Anaconda Plan

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Anaconda Plan and Civil War

General Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan

Civil War Anaconda Plan Map
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Civil War Anaconda Plan


US Anaconda Plan
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Union Anaconda Plan

The Civil War Anaconda Plan was U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott's plan to defeat the Confederacy: blockade the southern and eastern coasts, seize control of the Mississippi River in order to break the Confederacy in two, and then strike from all sides at once. The British had implemented a similar plan during the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson, however, defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, thus ending all British attempts to control the Mississippi River. When Scott and President Abraham Lincoln released the details of this plan, politicians and  journalists scoffed at its complexity and duration. However, events of the American Civil War proved Scott's plan sound.
Historical Overview
The lower Mississippi River valley was the most critical theater of the American Civil War. The Mississippi River served as the major interstate highway of nineteenth-century America. The river enabled people to transport goods from St. Louis and Pittsburgh through New Orleans to the world. Rivers were extremely valuable as transportation networks, but beginning in the 1840s, railroad construction linked major cities that were unconnected by water. Both sides realized the significance of these transportation networks and knew they must control them to win the war.

Laura Plantation
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Vacherie, Louisiana

Early in the war, Union General Winfield Scott envisioned a broad sweeping plan to crush the rebellion. His strategy, known as the "Anaconda Plan," reflected the importance of the Mississippi River in the overall strategy of the war. Scott's plan called for blockading the southern coast and a drive down the Mississippi River to cut the Confederacy in two.

Regional economic and cultural diversity controlled national politics. Over the years, compromises maintained a delicate balance in Congress between free and slave states. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which allowed territories to decide whether to become free or slave states, the spirit of compromise was lost. Southerners feared this change would forever rob them of their way of life.

Agriculture was the foundation of the economy of America, but its practice varied between the North and the South. The South was dependent on a plantation economy for its livelihood, but it also relied on northern factories for everything it needed to grow, refine, and market its crops. Northerners forged the plows that broke southern earth, northerners built the steamboats that shipped southern crops, and northerners purchased the final products.

The election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 changed the lives of all Americans almost overnight and the nation itself forever. Lincoln's belief that "a house divided against itself cannot stand," created a sense of crisis in the South and brought the issues that divided the nation into sharp focus.

South Carolina seceded from the Union soon after the election and was joined by other states to form the Confederate States of America before Lincoln took office. War erupted when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. Following these opening shots, both the North and South quickly raised troops, organized armies, and began to develop strategies for victory.

American Civil War Anaconda Plan
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Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

The Mississippi River became a focus in the war plans of both sides. "The Father of Waters" had moved lumber, wheat, corn, and meat from the Midwest, cotton and tobacco from the upper south to New Orleans, and European goods upriver. Control of the Mississippi and the rivers that flow into it would allow the North to move troops and supplies deep into the South while crippling the Confederacy's ability to survive. The South needed to protect itself, especially the rich farmland of the Mississippi River valley, from northern invasion. The Mississippi, carrier of commerce, became the bearer of dreams as a divided nation struggled with itself over its future.

The Battle of Shiloh
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Thure de Thulstrup

With Missouri securely under Union control by the fall of 1861, both sides massed troops—the North along the Ohio River and the South across Tennessee. Newly commissioned Union General Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in Cairo, Illinois, to watch southern troops in Tennessee. Each side waited and watched, careful not to tip the balance in Kentucky toward the other.

On September 1, 1861, Confederate General Leonidas Polk seized the Kentucky river towns of Hickman and Columbus. He began erecting fortifications at Columbus to defend the river as part of a Confederate defense line that stretched across southern Kentucky from Columbus to Cumberland Gap. Grant quickly countered by occupying Paducah and Smithland. The watching and waiting was over.

Water Battery at Fort Donelson
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Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Tennessee

Late in 1861, Union land and naval forces launched a key element of the Anaconda Plan by simultaneously heading south from Paducah, Kentucky, and north from the Gulf of Mexico to wrest control of the lower Mississippi River valley from the Confederates. The initial engagement at Belmont, Missouri, provided valuable experience for Grant who became the most important Union general of the war.

Moving along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, Union forces seized Forts Henry and Donelson, opening the pathway for invasion of the Deep South. Continuing their advance, the Federals gained victory in the bloody battle at Shiloh in April, at Corinth in May, and having forced the surrender of Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River, seized Memphis by early June.

Entering the mouth of the Mississippi River, the ships of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, commanded by Union Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut, fought past Confederate Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Left defenseless, New Orleans, the largest city in the Confederacy, surrendered in late April. Moving steadily upriver, Farragut captured Baton Rouge and Natchez and steamed on to Vicksburg.

