Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Winfield ScottAt the onset of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had a serious problem. There were not very many Republicans at the higher levels of the Union Army. Most of the higher officers were Democrats. There were very few generals, a mere handful in the antebellum Army. Lincoln was concerned that the war might be seen as a Republican war rather than a war of the united North.

He solved his problem in a variety of ways, some were successful, others were utter failures. The most well-known one was his attempt through General Winfield Scott to recruit Robert E. Lee for a top command. Lee demurred and accepted the commission to command the Virginia state forces.

Other top officers in the U.S. Army left to command Confederate forces. Joseph E. Johnston was the Quartermaster General who left to command Confederate troops in the field. Albert Sidney Johnston left his command of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California for the eventual position as commander of the Western Department.

Many of the men who would command large formations of troops, Brigades, Divisions or Corps, had never commanded much more than a company. They learned on the job, so to speak.

At the start of the war most of the Union generals were Democrats. Some were also conciliationists. Two commanders, Brevet Lieutenant Winfield Scott and Major General George B. McClellan, personified the conciliatory policy at the beginning of the war. Both officers had many differences but on this issue they were complete agreement. They thought of the war as product of political extremism on both sides.

Throughout his military career Scott displayed tact and patience both to his troops and his adversaries. Scott advised President James Buchanan to hold the military posts in the Deep South with overwhelming force to discourage any attack by secessionists. But he was opposed to a military invasion of the South. Instead, he suggested that warships be stationed off the coast of Southern ports to collect import duties. This would establish the continued authority of the federal government.

Many of those who espoused non-confrontation believed that Unionist sentiment in the South would resurface and the seceded states would return to the Union voluntarily. Within Lincoln’s cabinet incoming Secretary of State William Seward was an adherent of conciliation.

Scott sent the following memorandum to Seward with four options for the new government to take against the South.

Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: –

I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not a;l the states which have already broken off from the Union, without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.

II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.

III. Conquer the seceded States by invading Armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Desaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.

The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250[,]000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.

IV. Say to the seceded — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

The firing on Fort Sumter ended any hope of peaceful compromise. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion brought the secession of four more states: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Scott cast around for a new plan to bring the seceded states back into the Union with a minimum of bloodshed. The centerpiece of his Anaconda Plan was an air-tight blockade of all Southern ports. He also planned to send a strong column from Cairo, Illinois to secure the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. Scott that these two actions would bring out the Unionists.

Seward asked the well-regarded Montgomery C. Meigs, then a captain, to draft a memorandum on the war in general and the Virginia situation in particular. Meigs endorsed Scott’s view that the government should defer action until the army was better trained.

A split developed within the Union government with Postmaster General Montgomery Blair calling for immediate action. He said that Scott’s group were overestimating the strength of the secessionists. Lincoln, meanwhile, decided on a policy of deliberation. Some Northern newspapers called for immediate action.

The First Battle of Bull Run would put an end to conciliation and any hopes of a rapid Union victory. The defeat of the Union field army led by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell ushered in Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was a Democrat and a conciliationist. These two facts would impact the Union war effort in the Eastern Theater for some time.


General Winfield Scott’s Plan to End the Rebellion

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

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.


General Winfield Scott

General Winfield ScottToday, we remember the names of many of the generals who led the Union and Confederate armies. The names of Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Joseph E. Johnston are but a few of these illustrious leaders. Yet, the name of  General Winfield Scott who set the stage for the ultimate Union victory is often overlooked.

Winfield Scott was the United States Army’s Commanding General at the start of the war. He established many of the early objectives for the Union army. It was his idea to completely blockade the Southern ports, thereby denying the South of the benefit from the cotton production. He established the plan to split the Confederacy down the Mississippi River and deny them the use of the river. It also split them from the valuable sources of supply in Trans-Mississippi America.

