Strangling the Confederacy
By Kevin Dougherty
Just about every American Civil War “buff” is familiar with Winfield Scott’s “Anaconda Plan” to deal with the Confederate States of America. This book details the plans, and executions of the Navy Board dealing with the seacoast blockade of the 3500 miles of the Confederate shoreline. Most books dealing with the Civil War, concentrate on the land campaigns, both East and West. The seaborne blockade is glossed over, with the exception of the capture of New Orleans and the ultimate attack on Mobile Bay in 1864. The constriction of the available ports for blockade runners, beginning in 1861 is , in general, ignored by most histories.
The author begins by providing capsule biographies of the principle characters involved in these campaigns for both sides. He then details the auspicious formation of the Navy Board under the direction of President Lincoln and Navy Secretary Gideon Wells. The members of the board issued a list of targets to be attacked by the Navy, with the support of the Army. This first list detailed the targets for the primary attacks on the blockade runners, as well as sheltered ports for the succor of the blockading forces themselves.
One of the recommendations of the Navy Board was to split the command of the blockading ships in twain, into Atlantic and Gulf commands. The Atlantic Command would extend from Virginia to Florida, and the Gulf Command from Western Florida to Texas. This decision took the burden off the shoulders of a single commander trying to deal with a coastline of 3500 miles with only 90 naval vessels.
All of the designated targets would be attacked by the combined operations of Naval and Army forces. To quote Shakespeare, “Ah, there is the rub”. The ingrained parochialism of both services left the individual attacks to the personalities of the Army and Navy commanders on scene. This created some excellent cooperation between the services and also some completely adverse relationships and total failures of the proposed campaign.
The next five sections detail the relationships between those commanders and the results obtained from the attack at Hatteras Inlet and the subsequent taking of Roanoke Island. This campaign forced the Confederates to give up Gosport Naval Yard in Norfolk. One of the first attacks in the Gulf was the taking of Ship Island. Ship Island is located off the coast of Mississippi and was used as a staging area for the attack on New Orleans.
Mr. Dougherty concludes the book with a chapter on the aspects of the coastal war and the elements of Operational Design. He points out the characteristics of a good operational plan and the cooperation required by the participating services to implement this plan. In modern terms, there are a complete set of guidelines in place to direct the planning of combined arms operations. Also covered is the required cooperation necessary for the successful completion of those plans, under a single overall commander. In the Civil War, both commanders had control of their own service units and no authority over the units of the other service, cooperation being dependent on the personalities of the individual officers.
This book is recommended to all American Civil War students, as it covers an area of the naval war usually buried in complete histories of naval operations and seldom addressed in a stand alone volume on the subject. I learned a lot about the operations to stifle the blockade running which brought arms, war material and luxury items to the South during these troubled years. I also learned of the disdain which each branch of the Union armed forces held for each other. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Civil War blockade.