Gunboats on the Mississippi River
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Chicago Historical Society

Responding to Farragut's demand for surrender, Confederate Lt. Col. James L. Autrey (post commander at Vicksburg) answered, "Mississippians don't know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to an enemy." Shelling the city until late July, Union ships and gunboats were unable to force surrender of Vicksburg. Sickness and rapidly falling waters forced the Federals to withdraw to deeper water below Baton Rouge.

Upriver, Federal inactivity in and around Memphis during the summer enabled Confederate forces to counterattack to regain lost portions of the lower Mississippi River valley. These efforts ended in failure at Iuka and Corinth, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge. General Ulysses S. Grant then directed his forces in a two-pronged advance on Vicksburg. One wing marched south from LaGrange and Grand Junction, Tennessee, into north Mississippi while the other wing, under General William T. Sherman, pushed rapidly downriver from Memphis to seize Vicksburg. Cavalry under Confederate General Earl Van Dorn sacked Grant's supply base at Holly Springs, Mississippi, and troopers under General Nathan Bedford Forrest cut Union supply lines in Tennessee forcing the northerners back to Memphis.

Anaconda Plan Map
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Official Anaconda Plan Map

USS Cairo
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Vicksburg National Military Park

On Christmas Eve, the flotilla carrying Sherman's troops arrived near Vicksburg. A warning of his approach interrupted a festive gathering at the Balfour House. Declaring, "This ball is at an end. The enemy is coming down river," Confederate General Martin Luther Smith, the garrison commander, ordered his troops to man their batteries. Landing north of the city near the mouth of Chickasaw Bayou, Sherman ordered his troops forward saying, "We will lose 5,000 men before we take Vicksburg, and may as well lose them here as anywhere else." As his soldiers were hurled back with bloody loss, his words proved prophetic.

Unable to take Vicksburg

Union forces began 1863 by moving up the Arkansas River and capturing the Confederate garrison at Arkansas Post. After a series of ill-fated bayou expeditions during the winter months, Grant boldly launched his army on a march through the northeastern corner of Louisiana from Milliken's Bend in search of a favorable point to cross the Mississippi River below Vicksburg. Union gunboats and transports battled their way past Confederate shore batteries at Vicksburg and rendezvoused with Grant. In the largest amphibious landing in American military history up to that time, the Union commander hurled his army across the river at Bruinsburg and pushed inland. Continued below...

Recommended Reading: Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi (Civil War America). Description: When Confederate troops surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863--the day after the Union victory at Gettysburg--a crucial port and rail depot for the South was lost. By implementing the Federal's Anaconda Plan and capturing Vicksburg, the Union gained total control of the Mississippi River and the Confederate territory was split in two. In a thorough yet concise study of the longest single military campaign of the Civil War, Michael B. Ballard brings new depth to our understanding of the Vicksburg campaign by considering its human as well as its military aspects. Continued below.

Ballard examines soldiers' attitudes, guerrilla warfare, and the effects of the campaign and siege on civilians in and around Vicksburg. He also analyzes the leadership and interaction of such key figures as U. S. Grant, William T. Sherman, John Pemberton, and Joseph E. Johnston, among others. Blending strategy and tactics with the human element, Ballard reminds us that while Gettysburg has become the focal point of the history and memory of the Civil War, the outcome at Vicksburg was met with as much celebration and relief in the North as was the Gettysburg victory, and he argues that it should be viewed as equally important today.

Overcoming Confederate resistance at Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge, Federal troops captured the capital of Mississippi and reached Vicksburg. Failing to take the city by storm, Grant's forces encircled the city and laid siege. Cut off from the outside world, the citizens and soldiers of Vicksburg, many of whom sought refuge in caves, withstood the constant bombardment of Union guns for forty-seven days. On July 4, 1863, the city surrendered to Grant. Ironically, a Confederate attack on Helena, Arkansas, intended to ease the pressure on Vicksburg, was bloodily repulsed on the same day.

Anaconda Plan
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The Bombardment of Port Hudson

When Port Hudson, Louisiana, the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, fell five days later, the Confederacy was split in two and President Abraham Lincoln declared, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

To strengthen their hold on the Mississippi River, Union troops moved quickly from Vicksburg to drive Confederate forces that had assembled near Jackson from the state. Strategic points along the river were garrisoned by black troops, most of whom had been slaves just weeks before joining the Union army. With the Mississippi River secured, northern armies advanced deep into the interiors of Mississippi and Louisiana in 1864. In Mississippi, Sherman advanced across the state from Vicksburg to Meridian, first demonstrating his concept of total war which he later used more effectively in Georgia and the Carolinas. West of the Mississippi River, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks advanced up the Red River of Louisiana along with naval forces under Union Admiral David Dixon Porter and was defeated at Mansfield by Confederate General Richard Taylor (President Zachary Taylor's son) and forced to withdraw. A Union army from Little Rock, moving to join Banks, was also soundly defeated near Camden, Arkansas, and forced to retreat. The lower Mississippi River valley was the scene of no major military operations for the remainder of the war.

