George McClellan Goes National; Scott’s Anaconda Plan; More Troops

Friday, May 3, 1861

Before the rebellion, George B. McClellan, only 34 years old, had lived a full life. He entered West Point at age 15 and graduated second in his class of 1846.1 After serving in the Mexican War, he served out West until being ordered to Washington Territory to explore passes over the Cascade Range. There, he planted the first American flag in Yakima country.2 McClellan was then sent as an observer of the Crimean War. Upon returning, he retired from the Army and got into the railroad business.

His knowledge of military tactics as well as railroads made him highly sought after by several states, but by the middle of April, he was appointed a Major General of Ohio Volunteers by Governor William Dennison. With an eye to bigger things, McClellan sent letter after letter to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in Washington telling the General how to win the coming war.3

McClellan’s idea was to first delay the war. 80,000 troops could soon be brought to the colors and could then be used to cover places like St. Louis and Louisville. Some could even march on Richmond via the Kanawha River Valley in western Virginia (well south of the B&O line through Grafton). He also wished for a battle at Nashville.

General Scott received McClellan’s letter on May 2 and wrote a quick note to the President on its reverse where he stated his own problems with the plan, especially the march on Richmond via Ohio, which “would probably ensure the revolt of Western Virginia, which if left alone would soon be five out of seven for the Union.”4

Scott, knowing that McClellan wasn’t to remain outside of the Regular Army for very long, proposed a plan of his own in a May 3rd reply. This would forever be known as “Scott’s Anaconda Plan.”

The plan consisted of two main points. The blockade was not to be simply a closing of Southern ports, which was already in the words, but needed a larger Navy to be perfected. The blockade shouldn’t simply be a closing of Atlantic and Gulf ports, but of all ports down the Mississippi River, very literally cutting off the South from the outside world. The second was to use infantry troops, being transported by water, which could be poured into these ports.

Though it was basically a rough draft, Scott’s thinking was already far beyond most typical thinking about the duration of the war. The Navy vessels for the Mississippi had not yet been built and the multitude of troops (which were to be enlisted for three years) had not yet been raised.5

Meanwhile, the War Department had plans of their own for George B. McClellan. Various departments had been created, dividing up areas for the simplicity of more local commands. On this date, The Department of the Ohio was created. It consisted of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois (for the time being). The Major General of Ohio Volunteers was to be made its commander. It would take nearly a week for the rumors of such a promotion to reach McClellan, and even longer for official word.6


Lincoln Calls for More Troops

Abraham Lincoln, to accompany General Scott’s plan and to combat the spiraling desires for secession, called for more troops. In his “Proclamation 83 – Increasing the Size of the Army and Navy,” the President called for over 42,000 volunteers for three-year enlistments. Additionally, he called for the Regular Army to be increased to 22,700 and the Navy by 18,000.

As President, Lincoln had no real authority to call the troops. That was for Congress to decide. However, Congress wasn’t in session. Lincoln would have to move forward with the war and wait for Congress to catch up and (hopefully) approve his orders when they again assembled in August.

This would bring the Army’s strength to nearly 157,000 (including Volunteer and Regular Army) and the Navy to 25,000. 7

  1. First was Charles Seafort Seymour. []
  2. In 1853 he participated in the Pacific Railroad surveys, ordered by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, to select an appropriate route for the upcoming transcontinental railroad. McClellan surveyed the northern corridor along the 47th and 49th parallels from St. Paul to the Puget Sound. During this assignment, he demonstrated a tendency for insubordination toward senior political figures. Isaac Stevens, governor of the Washington Territory, became dissatisfied with McClellan’s performance in scouting passes across the Cascade Range. (McClellan selected Yakima Pass without a thorough reconnaissance and refused the governor’s order to lead a party through it in winter conditions, relying on faulty intelligence about the depth of snowpack in that area. He also neglected to find three greatly superior passes in the near vicinity, which would be the ones eventually used for railroads and interstate highways.) The governor ordered McClellan to turn over his expedition logbooks, but McClellan steadfastly refused, most likely because of embarrassing personal comments that he had made throughout. Just like in the Civil War. []
  3. Campaign in Western Virginia by George B. McClellan – biographical info taken from editor Tim McKinney and the historical marker at Chief Oh-‘Hi’s Garden that I randomly stumbled upon while driving a back dirt road near Yakima, Washington. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 1, p338-339. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 1, p369-370. []
  6. General Orders No. 14, Adjutant. General’s office, War Department, May 3, 1861. []
  7. Proclamation 83 – Increasing the Size of the Army and Navy, May 3, 1861. []
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George McClellan Goes National; Scott’s Anaconda Plan; More Troops by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International