Thursday, May 05, 2011

Live blogging the American Civil War

On May 2, 1861, General Winfield Scott, hero of the Mexican War and commander of Union forces, introduced his Anaconda Plan to President Lincoln as a doodle on the back of a letter that had been sent to him by a young man named George McClellan who had proposed his own plan for attacking the Confederacy. General Scott thought McClellan's plan was unworkable but had a few ideas that were useful for his own plan.

It was clear that this plan for strangling the Confederacy would require a lot more troops than had previously been envisioned. Thus Abraham Lincoln on May 3, 1861, called for more troops. In his “Proclamation 83 – Increasing the Size of the Army and Navy,” the President called for over 42,000 volunteers for three-year enlistments. Additionally, he called for the Regular Army to be increased to 22,700 and the Navy by 18,000. Unfortunately, President Lincoln also looked at the front of the letter and decided this young man named McClellan had promise and that he'd try McClellan's plan to capture Richmond, which, remember, held the only forge and foundry capable of making steam engines in the entire South. That was a decision he would later come to sorely regret. In the end it was General Scott's Anaconda plan with the addition of Sherman slashing another gaping hole through the heart of the Confederacy as another coil of the Anaconda which would win the War of Southern Treason for the United States.

Probably around 5PM on May 5, 2001, the news hit the St. Louis evening newspapers. A gentleman by the name of William Tecumseh Sherman who ran the local streetcar company read that news, and pondered it. A few weeks earlier in rejecting an offer of employment by the War Department he had chastised the President for what he felt were unreasonable expectations as to the length of the war and the resources needed to prosecute it. This new proclamation, he undoubted thought, meant that the President clearly had now been convinced that the war would be neither short nor cheap. He did not yet know of Lincoln's infatuation with General George B. McClellan's quick-and-easy Virginia invasion plan, so within a few days Mr. Sherman would make a decision that had profound implications upon the course of the war...

-- Badtux the History Penguin


  1. Thanks for the educational link, Tux. I occasionally read the New York Times' articles on the Civil War (the "Disunion" series) and it's surprising how much more I have to learn about the deadliest conflict in U.S. history. And I'm someone who has literally marched across a lot of the Eastern battlefields, because my D.C.-area Boy Scout troop took us for hikes on them. (I still remember the pain in my calves due to lactic acidosis from a grueling, probably 5-mile tramp on a cold rainy at Antietam.)

    Looking at the map on the link, it puts me in mind of how citizens' conception of what the United States was was different then. Instead of the sea-to-sea nation the U.S. is today, it was more East and South-centric. In a time of few roads and no cars, rivers like the Mississippi were superhighways deserving of capture. I DO remember how Lincoln's attempts to enlarge the military set off rebellion in New York City. I now see how the Civil War started the military industrial complex, although I'd like to think it faded mostly away between the end of that war and the beginning of WW II.

  2. The sad thing is that General Scott's Anaconda Plan basically ended his career. It caused a huge furor in the United States when it came out, because the fundamental assumption of most Northerners was that the Southern traitors would come back into the fold swiftly if faced with actual U.S. Army steel.

    General Winfield Scott was 75 years old and weighed 300 pounds. He clearly was not going to lead soldiers in the field, he was no longer "Old Fuss and Feathers" whose brilliant leadership of a small force defeated Santa Anna's much larger army in a series of brilliant battles and captured Mexico City, he was now "Old Fat and Feeble", but there was nothing wrong with his mind. He was still a master strategist and that new "telegraph" invention meant that the youngsters in the field could have near-real-time access to the man widely acknowledged as one of the premier military geniuses of the first half of the 19th century. But while Lincoln adopted some parts of the Anaconda Plan, such as the blockade, and admitted privately that the war was likely to be longer than most people thought, much of the next year was wasted attempting George B. McClellan's quick-and-easy "invade Virginia, capture their only industrial center at Richmond, and the South will collapse" plan.

    Because of the furor that McClellan and his influential supporters raised, General Scott was forced against his better judgement to order his unready commander in the East, General Irvin McDowell, to advance to Manasas Junction, which would cut off the rail line to the Shenandoah Valley and better secure Washington D.C., and once that was secured the next order would have been to march on Richmond. The resulting fiasco, the First Battle of Bull Run, resulted in removal of all command from General Scott, his position as overall commander of the U.S. Army was basically turned into an honorarium, and rather than rattle around the War Department ranting at the walls, Scott resigned. His eventual replacement was General George B. McClellan, a flamboyant youngster who embodied the notion that the war was going to be quick and easy, that if you took Richmond the South would fall. In the end Richmond was the *last* major city in the South to fall and fell because its starving defenders, cut off from provisions by Sherman's march, largely deserted... and McClellan proved as incompetent as he was flamboyant and politically connected, with Scott's actual Anaconda plan, augmented by Sherman's coil through the heart of the Confederacy, only fully implemented after McClellan was dismissed. Winfield Scott got the last laugh on that one, he was too old and sick to show up at the victory parade but he certainly took a victory lap around his bedroom when Sherman forced the surrender of Johnston's starving army in North Carolina, the last remaining field army of the Confederacy...

    - Badtux the History Penguin


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