A key element of this Union success was the use of a powerful new weapon: black soldiers. In September 1862, President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation which would free slaves in those areas still in active rebellion against the government on January 1, 1863. The decree expanded the war aims from preservation of the Union to include the abolition of slavery.

Illinois Monument
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Vicksburg National Military Park

The proclamation paved the way for blacks to formally enlist in the Union forces. The first major action of blacks in uniform was at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on May 23, 1863, when the First and Third Native Guards stormed the Confederate defenses, suffering severe losses. Two weeks later, black troops successfully defended Grant's supply base at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, against a determined attack by Confederate infantry. These engagements firmly answered the question of whether the freedmen would fight. For the remainder of the war, black soldiers fought on fields of battle across the land and garrisoned strategic posts along the Mississippi River. Approximately 180,000 blacks served in the United States military during the Civil War, and several received the Medal of Honor.

The Fall

The fall of the Mississippi River into Union hands was disastrous for the Confederacy. A permanent southern nation would never exist. Divided in two and cut off from vital supplies, the Confederacy was doomed in the coils of the Anaconda. Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman's efforts in the West made Union victory inevitable. The United States now had military leaders whose experience in the Western Theater had given them the vision and will to lead to ultimate victory.

The military effort along the Thousand-Mile Front now shifted east to concentrate on a hundred-mile front from The Wilderness past Richmond to Petersburg and finally to Appomattox. The Civil War changed not only the South but the nation. War ravaged the South, and destroyed railroads, factories, and homes. The end of the Civil War brought an uneasy peace, and was followed by one of the most traumatic periods in American history—Reconstruction.

As a result of operations on the high seas, on rivers, and in bays and harbors, the Navy was a decisive factor in the Civil War's outcome. The Union Navy blockaded some three thousand miles of Confederate coast from Virginia to Texas in a mammoth effort to Cut off supplies, destroy the Southern economy, and discourage foreign intervention. See also American Civil War: Union and Confederate Navies.

(Related reading below.)

Sources: National Park Service; Department of the Interior; Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Autobiography of Winfield Scott.

Recommended Reading: TRIUMPH AND DEFEAT: The Vicksburg Campaign, Volume 2 (Hardcover). Description: The study of the Civil War in the Western Theater is more popular now than ever, and the center of that interest is the months-long Vicksburg Campaign, which is the subject of National Park Historian Terrence J. Winschel's new book Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, Vol 2. Following the popular success of his earlier book of the same name, Winschel offers ten new chapters of insights into what has been declared by many to have been the most decisive campaign of the Civil War. Designed to appeal to both general readers and serious students, Winschel's essays cover a wide range of topics, including military operations, naval engagements, leading personalities, and even a specific family caught up in the nightmarish 47-day siege that nearly cost them their lives. Continued below.

Smoothly written and deeply researched, these fresh chapters offer balanced and comprehensive analysis written with the authority that only someone who has served as Vicksburg's Chief Historian since 1978 can produce. Bolstered by photographs, illustrations, and numerous outstanding original maps, this second volume in the Triumph and Defeat series will stand as a lasting contribution to the study of the Civil War. About the author: Winschel is author of many books, including Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign (1998, 2004), Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River (2003), Vicksburg: Fall of the Confederate Gibraltar (1999), and The Civil War Diary of a Common Soldier (2000). Terry is also a popular speaker on the Civil War Round Table circuit and has made frequent appearances on the History Channel. He lives in Vicksburg, where he works as the battlefield's chief historian.

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Related Studies:

American Civil War: Union and Confederate Navies

American Civil War and the Union and Confederate Navies: Assessment

Recommended Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart, Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's (quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy dictated by the White House. Continued below.

The naval blockade of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River.


Recommended Reading: Civil War Navies, 1855-1883 (The U.S. Navy Warship Series) (Hardcover). Description: Civil War Warships, 1855-1883 is the second in the five-volume US Navy Warships encyclopedia set. This valuable reference lists the ships of the U.S. Navy and Confederate Navy during the Civil War and the years immediately following - a significant period in the evolution of warships, the use of steam propulsion, and the development of ordnance. Civil War Warships provides a wealth and variety of material not found in other books on the subject and will save the reader the effort needed to track down information in multiple sources. Continued below…

Each ship's size and time and place of construction are listed along with particulars of naval service. The author provides historical details that include actions fought, damage sustained, prizes taken, ships sunk, and dates in and out of commission as well as information about when the ship left the Navy, names used in other services, and its ultimate fate. 140 photographs, including one of the Confederate cruiser Alabama recently uncovered by the author further contribute to this indispensable volume. This definitive record of Civil War ships updates the author's previous work and will find a lasting place among naval reference works.


