The Old Man Was Right

It was easy to make fun of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott in the spring of 1861, so fat he could not mount a horse and “senile” at 75 years of age. It was easy to forget that he had been the best soldier of America’s Early Republic and a hero of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. During hours of meetings with Abraham Lincoln, Scott urged that a blockade of Southern ports be initiated and that 60,000 soldiers, assisted by gunboats, be sent to take control of the Mississippi River valley. Those two actions, he argued, would isolate and strangle the Confederacy.

Word of his plan leaked out, and the Northern press mocked it as the “Anaconda Plan.” What a fool that fat old man was. No such plan was needed—the Confederacy would easily collapse.

Scott was mostly right, however. While the blockade may not have been as effective as he had hoped (story, P. 44), it did cause the South problems. There is little doubt that the loss of the Mississippi was a deadly blow to the Confederate nation (story, P. 28), although the general was wrong in one respect: It took hundreds of thousands of Federals to conquer the river.

Scott resigned on November 1, 1861, leaving the direction of the war to younger men. But he lived until May 1866, long enough to see the rebellion brought down—largely by his ridiculed strategy. You could say he had the last laugh.