The Anaconda Plan (and much more) in period imagery


The Anaconda Plan, is the (retrospectively) un-ironic name given to the much modified but eventually successful Federal Grand Strategy to win the Civil War.

The (very) rough outlines of the plan were sketched out by U.S. Army General-in-Chief Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott in May of 1861.


General Scott envisioned a grand envelopment (a crushing Anaconda in the public mind) which would divide, isolate, and economically cripple the seceded states. Scott wished to avoid a “war of conquest” if possible, so he called for a naval blockade to isolate the seceded states from foreign markets and imported goods. His main military action was to be a huge offensive down the Mississippi River, seizing key points along this strategic artery to put in under Federal control all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The object being to clear out and keep open this great [riverine] line of communication in connection with a strict blockade of the sea-board, so as to envelope the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.” [LTG Winfield Scott letter to MG George McClelland, May 21, 1861]

Scott did not wish to have to force the “insurgent States” back into the Union as “conquered provinces”, and he believed that there was significant “latent Unionism” in the seceded states which might be rekindled (a view Lincoln shared at the time). Isolation from foreign markets, a drought of luxuries, and economic collapse might, in Scott’s mind, bring many of the insurgents back into the U.S. with a minimum of destruction.

At the time Scott’s concept was widely derided. The label “Anaconda Plan”…or “Scott’s Great Snake”….came from enemies of the Plan, or of the Administration. Unionist fire-brands who supported a more direct “on to Richmond” strategy dismissed it as passive and weak. Peace Democrats and Confederate commentators dismissed it as doomed to fail, and as foolishly underestimating Confederate determination to break away.

In the end, Scott DID underestimate the Confederate will to fight and willingness to accept privation to achieve independence. The Confederate population proved willing to not only forgo luxuries, but bore up under economic collapse and serious food shortage. Still, Scott was right that the blockade would be a key to victory, and that a long complex campaign on the Mississippi (far from the dueling capitals) would be vital to eventual success.

Scott also saw something that few did at the time: that it would be a hard, LONG war. At the time of the plan’s origination, most Federal volunteer troops were “Three Months Volunteers”, mustered for 90 days service under the Militia Act of 1795. Scott had little use for the Three Months Men, as they could hardly be armed and partially trained before them would be mustered out. His main hope for these short-term volunteers was that they might receive some military instruction during that period, so they could be more useful as recruits for future “Three Year Regiments”. At the time, many commentators, North and South, still believed the war would be over in a matter of months.

Scott’s plan for the (Anaconda-like) slow crushing of the Confederate economy, was eventually put into place, although with the addition of the conquest and attrition Scott hoped to avoid.

The wonderful graphic of “Scott’s Great Snake” presents a great Federal “Anaconda” …studded with Navy ships…..wrapping around the southern states, and curling around to plunge, snake head-first down the Mississippi. It was created by J. B. Elliott of Cincinnati in 1861.

But in addition to the Great Snake there are numerous other miniature images, often commenting on current (to 1861) views of states or recent events. The snake’s tail is anchored to an American Flag at Washington, topped with a liberty cap.

A enthusiastic zouave, in puffy red pants, charges out of New York, as a winged helmet emblazoned “Free Trade” hovers overhead.

Maryland declares “We give in” as a bridge burns on the MD/VA border.

A West Virginian defends “The Old Flag” with a sword, as the rest of Virgina is symbolized by a battered bee hive, topped with a tattered Confederate Flag [First National pattern] hanging from a broken staff.

A North Carolinian notes that pine rosin is “Poor Eating”, while “Contrabands” escape slavery in South Carolina.

The Georgian cotton factory is abandoned and wrecked, while a lone Floridian sits in a swamp.

A proud Alabamian is angry that “Dam old Virginai took our Capitol”, because the CSA capitol was transferred from Mongomery, AL to Richmond. 😦

Some of the cartoons are grim or horrible. Rebelling slaves (apparently) are “burning massa out” as a plantation burns. In Louisiana a “Union Man” is hung while locals complain that they can’t ship out their cotton. Next door in Texas  a planter shoots fleeing slaves, noting  it is “costly shooting $100,000 a head”

Kentucky….wearing a coonskin cap…. perches on the fence, trying to maintain “Armed Neutrality”

Tennessee is divided, with the Unionist  “Knocksville [Knoxville] Whig” [Newspaper] leading East Tennesseans in defending the American Flag. In West Tennessee a secessionist in a cocked hat looks for threats across the Mississippi.