Recommended Reading: Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. Review: The bloody and decisive two-day battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) changed the entire course of the American Civil War. The stunning Northern victory thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict. The conflagration at Shiloh had its roots in the strong Union advance during the winter of 1861-1862 that resulted in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. Continued below.

The offensive collapsed General Albert S. Johnston advanced line in Kentucky and forced him to withdraw all the way to northern Mississippi. Anxious to attack the enemy, Johnston began concentrating Southern forces at Corinth, a major railroad center just below the Tennessee border. His bold plan called for his Army of the Mississippi to march north and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with another Union army on the way to join him. On the morning of April 6, Johnston boasted to his subordinates, "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee!" They nearly did so. Johnston's sweeping attack hit the unsuspecting Federal camps at Pittsburg Landing and routed the enemy from position after position as they fell back toward the Tennessee River. Johnston's sudden death in the Peach Orchard, however, coupled with stubborn Federal resistance, widespread confusion, and Grant's dogged determination to hold the field, saved the Union army from destruction. The arrival of General Don C. Buell's reinforcements that night turned the tide of battle. The next day, Grant seized the initiative and attacked the Confederates, driving them from the field. Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, with nearly 24,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Edward Cunningham, a young Ph.D. candidate studying under the legendary T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University, researched and wrote Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 in 1966. Although it remained unpublished, many Shiloh experts and park rangers consider it to be the best overall examination of the battle ever written. Indeed, Shiloh historiography is just now catching up with Cunningham, who was decades ahead of modern scholarship. Western Civil War historians Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith have resurrected Cunningham's beautifully written and deeply researched manuscript from its undeserved obscurity. Fully edited and richly annotated with updated citations and observations, original maps, and a complete order of battle and table of losses, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 will be welcomed by everyone who enjoys battle history at its finest. Edward Cunningham, Ph.D., studied under T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University. He was the author of The Port Hudson Campaign: 1862-1863 (LSU, 1963). Dr. Cunningham died in 1997. Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D. is the author of One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864, winner of the 2004 Albert Castel Award and the 2005 A. M. Pate, Jr., Award, and Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. About the Author: Timothy B. Smith, Ph.D., is author of Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (winner of the 2004 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Non-fiction Award), The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield, and This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. A former ranger at Shiloh, Tim teaches history at the University of Tennessee.


Recommended Reading: Mississippi River Gunboats of the American Civil War 1861-65 (New Vanguard). Description: At the start of the American Civil War, neither side had warships on the Mississippi River. In the first few months, moreover, both sides scrambled to gather a flotilla, converting existing riverboats for naval use. These ships were transformed into powerful naval weapons despite a lack of resources, trained manpower and suitable vessels. Continued below.

The creation of a river fleet was a miracle of ingenuity, improvisation and logistics, particularly for the South. This title describes their design, development and operation throughout the American Civil War.


Recommended Reading: Submarine Warfare in the Civil War. Description: Many people have heard of the Hunley, the experimental Confederate submarine that sank the USS Housatonic in a daring nighttime operation. Less well known, however, is that the Hunley was not alone under the waters of America during the Civil War. Both the Union and Confederacy built a wide and incredible array of vessels that could maneuver underwater, and many were put to use patrolling enemy waters. Continued below...

In Submarine Warfare in the Civil War, Mark Ragan, who spent years mining factory records and log books, brings this little-known history to the surface. The hardcover edition, Union and Confederate Submarine Warfare in the Civil War, was published to wide acclaim in 1999. For this new paperback edition, Ragan has revised and updated the text to include the full story of the Hunley's recovery and restoration.

Recommended Reading: Confederate Blockade Runner 1861-65 (New Vanguard) (Paperback). Description: The lifeblood of the Confederacy, the blockade runners of the Civil War usually began life as regular fast steam-powered merchant ships. They were adapted for the high-speed dashes through the Union blockade which closed off all the major Southern ports, and for much of the war they brought much-needed food, clothing and weaponry to the Confederacy. Continued below.

This book traces their operational history, including the development of purpose-built blockade running ships, and examines their engines, crews and tactics. It describes their wartime exploits, demonstrating their operational and mechanical performance, whilst examining what life was like on these vessels through accounts of conditions on board when they sailed into action.

Recommended Reading: Confederate Ironclad 1861-65 (New Vanguard). Description: The creation of a Confederate ironclad fleet was a miracle of ingenuity, improvisation and logistics. Surrounded by a superior enemy fleet, Confederate designers adapted existing vessels or created new ones from the keel up with the sole purpose of breaking the naval stranglehold on the nascent country. Her ironclads were built in remote cornfields, on small inland rivers or in naval yards within sight of the enemy. Continued below.

The result was an unorthodox but remarkable collection of vessels, which were able to contest the rivers and coastal waters of the South for five years. This title explains how these vessels worked, how they were constructed, how they were manned and how they fought.

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