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.

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