(WHTM) — In May of 1861, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, commander of the United States Army, who had fought in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, was watching the country he served fall apart. Eight states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. (By end of May there would be three more, for a total of eleven.) Fort Sumter had been fired upon on April 12, and a state of Civil War now existed. But what was the best way to win the war?

On April 19, Abraham Lincoln ordered a blockade of Confederate ports. Cutting off sea trade with other countries would greatly weaken the Confederacy, eventually. Scott saw the blockade as a good beginning, and he incorporated it into a strategy that he hoped could bring the war to an end with minimal bloodshed.

On May 3, he communicated his ideas in a letter to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who at that time commanded volunteer troops in Ohio. (McClellan had proposed an overland march to attack the Confederate Capital in Richmond, Virginia. Scott was less than thrilled with the idea.)

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Scott’s proposal was for “a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points…the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the sea-board, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan…Finally, it will be necessary that New Orleans should be strongly occupied and securely held until the present difficulties are composed.”

The plan would cut the Confederacy in two and deny it control of the Mississippi and New Orleans, one of the largest ports in the South. It would also offer additional locations for Union forces to take the offensive in what became known as the “Western Theater.” It was a slow, steady, careful plan.

Nobody wanted slow, steady, and careful. War fever burned in both North and South; people on each side were convinced it would be a “ninety day war” which would be decided with a single pitched battle. Scott’s strategy was derisively named “The Anaconda Plan.”

Then on July 21, 1861, Union and Confederate soldiers met in a single-pitched battle — Bull Run (aka Manassas). The Confederates trounced the Union Army, and even the most obtuse of armchair strategists realized this war was going to go on for a lot longer than ninety days.

For the next four years, much of the Union strategy basically adhered to the Anaconda Plan. The blockade tightened, and large merchant ships stayed away from southern ports. (Small, swift blockade runners did a brisk business, but because they were small, they couldn’t bring in anywhere near the foreign goods the Confederacy needed.)

Along the Mississippi, naval forces captured New Orleans, then moved up the river, while army forces marched downriver. On July 4, 1863, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, surrendered following a prolonged siege, and the entire river was in the hands of the Union.

Winfield Scott’s hopes that his plan would bring the war to an end with minimal bloodshed were not to be. With a death toll of at least 600,000 (and probably much more), it’s still the bloodiest conflict in American history.

Scott, who was 75 in 1861, suffered increasingly from poor health. He retired in October and was replaced by General McClellan. He lived until 1866, long enough to see the Union restored.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia, American History Central, and CivilWarAcademy.com.