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Lincoln’s War: How Lincoln Bled the Union

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.


On the Brink of Disaster

Abraham Lincoln is considered the father of the modern United States. Having shepherded the Union through the Civil War and into a world free of slavery, Lincoln is idealized as a liberator and protector, but did Lincoln’s policies actually extend the length of the war and result in the unnecessary death of thousands?

Before the First Battle of Bull Run General Winfield Scott comprised a plan to defeat the Confederacy without throwing lives away in a war of attrition against the confederates. Called the Anaconda Plan by it‘s opponents, General Scott rightfully predicted that the Confederacy would not easily fold, and that only by depriving the South of its capability to wage war would the Civil War end.

The concept of the Anaconda Plan would eventually end the Civil War, but not before the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives.

Lincoln’s Political Machine


Outbreak of War

When the Southern states seceded the Union was ill prepared for war. Lack of basic military supplies, soldiers, and direction led to great numbers of men being called upon to volunteer, but not being turned into soldiers. For its part, the south was not in much better shape for fielding trained soldiers, but they had the arms and the leadership at the outbreak of the war.

Lincoln desired a quick end to the war. Some of his advisors promoted the idea of victory in a single battle, one great struggle, and then mopping up. This conflicted with Scotts two year plan.

The Anaconda Plan called for a blockade supported by a land and naval invasion of the Mississippi. It called for raising troops for a term of two years, to arm the north while containing the south, and to proceed to invading when the Union was entrenched and prepared. Lincoln did not do this.


The First Battle of Bull Run

On July 21, 1861, Union forces advanced into Virginia to meet the Rebel armies. Both sides were relatively untrained and led by inexperienced officers, and at the end the day the confederate armies were successful in driving the Union from the battlefield with limited casualties.

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The First Battle of Bull Run crushed Lincoln’s dreams of a swift war. Disorganized Union regiments fled the field back to the capital, and it became painfully obvious that the war would not be settled in a simple manner.

General Winfield Scott


Ending the War

General Winfield Scott correctly antipicated that the war would require far more men, time, and planning than his contemporaries. His plan to crush the Confederacy slowly was adapted to the Union war plan largely unintentionally as the Union continued to mill out soldiers and weapons with its superior industrial capability.

The Anaconda Plan was never officially adopted, but was effectively carried out through independent actions. Along the Mississipi armies advanced south, taking forts and cutting the Confederacy in half, while the Union Navy cut off a good deal of supplies to the Confederacy.

Lincoln, while a great statesmen, was caught up in public sentiment and a desire to end the war swiftly. This led to early engagements that cost the Union thousands of lives. Had Lincoln adopted the Anaconda Plan early in the war many lives could have been saved.


Dougherty, Kevin. Strangling the Confederacy: Coastal Operations of the American Civil War. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012.

Ketchum, Henry. The Life of Abraham Lincoln. U.S.: Popular Classics Publishing, 2012.

Reed, Rowena, and John D. Milligan. Combined Operations in the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

"Combined Operations in the Civil War." The Annals of Iowa 45 (1981), 648-649.
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Hxprof on October 18, 2018:

Good piece, and I agree with your conclusion that adopting Scott's plan would likely have shortened the war.

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