Scott's Great Snake-Jackson

There, the Great Snake is chasing out Missouri’s secessionist Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson (the fleeing jackass), while an over-armed Arkansan wields two Bowie Knives and wearing two muskets over his shoulders.

A native chief smokes a pipe in Indian Territory [Oklahoma today], while in “Kanzas”, marching feet make “Union Music”. A second battalion of “Hawk-Eye Marksmen” march south, while a cannon points south from the Federal redoubt at Cairo [pronounced Kay-Roh] Illinois, where Ft Defiance guards the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi.

A detailed examination of “Scott’s Great Snake” can be made at the Library of Congress:

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150 years ago: Railroads west to Tennessee

Here is a great article from the excellent Blog: TO THE SOUND OF THE GUNS. The author, Mr. Craig Swain, discusses a spectacular feat of Federal railroad logistics,

In brief the story is this. In August of 1863, Federal Major General William Rosecrans had skillfully maneuvered his Army of the Cumberland to drive Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a key railroad junction and a key to north Georgia.

After the battle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered two corps from Robert E. Lee’s (Eastern Theater) Army of Northern Virginia transferred by rail to support Bragg. Their commander Lt General James Longstreet came with them.

On Sept 19, Rosecrans and Bragg’s Army clashed again, along Chickamaugua Creek, south of Chattanooga. The first day’s fighting was inconclusive, but Longstreet’s corps were available to reinforce Bragg’s force for the second day’s fighting.

The battle developed slowly, until Rosecrans ordered troops moved to fill a non-existent gap in his line….in inadvertently creating a REAL gap. Longstreet lead an attack into the gap, smashing the Federal right, and driving one third of the Federal army….including Rosecrans….out of line and back towards Chattanooga. The Army of the Cumberland was saved by the stubborn defense of elements of the center and right of the army, lead by Major General George Thomas, who earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamaugua”.

Despite the heroic stand, it was still a retreat, and the previously successful Army of the Cumberland found itself besieged at Chattanooga, as Bragg’s troops took up positions on the heights overlooking the strategic city. Rosecrans was exhausted, and probably mentally defeated. Lincoln described him as “confused and stunned, like a duck hit on the head”.

The risk was that now the hard-won city might be lost……along with parts of the besieged Federal army.

This brings us to Mr. Swain’s fine article. On Sept 23 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton proposed sending two corps from the inactive (Eastern Theater) Army of the Potomac to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland (as Jefferson Davis had for Bragg). Historian James M. McPherson relates:
“It would be a trip of 1,200 miles by the routes they would have to take. Stanton had consulted railroad officials and said the twenty thousand men could reach Nashville in five days and Chattanooga in a few more. Mindful of the previous movements by the sluggish Army of the Potomac, Lincoln responded skeptically that they could hardly get from Culpepper [VA] to Washington in five days! [A surface distance of only about 70 miles.]

“In the end Stanton prevailed. The movement began September 24. It when like clockwork, a marvel of organization and coordination between the War Department and several railroads. Eleven days after the start, more than twenty thousand [23,000] men of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps [under Major General Joe Hooker] arrived at the railhead near Chattanooga with their equipment, artillery and horses after a trip of 1,233 miles through the Appalachian and across the unbridged Ohio River twice [!] It was the longest and fastest of such a large body of troops before the twentieth century”

These fresh easterners helped stabilize the position in Chattanooga, although the city remained besieged and supplies remained tight. They proved vital to the subsequent successful campaign to break the siege and drive Bragg back into Georgia. That victory opened up the center of the Confederacy to invasion….but that is another story.

Now read how almost magical transfer was made in the article above……..

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A Brief Discussion of “Bleeding Kansas”

A Brief Discussion of “Bleeding Kansas”

As we discussed, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) officially repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It also triggered a struggle for control of the Kansas Territory, to determine whether Kansas would (eventually) be organized a a Free Soil or slave-holding state.

Most pro-slavery activists felt that, regardless of the Popular Sovereignty claims made by proponents of the Act, the “unspoken bargain” had been that Kansas would be organized as a slave state (to balance out the more northerly potential state in Nebraska, where no one believed plantation agriculture could survive).

While most immigrants into Kansas were only interested in the opportunity of becoming land owners, others traveled there specifically to join the struggle over the state’s destiny. In the short term, pro-slavery activists had a great advantage in electoral politics, as “armed voters” could cross the border from slave-holding Missouri on polling days, to stuff the ballot boxes in support of pro-slavery government in Kansas. Violence was not long in coming.

The link provides a good, brief overview of some of the issues involved in Kansas’ decent into violence. We also see our friend, Missouri’s own militant U.S. Senator David “Whiskey Dave” Acheson (“kill every Gad-damned Abolitionist in the district”), and the lethal saber-wielding John “Pottawatomie” Brown……

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Hello to all the new USF OLLI scholars!

It was great to meet all you fellow students of the American Civil War today! As we saw, the issue of how the people of the U.S. got to the impasse that led to the “Late Unpleasantness” is a complicated on….and one that PHDs (and others) will continue to argue about. Over the next few days, I’m going to look for media that deals with the road to war.

Be sure to explore this page. I have socked it with links to some of the most scholarly and interesting blogs available, and the Resources let you explore important data, media and primary sources.

Looking forward to getting smart together!



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USS LOUISVILLE: Ironclad river gunboat

USS LOUISVILLE: Ironclad river gunboat

Built by James B. Eads at the the Union Marine Ways, in the St. Louis suburb of Carondelet, the LOUISVILLE was a heavy “City Class” river gunboat. These vessels, paid for by the Army and operated by the Navy, were the heart of the Western Gunboat Flotilla (later the Mississippi River Squadron). Ponderous but powerful, they provided river-borne gunpower and protected the fleet of transports that allowed Western Federal armies to drive deep into Confederate territory.

The LOUISVILLE is shown in her everyday rigging, with canvas sunshades, to mitigate the terrible heat in the ironclad, her gunports open and cannon run out.

Photo courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

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Song of the Kansas Immigrants/Call to Kansas

Missouri folk duo Kathy Barton and Dave Para sing a two-song melody of songs from the Free Soil side of the Missouri-Kansas Border War [aka, “Bleeding Kansas”].

Fighting between pro-slavery and Free Soil settlers helped radicalize people in the trans-Mississippi region, and push the nation at large towards war. The radicalization of actors in the Border War may have been a cause for some of the extreme violence seen during the region’s guerrilla conflict during the subsequent Civil War.

The song describes the Free Soil faction in Kansas as harbingers of freedom and democracy. The images mostly depict the fighting in Kansas from the Free Soil point of view.

Pro-Slavery activists and most Missourians would take great issue with the characterizations presented in both the songs and imagery.

The track can be found on Para and Barton’s CD:
Johnny Whistletrigger: Civil War Songs from the Western Border (Vol 1)

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Map of the Western Theater of the American Civil War_by Hal Jespersen


Map of the Western Theater of the American Civil War_by Hal Jespersen

At the link above, you will find an exceptional map showing the vast scale of the Western Theater, and the huge distances covered by the victorious Federal armies in the West. The westerners not only decisively defeated Confederate forces in their region, but marched East to capture all of the eastern Confederacy south of Virginia.

Hal Jespersen has created a large number of excellent scholarly maps of battles and campaigns of the American Civil War. You can explore them all at the link in the resource section of this blog page.

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Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief

Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief

Highly Recommended:

Written by James M. McPherson, this is the first history to examine Lincoln as a military commander, and the interaction between the Army (and Navy), policy and politics.

It takes a national (and international) view of Lincoln as war commander. For students of the War in the West, it shows the importance of that region as the Theater where the war was won (and lost). It also follows Lincoln’s long search for a commander who could manage the (Eastern) Army of the Potomac. In the end, McPherson shows that it was in the West that Lincoln found the men to lead the Eastern army, and ensure that the two main Federal forces (the Army of the Potomac and the “Military Division of the Mississippi” finally worked in concert.

Understandable to the newcomer, and enjoyable to the veteran scholar.

Available in most public libraries.

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