May 2, 1861: Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan

Anaconda plan

General Winfield Scott criticized McClellan’s battle plans (from an April 27 letter) and proposed a plan to essentially besiege the entire Confederacy by controlling the coasts and the Mississippi. This “Anaconda Plan” was much derided at the time, at least according to various histories that I’ve seen. However, as we’ll see below, the New York Times had nothing but good to say about it from the start. From the OR S.I, V.51, p. 339:

MAY 2, 1861.
As at the date of this letter General McClellan knew nothing of the intended call for two years’ volunteers, he must have had the idea of composing his enormous column of three-months’ men for operating against Nashville and Richmond-that is, of men whose term of service would expire by the time he had collected and organized them. That such was his idea appears from a prior letter, in which, although, the Ohio quota is but about 10,000 men the general speaks, I think of having 30,000 and wants arms, &c., for 80,000.

A march upon Richmond from the Ohio would probably insure the revolt of Western Virginia, which if left alone will soon be five out of seven for the Union.

Third. The general eschews water transportation by the Ohio and Mississippi in favor of long, tedious and break-down (of men, horses, and wagons) marches.

Fourth. His plan is to subdue the seceded States by piece-meal instead of enveloping them all (nearly) at once by a cordon of posts on the Mississippi to its mouth from its junction with the Ohio, and by blockading ships of war on the sea-board. For the cordon a number of men equal to one of the general’s columns would probably suffice, and the transportation of men and all supplies by water is about a fifth of the land cost, besides the immense saving in time.

Respectfully submitted to the President.

Interestingly, a New York Times editorial on the same day proposes essentially the same plan; did Scott leak his letter to the press?

Jeff. Davis and How to Fight Him.

JEFF. DAVIS, the arch-rebel of the South, is as wary as he is wicked. Let us be well assured of this. There is, for the moment, a lull in his war-notes. His poor tool, the Executive of Virginia, through whose territory alone the United States Government can be assailed in any vital point, ostentatiously declares that he “will not allow Washington City to be attacked from the soil of Virginia!” A mean, false varlet, this LETCHER! He and his adhering portion of Virginia belong to JEFF. DAVIS as completely as Faust belonged to the Devil. And JEFF. DAVIS has drawn the sword, and thrown away the scabbard.

We repeat, the arch-rebel is as wary as he is wicked. He wants time. He lacks arms. He has no provisions. His finances are feeble. But he has risked fortune, fame, honor and life upon his reckless rebellion, and will he — can he — dare he turn back? But he is not yet ready to move forward.

JEFF. DAVIS lacks arms, lacks provisions, lacks money. He therefore is a disgraced and ruined man unless he can gain time to manufacture guns and gunpowder, gain time to collect subsistence for an army, and be permitted to choose his own ground for fighting! This last is an overwhelming necessity for JEFF. DAVIS, and the moment it is denied him his heart is broken, and his Government will dissolve. It is therefore precisely the point in which the arch-rebel must and will be thwarted.

Mr. JEFF. DAVIS wishes to be invaded from the North. Why? Because the Border Slave States are full of fighting men. The people of these States are indeed the most formidable fighting men in the world. In case of their invasion, they will be fighting on their own soil, for their homes and firesides; while the United States forces will be fighting away from home. And every mile advanced into the Border States, will be increasing the number of enemies on flank and rear, who will harass and sting, like bees from a shaken hive. More; while the Border State forces are resisting, JEFF. DAVIS can be rolling upon all the railroads every disposable fighting man from all the Gulf States, so that the invading army must confront the military power of the entire South, while it is literally hewing its way through a hostile local population. And yet more: while the fighting men of the South are thus contesting every inch of advance across their northern border, their homes are quiet, their plantations furrowed only by the peaceful plow; and meat and bread, and sugar and cotton are grown in peace, to subsist the Southern army in its northern zone.

That the United States must invade Virginia and become possessed of Richmond, is most certain. That JEFF. DAVIS will be delighted to hear it, is also true, because we have sketched his programme of the campaign to the letter, just as he wants it. But while he thinks to offer battle on the Northern line of Virginia, and to make a feint of retreating towards Richmond and tempting on the elated army of the Union until he can flank it from Norfolk and York River on the east, and from Harper’s Ferry and Winchester on the west, and then annihilate it, he forgets that his whole army, his people, his country, are already flanked by the sea-coast and the Gulf, and that no army will advance upon Richmond until every soldier of the Gulf States is fully employed at home, in saving from Union armies that will hang upon their coasts, the plantations and the animate property on whose products the South expects to live! Here is a flanking movement that ends the war, if we may so speak, before it has fairly begun. It serves the double purpose, too, of blockade and invasion. It forces the Secession Armies to gather and encamp in the lagoons and morasses of the coast, while the Union Armies have good health on ship-board. It transfers the theatre of war to a region that the Northern half of the Gulf States dare not risk their lives in; and yet if the invasion is unresisted there, the Confederate States must fall in remediless ruin. With a vigorous prosecution of the war in this direction, Mr. JEFF. DAVIS is a lost man — his petty despotism is doomed. England and France have failed him. His King Cotton has proved to be King Log. The navies of England and France will not keep his ports open. His cotton (what little may be grown,) will not be exported, and the first coupon on his recent loan, secured by the export duty on cotton will never be paid. The seas and the Gulf are still ruled by the glorious Stars and Stripes, and just where JEFF. DAVIS is merely a pirate, to be hung at the yard-arm, the Union is one of the mighty nations of the earth, ready to pour out on his exposed flank, among his helots and against his homes, armies great enough to appal and paralyze a half million of his swordsmen.

The world knows that any army that can be outflanked is lost. The only question in waging war against. JEFF. DAVIS is this; shall we, by invading the territory that he controls, expose our [???] to defeat, or to decimation at least; or shall we avail ourselves of our vast marine, capable of transferring to his flank a hundreds thousand men if necessary, in two or three divisions, threatening him in quarters that he will know not till too late to repel, and [???] thus distracting and harassing his rear, penetrate to his Northern strongholds and seize them without danger and almost without resistance?

Let DAVIS collect his army in Virginia, and one gun from a Union fleet in Berwick’s Bay or off Pensacola or Charleston, will send his men flying South in shuddering horror, to save shrieking families and scattering slaves! Western Virginia meanwhile lifts the banner of the Union, and cuts off the infatuated revolutionists of Richmond. And WINFIELD SCOTT, by popular acclaim and without the loss of a soldier, may march to that ancient city, and proclaim an amnesty to repentant treason, or what is better, freedom from military despotism to an over-awed and over-ridden, but ever loyal people. To this speedy solution of a disturbing problem, a wise Administration may soon conduct us.

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3 Responses to May 2, 1861: Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan

  1. ken says:

    What’s the source for the map? Where did it come from? (And note that Kansas and “Indian Territory” are considered within the Confederacy!)

  2. Nicolas says:

    thank you for the imformation I needed it for my social studies fair. (:^)

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