Top of page

Places in Civil War History: The Anaconda Plan and Union Victories in Tennessee

Share this post:

This is part of a series of posts documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis.

One of the primary strategies employed by Federal forces in weakening the Confederacy was the use of blockading fleets along the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States. Scott’s Great Snake, published at the outset of the Civil War, humorously portrays General Winfield Scott’s “Anaconda Plan” to strangle the southern states by cutting off any imported supplies and halting cotton exports. Blockading fleets were also used on inland rivers to assist Union military operations. The Anaconda Plan emerged out of Scott’s understanding that the war would be long and slow, frustrating Northerners who thought a quick capture of Richmond would bring the rebellion to a sudden end. By 1862, however, the tenets of the “Anaconda Plan” became widely adopted, as it became clear that a more drawn-out conflict was in store.

Scott's Great Snake Map
“Scott’s great snake Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1861.” J.B. Elliott, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The two versions of Robert Sneden’s Blockade of the Potomac, shown below, shows the Union use of blockading to deny ship passage along the lower stretches of the Potomac River during the winter of 1861/1862. According to a note on the map, the “Rebels evacuated all their batteries night of 4th March 1862.”

Map of blockade of Potomac River, showing Union batteries shelling Rebel works.
“Blockade of the Potomac – by Rebels, winter of 1861.” Robert Knox Sneden, 1861. Virginia Historical Society.
Blockade of Potomac River, showing Union and Confederate batteries on opposing sides of river.
“Blockade of the Potomac. Map showing Union and Rebel batteries January 1862. The Rebels evacuated all their batteries night of 4th March 1862.” Robert Knox Sneden, 1862. Virginia Historical Society.

Robert Knox Sneden (1832-1918) enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the war and served with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign. He would then serve in Washington, D.C. as a topographical engineer on the staff of Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman. In 1863, Sneden was captured by Confederate forces and imprisoned for over a year, an experience he documented by drawing maps of the camps in South Carolina and Georgia where he was detained. Over the course of the war, Sneden’s eyewitness accounts and extremely detailed pen-and-ink watercolor maps, provide vivid glimpses of life as a Civil War soldier.

Sneden’s original diaries are housed in the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. Through a joint agreement, more than 300 maps from the diary are available on the Library of Congress web site.

Elsewhere in the American South, as the war raged on in February, 1862, the Union achieved important victories in Tennessee. Located in central Tennessee, Forts Henry and Donelson guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers with interconnecting roads and telegraph lines between the two Confederate fortifications. In the first week of February, 1862, General Ulysses Grant led a massive assault composed of more than 15,000 troops and gunships. Confederate forces evacuated Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and General Grant followed up with a successful assault on Fort Donelson, located on the Cumberland River.

Map of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennesee, and topography and road features in between the two Confederate forts.
“Sketch showing the relative positions of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson : with the roads connecting the two places.” United States War Department, Corps. of Engineers, 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The above map, showing the topography and transportation routes between Forts Henry and Donelson, is an example of a map prepared to document the history of this campaign as opposed to planning maps. This map was among many others (including larger scale vicinity maps of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson) that were prepared for the “Atlas to accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” a one-volume atlas designed to accompany a multi-volume textual history of the Civil War.

Comments (11)

  1. Very nice selection, good explanation, and great to see the fruits of the cooperation with the Virginia Historical Society. Many thanks!

  2. Great stuff

  3. Its ya boi 2
    I found this very helpful

  4. I also found this very helpful

  5. I too found this very helpful

  6. I appreciate this article, but this could be better conveyed in a video format.

  7. This is helpful

  8. Very helpful article. Thanks for posting.

  9. articles are good but it doesn’t tell about how the South fought back

  10. I think it would be more helpful if it was a video or if it was bullet points instead of just a passage, that way you don’t have to read all of it just what you need to get out of it. I had to use Ctrl+f to find what I was looking for.😡

  11. I found this quite helpful for my school project

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *