1861 cartoon map of Scott’s plan.
The Anaconda Plan is the name widely ap-
plied to an outline strategy for subduing the
seceding states in the American Civil War.
Proposed by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott,
the plan emphasized the blockade of the
Southern ports, and called for an advance
down the Mississippi River to cut the South
in two. Because the blockade would be rather
passive, it was widely derided by the vocifer-
ous faction who wanted a more vigorous pro-
secution of the war, and who likened it to the
coils of an anaconda suffocating its victim.
The snake image caught on, giving the pro-
posal its popular name.
The plan and its critics
In the early days of the Civil War, General-in-
Chief Winfield Scott’s proposed strategy for
the war against the South had two prominent
features: first, all ports in the seceding states
were to be rigorously blockaded; second, a
strong column of perhaps 80,000 men should
use the Mississippi River as a highway to
thrust completely through the Confederacy.
A spearhead consisting of a relatively small
amphibious force, army troops transported
by boats and supported by gunboats, should
advance rapidly, capturing the Confederate
positions down the river in sequence. They
would be followed by a more traditional
army, marching behind them to secure the
victories. The culminating battle would be for
the forts below New Orleans; when they fell,
the river would be in Federal hands from its
source to its mouth, and the rebellion would
be cut in two.
The complete strategy could not be imple-
mented immediately, as no warships of the
type imagined for the Mississippi campaign
existed. For example, the U.S. Navy was too
small to enforce the blockade in the first
months of the war. It would take time to
gather and train the forces needed to carry
out the central thrust, time that the critics of
the plan were unwilling to concede. Hence,
Scott’s plan was subjected to a great deal of
ridicule. His opponents called for an immedi-
ate overland campaign, directed primarily