Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Most Influential General in the Civil War

Allow me to pose a question that is rarely discussed at Civil War Round Tables: "Who was the most influential general in the Civil War?"

Brevet Lt. General
Winfield Scott in 1862
You might suggest the following candidates: Lee, Jackson, Grant, Sherman. My nomination is General Winfield Scott.

Scott had the greatest influence on Civil War strategy compared to other leading Union and Confederate general officers. Much of their thinking about the conduct of the war was shaped by their experience serving under Scott in the Mexican War. After learning of the success of Scott's campaign to capture Mexico City, the Duke of Wellington proclaimed Scott, "the greatest living general." A high complement from the general who defeated Napoleon. Scott served under fourteen administration from Jefferson to Lincoln. He served a total of fifty-three years of active service as an officer  including forty-seven years as a general.

General Grant  enacted a
strategy of total war
Scott's campaign to use his smaller force to capture Mexico City was the primary strategy used by both sides in the early stages of the Civil War. General McClellan failed in his attempt to seize Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. Lee threatened Washington on several occasions in an attempt to apply Scott's strategy to force the Union to sue for peace and recognize the Confederate States of America. General Lee invaded the North in the Antietam (September 3-17, 1862), Gettysburg (June 29-July 3, 1863), and Shenandoah Valley - Early's Washington Raid (July 9-12, 1864) Campaigns.  Each of the campaigns failed. The attacks on the respective capitals ended on March 3, 1864 when  Lincoln promoted Grant to Lieutenant General in command of all Union Armies. Grant decided on a strategy of total war to destroy the Confederate armies. He devised a strategy of coordinated Union offensives, attacking the Rebel armies at the same time to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within their interior lines.

The Anaconda Plan
Scott's Anaconda Plan is the second impact on the conduct of the war. At the onset of the war, the northern public wanted a swiftly executed campaign to crush the rebellion. Scott believed that this approach was wrong and impractical. Instead he devised up a plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to cut the Confederacy in half. Scott's scheme was derided as the "Anaconda Plan" designed to slowly crush the Confederacy as an anaconda kills his prey. Eventually the actual Union victory followed the broad outlines of the plan.

Historians argue about the merits of the Anaconda Plan. Scott hoped that the plan would end the rebellion quickly and reduce bloodshed. Unfortunately, the military did not have the ironclad gunships to seize the Mississippi and other southern rivers. Critics argue that the blockade was ineffective, but others say that the blockade damaged the Confederate ability to export cotton and obtain the necessary goods and money to sustain their economy and the war effort. Another factor with the plan was Scott's removal from office on November 1, 1861. He was replaced by McClellan who favored a different strategy. Without its champion to oversee its implementation, the war in the East (capturing Richmond)  was favored over campaigns in the West to cut the Confederacy in half. Ironically, Grant's successes in capturing Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Vicksburg helped implement the Anaconda Plan and eventually led to his promotion to command of the Union Army.

General Scott lived to see the Union victory in the Civil War in April 1865.He died  at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery.  

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