General Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan

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Anaconda Plan

President Abraham Lincoln

 

Seasoned 74-year-old General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. Army since 1841, outlined a plan below to strangle the Confederacy by taking control of the Mississippi and enforcing a coastal blockade. Newspapers ridiculed the so-called Anaconda Plan as too slow, editor Horace Greeley writing, “Forward to Richmond!” Two weeks earlier, Robert E. Lee had declined Scott’s offer to assume command of the Union army, which no doubt underscored Scott’s unpopular belief that the war would not end quickly.

Headquarters of the Army
Washington, May 3, 1861
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan,
Commanding Ohio Volunteers, Cincinnati, OH

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 sea-board, 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 gun-boats 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.

With great respect, yours, truly
Winfield Scott.

From The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. LI, Part 1 (Government Printing Office, 1897).

President Abraham Lincoln

A Cincinnati publisher ridiculed Scott’s Anaconda Plan as too slow and ponderous, exaggerating it in a fanciful map, above.