Who was this general? Winfield Scott was a Virginian by birth, being born on June 13, 1786  at the family plantation in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near Petersburg. He briefly attended College of William and Mary, studied law in the office of a private attorney, and served as a Virginia militia cavalry corporal near Petersburg in 1807. The following year Scott was commissioned a captain in the light artillery.

Scott’s early career in the army was tumultuous. Scott openly criticized the then Commanding General of the Army, James Wilkinson. Scott was court-martialed for insubordination in 1810 and had his commission suspended for one year. Afterwards, he served in New Orleans on staff of General Wade Hampton from 1811 to 1812.

The War of 1812 against the British made Winfield Scott into one of the most well-known soldiers in America. In June 1812, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served primarily on the Niagara front. In October, 1812, he led an American landing party across the Niagara River at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Most New York militia members refused to cross into Canada in support of the invasion, and the British compelled New York militia commander Brigadier General William Wadsworth and Scott, the Regular Army commander, to surrender.

After Scott was exchanged, he was promoted to colonel in March 1813. Scott planned and led the capture of Fort George, Ontario, Canada, beside the Niagara River. The operation used landings across the Niagara and on the Lake Ontario coast and forced the British to abandon Fort George. Colonel Scott suffered wounds at this battle which is considered among the best planned and executed operations of the United States Army during the War of 1812.

Scott was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on March 19, 1814. He was only 27 years old at the time and one of the youngest generals in American Infantry attacking at Lundy's Lanethe history of the United States Army.

Scott commanded the 1st Brigade, proving largely instrumental in decisive American successes at the Battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814. He played an instrumental role in the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 25th, but suffered serious wounds. For his valor at Lundy’s Lane, Scott received a brevet (i.e. an honorary promotion) to major general to date from July 25, 1814. However, the severity of his wounds prevented his return to active duty for the remainder of the war.

Over the course of the next 45 years, Winfield Scott led American troops in the Seminole Wars, the Creek War and the Mexican War. In 1841, Scott became Commanding General of the United States Army, a position which he held until November 1861.

At the start of the American Civil War, Winfield Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight (he weighed over 300 pounds) and unable to mount a horse or review troops. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, Scott remained loyal to the nation that he had served for most of his life and refused to resign his commission upon his home state’s secession.

Despite his infirmities, Winfield Scott continue to have a keen strategic mind. He drew up a complicated plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and then sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to outflank the Confederacy.

His Anaconda Plan was derided in the press. However, in its broad outlines, it was the strategy the Union actually used, particularly in the Western Theater and in the somewhat successful naval blockade of Confederate ports. Though the blockade did prevent most sea-going vessels from leaving or arriving to points along the Confederate coast line, a fair number of blockade-runners made their way through. They typically carried cargoes of basic supplies, arms, and mail.

However, Lincoln gave in to public pressure for a victory within 90 days and rejected the Anaconda Plan, but the eventual strategy used by the The Anaconda PlanUnion in 1864–65 was largely based on Scott’s original plan.

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the Union field commander, was anxious for Scott to be pushed aside. Political pressure from McClellan’s supporters in Congress led to Scott’s resignation on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief. Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war.

Winfield Scott died at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery, having served his country in war and peace for over 53 years.


Major Theaters of the Civil War

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series The Organization of the Armies

The War Department and the Union Army divided operations during the war into major theaters. These were for fixed geographical areas. The armies were generally assigned to those areas but as the war progressed the armies tended to move to the areas of contention rather than remain in pacified areas.

The most prominent and well-known to Civil War enthusiasts are the Eastern Theater and the Western Theater. However, there were four other theaters of the war: the Union Blockade, Lower Seaboard Theater and Gulf Approach, the Trans-Mississippi Theater and the Pacific Coast Theater.

The Eastern Theater of Operations included Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina. Major campaigns that took place in the Eastern Theater included the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven  Days Battles, the Maryland Campaign, the Gettysburg Campaign, the Overland Campaign, the siege of Petersburg and of course, the Appomattox Campaign that substantially ended the war in the Eastern Theater.

