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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 14, 2010 11:58AM) (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments This is a thread to discuss the ANACONDA PLAN - one of the campaigns of the American Civil War.

"The Anaconda Plan is the name widely applied to an outline strategy for subduing the seceding states in the American Civil War.

Proposed by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, the plan emphasized the blockade of the Southern ports, and called for an advance down the Mississippi River to cut the South in two.

Because the blockade would be rather passive, it was widely derided by the vociferous faction who wanted a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and who likened it to the coils of an anaconda suffocating its victim. The snake image caught on, giving the proposal its popular name.

In the early days of the Civil War, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott's proposed strategy for the war against the South had two prominent features: first, all ports in the seceding states were to be rigorously blockaded; second, a strong column of perhaps 80,000 men should use the Mississippi River as a highway to thrust completely through the Confederacy.

A spearhead consisting 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.

The complete strategy could not be implemented immediately, as no warships of the type imagined for the Mississippi campaign existed. For example, the U.S. Navy was too small to enforce the blockade in the first months of the war. It would take time to gather and train the forces needed to carry out the central thrust, time that the critics of the plan were unwilling to concede.

Hence, Scott's plan was subjected to a great deal of ridicule. His opponents called for an immediate overland campaign, directed primarily at the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Their stated belief was that if a few strongholds were taken, the Confederacy would collapse.

The conflict was not the brief affair that Scott's critics imagined. In the four years of war, the Federal Navy enforced a blockade that certainly weakened the South, although its effect on the war effort is still debated.

Furthermore, the Confederacy was split in two by a campaign based on the Mississippi River, and a consensus has now been established that this Southern defeat was at least as important in the final collapse of the Rebellion as the land battles in the East that had so long attracted both public and historians' attention.

The form of the Northern victory thus turned out to look very much like what Scott had proposed in the early days. Consequently, the Anaconda has been somewhat rehabilitated, and general histories of the Civil War often credit it with guiding President Abraham Lincoln's strategy throughout."


Source: Wikipedia

message 2: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 475 comments I think it interesting that the forts at the mouth of the mississippi fell after the city of New Orleans (largest city in the south) fell and the forts became useless. It seems like the navy department kept the Anaconda strategy as the driving theme of their contribution of the war but the army seemed to be more influenced by the "On to Richmond" crowd.

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 14, 2010 05:05PM) (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments Hard to say, there were a lot of critics at the beginning. Also many of the forts were forts built for other conflicts and some were already not well supported.

I think you are right Patrick, it became a little bit of both. I am still in the process of adding the remainder of the campaigns. However, there are a lot of folks who say that though the Anaconda Plan was ridiculed it really became the default strategy.

The Everything Civil War Book Everything you need to know about the conflict that divided a nation by Brooke C StoddardDonald Vaughan

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments Here are a couple of books that might be of interest:

Winfield Scott The Quest for Military Glory by Timothy D. JohnsonTimothy D. Johnson

Battle Tactics of the Civil War by Paddy GriffithPaddy Griffith

Civil War Generalship The Art of Command by W. J. WoodW. J. Wood

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 14, 2010 05:23PM) (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments Winfield Scott's letter to General McClellan:

Washington, May 3, 1861.
Commanding Ohio Volunteers, Cincinnati, Ohio:

SIR: I have read and carefully considered your plan for a campaign, and now send you confidentially my own views, supported by certain facts of which you should be advised.

First. It is the design of the Government to raise 25,000 additional regular troops, and 60,000 volunteers for three years. It will be inexpedient either to rely on the three-months’ volunteers for extensive operations or to put in their hands the best class of arms we have in store. The term of service would expire by the commencement of a regular campaign, and the arms not lost be returned mostly in a damaged condition. Hence I must strongly urge upon you to confine yourself strictly to the quota of three-months’ men called for by the War Department.

Second. We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such blockade we propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points, and the capture of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip; the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan. I suppose there will be needed from twelve to twenty steam gun-boats, and a sufficient number of steam transports (say forty) to carry all the personnel (say 60,000 men) and material of the expedition; most of the gunboats to be in advance to open the way, and the remainder to follow and protect the rear of the expedition, &c. This army, in which it is not improbable you may be invited to take an important part, should be composed of our best regulars for the advance and of three-years’ volunteers, all well officered, and with four months and a half of instruction in camps prior to (say) November 10. In the progress down the river all the enemy’s batteries on its banks we of course would turn and capture, leaving a sufficient number of posts with complete garrisons to keep the river open behind the expedition. Finally, it will be necessary that New Orleans should be strongly occupied and securely held until the present difficulties are composed.

