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A House Divided
Posted at 03:23 PM ET, 03/28/2011

Scott Hartwig: General-in-Chief Winfild’s Anaconda Plan called for the early blockading of sea ports and the Mississippi River to strangle the rebellion; could that plan have worked?

Veteran of the National Park Service and Gettysburg National Military Park’s supervisory historian

In brief, General Scott’s plan called for “a complete blockade” of the Atlantic and Gulf ports to strangle the Confederacy, and a thrust down the Mississippi River with some 60,000 troops to cut the Confederacy in two. Scott believed this plan would “envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.” The plan had definite merits. It identified key factors that would be integral to ultimate Union victory; blockading Southern ports to cut off their ability to supply a Confederate war effort, control of the Mississippi, and the need for well trained soldiers to carry out the plan rather than three month, hastily trained, volunteers. Scott also anticipated the impatience of the public and warned against hasty action brought on by pressure of what he called “the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends.”

While elements of Scott’s plan were ultimately adopted by the Union armed forces, Scott’s belief that the war could essentially be won without fighting was naïve and the numbers of troops he anticipated could defeat the rebellion was pitifully small. Scott’s plan was predicated on the belief that the Confederates would grant the Union the time to raise, equip and train its army and build a number of ships sufficient to conduct a meaningful blockade. This was doubtful. The Confederacy had the ability to raise and equip large armies and it was unlikely that they would wait passively for Union forces to move. Although Scott expected the Northern public to be impatient for action he seemed to think that somehow he could weather these pressures and implement his strategy on his own timetable. This too was doubtful. Laudable as elements of his plan were it is unlikely that it could have, or would have, worked as Scott envisioned.

By Scott Hartwig  |  03:23 PM ET, 03/28/2011

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