The Western Theater of Operations included the area east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains. It excluded operations against the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard, but as the war progressed and William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union armies moved southeast from Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1864 and 1865, the definition of the theater expanded to encompass their operations in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The Union Blockade was a massive effort along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas. Its goal was to prevent passage of goods in and out of Southern ports. Based on General Winfield Scott’s “Anaconda Plan”, its goal was to strangle the Confederacy and starve them into submission. It required the Navy to patrol 3,500 miles of coastline and close 12 major ports. The Union Navy built up its forces to 500 ships and captured some 1,500 blockade runners while enforcing the blockade.

The Lower Seaboard Theater encompassed major military and naval operations that occurred near the coastal areas of the Southeastern United States (in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) as well as southern part of the Mississippi River (Port Hudson and south). Inland operations are included in the Western Theater or Trans-Mississippi Theater, depending on whether they were east or west of the Mississippi River. Coastal operations in Georgia, as the culmination of Sherman’s March to the Sea, are included in the Western Theater.

The Trans-Mississippi Theater included major military and naval operations west of the Mississippi River. The National Park Service includes 75 different battles and engagements in this theater. It included Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, Arizona and New Mexico. The Confederates had a mirror image theater that covered the same areas.

Finally, in the Far West was the Pacific Coast Theater. It included operations in California, Oregon, and Nevada, Washington Territory, Utah Territory, and later Idaho Territory. The operations of Union volunteer troop detachments primarily from California, some from Oregon and a few companies from Washington Territory were directed mostly against Indians in the theater. Union and Confederate regular forces did not meet directly within the Pacific Department.


The Anaconda Plan

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The Anaconda Plan

At the start of the Civil War General-in-chief, Winfield Scott, proposed the Anaconda Plan (also known as Scott’s Great Snake) to President Lincoln. It was a plan that had two prominent features: the rigorous blockade of all Southern ports and the use of the Mississippi to divide the Confederacy.

At its foundation Scott’s plan proposed to destroy the South’s trade in cotton and other commodities that they used to finance the war. Scott, a The Anaconda PlanVirginian, was leery about invading the Southern states and thought that the Confederacy could be throttled by a complete cutoff of trade with their European trading partners. By doing this he felt that the Confederacy could be brought to terms without resorting to combat.

Scott’s one Army invasion would be the penetration of the Confederacy up the Mississippi and its tributaries by an army of perhaps 60,000 to 80,000 troops. He envisioned a spearhead of amphibious troops that would work their way south from Cairo, Illinois capturing key points all of the way to the Gulf. They would be followed by a large occupation force to secure the objectives from Confederate counterattack. Scott believed that Southern pro-Unionist sympathizers would turn on their Confederate governors and bring them to terms.

Scott’s critics ridiculed his plan and called for a direct overland campaign against the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. “On to Richmond” became the Union rallying cry through the entire war. These critics envisioned a short, victorious war for the Federal side. It took the Federal army almost four years to accomplish this goal.

The Anaconda Plan was not adopted by the Lincoln administration. At the start of the war the Federal government had neither the army or navalGeneral Winfield Scott resources to carry out the Scott plan. On April 19, 1861 President Lincoln did proclaim a blockade of all Southern ports from South Carolina to Texas. This was later extended to Virginia and North Carolina when they too seceded from the Union. It would take the Union some time to mount the blockade but it eventually cut off Southern trade.

The Anaconda Plan was ignored for the prosecution of violent combat between the two sides. However, by 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant and his subordinate William T. Sherman used a revised version of to split the South from Illinois to the Gulf, isolating the two halves of the Confederacy.

Although the Anaconda Plan was not used as General Scott envisioned it, the plan was the the basis of the Union victory in the war. Unfortunately, General Winfield Scott had retired on November 1, 1861 due to ill health and only history has pointed out his part in the ultimate Union victory.