Third. A word now as to the greatest obstacle in the way of this plan–the great danger now pressing upon us–the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends. They will urge instant and vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of consequences–that is, unwilling to wait for the slow instruction of (say) twelve or fifteen camps, for the rise of rivers, and the return of frosts to kill the virus of malignant fevers below Memphis. I fear this; but impress right views, on every proper occasion, upon the brave men who are hastening to the support of their Government. Lose no time, while necessary preparations for the great expedition are in progress, in organizing, drilling, and disciplining your three-months’ men, many of whom, it is hoped, will be ultimately found enrolled under the call for three-years’ volunteers. Should an urgent and immediate occasion arise meantime for their services, they will be the more effective. I commend these views to your consideration, and shall be happy to hear the result.

With great respect, yours, truly,



Union Correspondence, Orders, And Returns Relating To Operations In Maryland, Eastern North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia (Except Southwestern), And West Virginia, From January 1, 1861, To June 30, 1865.–#3 O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME LI/1 [S# 107:]

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments Some interesting details about Scott:

"At the beginning of the Civil War, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was seventy-four-years-old, so overweight he could not mount or ride a horse, and suffered from painful gout. Scott’s best days were behind him.

Since the War of 1812, Scott had participated in all of America’s military actions. He was a genuine hero. There was no doubt about Scott’s leadership ability, in the War of 1812 he was once captured, and during the Mexican War he led the campaign that captured Mexico City.

His nickname was Old Fuss and Feathers, because of his reputation for strict adherence to regulations, and a propensity for fancy uniforms. Winfield Scott was born a Virginian in 1786, but was loyal to the Union. He did not understand Robert E. Lee’s choice to side with the Confederacy, and had even asked Lee to lead the United States Army.

President Abraham Lincoln sought Scott’s advice, however as the Civil War began, it was evident the aging Winfield Scott was not up to the demands of leading the army. At times, Scott would doze off during meetings. Scott voluntarily retired on November 1, 1861 and was replaced by George B. McClellan as general in chief.

Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan was criticized as too slow and gained its “Anaconda” name when the press mockingly compared it to a snake slowly constricting its prey to death. As Scott’s plan was being considered, the clamor in the North was for an invasion that would quickly crush the Confederate army presently found at a railroad junction in northern Virginia named Manassas. Taking Manassas would hurt the Rebels significantly as the railroad lines there were major ones that connected to the Shenandoah Valley, and the thus to the heart of the South.

Richmond, Virginia had become the Confederate capital, and the southern Congress planned a session there on July 20, 1861. The New York Tribune (published by Horace Greeley) responded with this headline:


The Rebel Congress Must Not be
Allowed to Meet There on the
20th of July


After this, other newspapers throughout the Union followed suit with the FORWARD TO RICHMOND! thought and the public soon caught on to the fever. In light of this, even though Southern seaports were beginning to be blockaded, Scott’s plan faltered as public and political pressure demanded quick military action.

President Lincoln saw merit in attacking the Confederates at Manassas. On July 21, 1861 the Battle of First Bull Run (called First Manassas by the Confederates) took place. It was a Union loss, no Union troops went on to Richmond, and most skedaddled back to Washington.

Soon the idea faded away that a quick, strong, and superior military action along with a compromising attitude, might end the Confederate rebellion fast. The Union would have to win the Civil War by destroying the Confederate armies on the field. Much time, many resources, and many, many lives would have to be spent to accomplish the Northern victory.

Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan was worthy. Blockading the South’s seaports and gaining control of the Mississippi River were major factors in crippling the Rebel economy and military.

As the Civil War progressed, the basic strategy of the Anaconda Plan contributed ultimately to the defeat of the Confederacy. Old Winfield Scott lived to see the end of the Civil War. He died in 1866."


message 7: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 475 comments I was wondering if the relative positions of the graduates of the service acadmies had anything to do with the development of the strategies. Just about all the major army leaders (except Scott) were graduates of West Point while the naval academy was only tewnty years old and didn't have graduates in major policy positions.

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments Hard to say Patrick..sometimes strategies could become quite predictable with everybody trained at one place like West Point. Everybody knew each other and what each other would usually do in specific instances. Do you have any source material by anyone who might have taken a specific position regarding the differences between the two or the rigor of the strategies between the army and navy at that time?

message 9: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 475 comments Bentley wrote: "Hard to say Patrick..sometimes strategies could become quite predictable with everybody trained at one place like West Point. Everybody knew each other and what each other would usually do in speci..."

