The Anaconda Plan At the onset of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln met with his generals to devise a strategy by which the rebellious states of the Confederacy could be brought back into the Union. General Winfield Scott, commanding general of the Union army, proposed a plan of battle that became known as the Anaconda Plan. General Winfield Scott, commanding general of the Union Army From the Collections of The Mariners' Museum General Scott, a native Virginian, believed that the majority of Southerners desired a complete union with the United States. In order to restore the Union with as little bloodshed as possible, he favored a relatively nonaggressive policy. The primary strategy of Scott's plan was to create a complete naval blockade of the Southern states.
Named for the South American snake that kills its prey by strangulation, Scott's plan was to strangle the South into submission by cutting its supply lines to the outside world. The plan was sound, but ambitious. For the plan to succeed, it would be necessary to blockade more than 3, 500 miles of coast from Virginia to Mexico and up the Mississippi from New Orleans to New Madrid Bend. And the Anaconda Plan could only succeed over time: the South would not starve overnight, so patience was an essential part of Scott's strategy. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, USA From the Collections of The Mariners' Museum By adopting the Anaconda Plan, Lincoln ran the risk of committing diplomatic suicide. Since a nation would never blockade its own ports, Lincoln was effectively recognizing the Confederacy as a sovereign nation, something he had tried to avoid doing by proclaiming the war as merely the suppression of a rebellion.
This being the case, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles feared that the Anaconda Plan would invite foreign nations to extend diplomatic relations to the Confederacy. The blockade also posed the risk of offending other nations attempting to trade with the Confederacy. If the blockade proved only partially successful, it would only serve to infuriate foreign nations. The Anaconda Plan From the Collections of The Mariners' Museum The United States ultimately adopted the Anaconda Plan, with alterations. The blockade was to remain central to the Union strategy, but land offensives would also be launched in an effort to take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The job of creating and maintaining a true blockade of the South fell on the shoulders of Gideon Welles.
To meet this new challenge the navy began a massive expansion of its fleet. In the spring of 1861, the navy consisted of 82 largely obsolete ships; by December of that year there would be 264 ships in the navy. By the end of the war, the United States Navy would maintain a force of over 600 ships. John Bull From the Collections of The Mariners' Museum For both the North and the South, one of the most strategically important coastal regions was Hampton Roads in Virginia, where the wide mouth of the James River poured into the Chesapeake Bay. For the North, Hampton Roads was the doorway to the Confederate capital at Richmond.
For the South, this was the passage to the sea and potential European allies. Fort Monroe, the massive stone fortress that guarded the inward approaches to Hampton Roads, remained solidly in Union hands. It would become the jumping-off place for many Union expeditions into the South, as well as an anchor for the blockade of the Atlantic coast. Go to Main Category: Naval Strategy of the Civil War Go to other documents in this category: Development of Ironclad Warships Before the Civil War.