but also a steadfast supporter of the Union. He was the most recognizable soldier in the United States and had served his country longer than any other man in American history, and many historians rate him the best American commander of his time. Over the course of his forty-seven-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War.

Now, he was called upon to craft a strategy that would preserve the Union with a minimum amount of bloodshed. This would be the most difficult task in his distinguished career.

Throughout the late spring and early summer of 1861, Scott crafted his strategy. However, elements within the administration and in the press began to agitate for immediate action. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, an influential Republican, led the opposition to Scott’s gradualism. Blair in a letter to Lincoln insisted that Scott and other Army officers underestimated the depth of the secession spirit in the South.

Blair contended that unless immediate action was undertaken the Confederate government would consolidate their hold on the southern states. Blair warned that if that occurred only the complete conquest of the South could end secession. In retrospect Blair was absolutely correct and only the complete and utter conquest of the South brought the southern states back into the Union.

Scott’s plan was an all-encompassing strategy that became known as the Anaconda Plan. The plan called for the complete blockade of the Southern ports which would deny the South revenue from the trading of cotton. It would also deny the South those items that the Confederacy required to conduct the war.

The major problem with a complete naval blockade was that the United States lacked the navy to conduct such an all-encompassing 3,500 mile operation. The hundreds of ships needed to carry out such an operation would need to be built, equipped and crewed. This would require time to accomplish and in fact Scott’s plan provided no details only an overall strategy. Eventually, the Union Navy had 500 ships to carry out this operation.

The land phase, in part, called for a force of about 80,000 men to move down the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in half. A spearhead The Anaconda Planconsisting of a relatively small amphibious force, army troops transported by boats and supported by gunboats, should advance rapidly, capturing the Confederate positions down the river in sequence.

They would be followed by a more traditional army, marching behind them to secure the victories. The culminating battle would be for the forts below New Orleans; when they fell, the river would be in Federal hands from its source to its mouth, and the rebellion would be cut in two.

This was in fact what the Union did. Starting from Cairo, Illinois, Union forces worked their way downriver capturing strategic locations. At the same time naval and army forces moved upriver from the Mississippi Delta until both forces met at Vicksburg.

Scott also called for a similar force to move from Washington into the Virginia countryside. He hoped that the threat of large forces on their home grounds would bring the Southerners to their senses. He also expected that the appearance of large Union forces would encourage loyal citizens to rise up against the secessionists.

He then anticipating the landing of strong naval and army troops along various points of the coast. This, he hoped, would force the state governments to recall their troops and fragment the “grand army and make it powerless for any offensive movement.”

All of Scoot’s grand strategy came to naught with the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas as the victorious Confederates named it. This defeat any hopes of a rapid Confederate collapse. Once the South became united by this stunning victory any hopes that the Anaconda Plan had held out.

Series Navigation<< Toward A Real Civil War: Spring and Summer 18611862: The End of Conciliation in the East >>

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