Let me look through my Civil War library and see if I can figure out where this idea originated.

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 30608 comments That would be interesting to know Patricrk...thanks.

message 11: by Bryan, Honorary Contributor - EMERITUS (new)

Bryan Craig | 11615 comments The Grand Design:Strategy and the U.S. Civil War

The Grand Design Strategy and the U.S. Civil War by Donald Stoker by Donald Stoker (no photo)


Of the tens of thousands of books exploring virtually every aspect of the Civil War, surprisingly little has been said about what was in fact the determining factor in the outcome of the conflict: differences in Union and Southern strategy. In The Grand Design, Donald Stoker provides a comprehensive and often surprising account of strategy as it evolved between Fort Sumter and Appomattox. Reminding us that strategy is different from tactics (battlefield deployments) and operations (campaigns conducted in pursuit of a strategy), Stoker examines how Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis identified their political goals and worked with their generals to craft the military means to achieve them--or how they often failed to do so.

Stoker shows that Davis, despite a West Point education and experience as Secretary of War, failed as a strategist by losing control of the political side of the war. His invasion of Kentucky was a turning point that shifted the loyalties and vast resources of the border states to the Union. Lincoln, in contrast, evolved a clear strategic vision, but he failed for years to make his generals implement it. At the level of generalship, Stoker notes that Robert E. Lee correctly determined the Union's center of gravity, but proved mistaken in his assessment of how to destroy it. Stoker also presents evidence that the Union could have won the war in 1862, had it followed the grand plan of the much-derided general, George B. McClellan. Arguing that the North's advantages in population and industry did not ensure certain victory, Stoker reasserts the centrality of the overarching military ideas--the strategy--on each side, showing how strategy determined the war's outcome.

message 12: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Military Hist L/Global NF/Eur/Brit/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 11037 comments An excellent biography of the general who created the Anaconda Plan.

Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott

Agent of Destiny The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott by John S.D. Eisenhower by John S.D. EisenhowerJohn S.D. Eisenhower


From a renowned historian and son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower comes the biography of General Winfield Scott, the towering commander, a hero of the War of 1812, who was instrumental in shaping America's border and who created the modern U.S. military. 16-page photo insert National author publicity.

message 13: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Military Hist L/Global NF/Eur/Brit/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 11037 comments The story of the most successful blockade runner of the CSA when the Union attempted to block the big river.

The Confederate Quartermaster in the Trans-Mississippi: The Blockage Runner's Texas Connection

The Confederate Quartermaster in the Trans-Mississippi The Blockade Runner's Texas Connection by James L. Nichols by James L. Nichols (no photo)


This book recounts the history and activities of the Denbigh, one of the Civil War's most successful blockade runners. A new introduction by J. Barto Arnold III (which includes a lengthy appendix) reviews recent archival and archaeological research and highlights the blockade runner's place in the Confederacy's complex and ultimately insoluble problem of obtaining manufactured items from abroad.

message 14: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Military Hist L/Global NF/Eur/Brit/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 11037 comments General Winfield Scott, the author of the Anaconda Plan. He looks like a man you wouldn't want to cross!!

message 15: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 86 comments I agree with you there, but unfortunately he crossed with the "Little Napoleon" and Scott lost out. It's unfortunate that the beginning of a war can see some good ideas lost in the desperate need to "win".

message 16: by Jill, Assisting Moderator - Military Hist L/Global NF/Eur/Brit/Music (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) | 11037 comments True, Betsy. The Plan still causes historians to argue and in the end the South was defeated basically in the same way as Scott had originally outlined. I think the Northern leaders thought it would be a short war (think WWI) and that the South would fall quickly. I think they underestimated the strength, will, and leadership of the CSA.

message 17: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 86 comments I think both sides were overconfident in the begininning. The Confederacy needed it to be a short war if they were to succeed. Just as the Kaiser's Armies felt they had to defeat France in 42 days to be be successful before Russia could intervene. The best laid plans ....

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Books mentioned in this topic

The Everything Civil War Book: Everything You Need to Know about the Conflict That Divided a Nation (other topics)
Civil War Generalship: The Art Of Command (other topics)
Battle Tactics of the Civil War (other topics)
Winfield Scott (other topics)
The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Donald Vaughan (other topics)
Timothy D. Johnson (other topics)
W.J. Wood (other topics)
Paddy Griffith (other topics)
Donald Stoker (other topics)