The Anaconda was a key element of Union success in the Civil War. The plan took advantage of the weaknesses inherent in the Confederacy’s cordon defense. Although originally greeted with a great deal of suspicion and derision by many in leadership in the Union, it was the means by which the Union eventually won the war.
General Winfield Scott, who was general-in-chief of the Union armies at the opening of the war, first recommended the Anaconda Plan to President Abraham Lincoln on 2 May 1861.1 The plan, however, was initially rejected in favor of the plan of General Irvin McDowell. While Scott was one of the few who recognized the new nature of warfare, McDowell took the more familiar and popular line of thinking, believing that capturing the Confederate capital was the key to victory and urging “on to Richmond.”2
After the failure of McDowell’s plan and the realization, in 1862, that, as Scott had known all along, this would be a war of attrition and not a battle for territory, the Anaconda Plan finally received serious consideration. It was with this new realization and the implementation of the Anaconda Plan that tides began to turn in the war. The Union recognized the exploited Confederate weaknesses with its new awareness.
The Union strategy began to pick apart and separate Confederate defenses. They were able to heave the Confederacy “reduced, bit by bit, into non-self-supporting sections.”3 Gradually, these sections, unable to stand on their own, fell apart. “By late 1864 … the Virginia and Georgia campaigns” were all that was needed to eliminate the rest of the Confederate military threat.4
Although initially mocked and rejected, Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan was the eventual key to Union success in the Civil War. The Union was able to use the weaknesses in the Confederate cordon defense to its own advantage. It isolated Confederate defensive portions and destroyed them one by one. Through this strategy, the Union won the Civil War.