During the American Civil War, both sides of the conflict had very different strategical approaches. There were important differences in ideas on both sides1. Both the Confederacy and the Union had developed strategies that in their minds would best achieve their political goals. The Confederacy sought after independence while the Union wanted the states to reunite back together. The military strategies would ultimately change throughout the course of the war.
Initially, the Confederates began the war in substantial control of their territory. They needed only to conduct a successful defense of what they already held. Both sides had some advantages and disadvantages. The southern states had the advantage of operating within their own territories and had strong military leadership. However, the Norths manpower and resources were much superior to the Souths. The North just had to focus on winning the war as quickly as possible because their supply line became more vulnerable with each passing day.
General Winfield Scott acknowledged he had to take a more ambitious approach in order to suppress the rebellion. His strategy for warfare remained fairly consistent with the pre-Napoleonic conception of war. The Norths strategy was based on General Scotts Anaconda Plan. He planned to conduct a gigantic siege on the southern ports. This would prevent the southerners from getting the resources they needed. A Union naval power would be sent to form a blockade that would prevent the export of cotton and the import of industrial products and war material. By taking control of the Mississippi River would essentially cause the Confederacy to split in half. Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas would be separated from the other Confederate states as a result. The Mississippi River was important as it was the Souths major inland waterway.
President Lincolns thoughts were quite different as he thought in strategic terms, unlike Scotts. He believed the Confederates strength was inferior to that of the Unions. Although Lincoln had very little military experience, he felt strongly that the Union needed to take advantage of their large army. He proposed that the Union armies needed to apply simultaneous pressure against the Confederacy. That they needed to engage the Confederates simultaneously in different directions in order to overwhelm them. He knew the rebels could not afford to defend themselves everywhere. President Lincoln believed if the Union were to apply enough pressure it would cause the rebels defense to rupture. It was hard for him at the time to find someone who could carry out his strategic vision.
General George McClellan sought to wage war with the least possible destructiveness in mind. He thought it was equally possible to gain success by maneuvering rather than fighting. General McClellan was notably a un-Napoleonic strategist and advocated for a limited war strategy. However, he would come to the realization that it would be impossible to conquer the enemy through minimal destruction. During the Civil War, he would deliver a grand scheme of encompassing military, diplomatic, and political strategies.
General Ulysses S. Grant proposed a strategy of annihilation based upon the principle of concentration and mass. His strategy to win the war was purely one of offense. At the time he was well equipped to make this possible. General Grant thought it would be best to suffer heavy losses to achieve a victory rather than to suffer heavy losses for the stalemate in which the eastern armies had floundered for three years. The plan was to focus all the force possible against the opposing armies in the field. He would send his men forward to fight the Confederates armies simultaneously, and at the same time advance his lesser forces. General Grant did not believe the war could be won without the loss of life. The overall human deaths due to the strategy of annihilation were quite massive.
General Lee would initially switch from a defensive to an offensive-defensive strategy. He then opted for an offensive strategy of war. Although an offensive strategy by means of decisive Napoleonic battle would later cause his army to become overwhelmed. President Davis wanted to implement a more purely defensive strategy. He wanted to take advantage of the fact that the Confederacy only needed to stand its ground. President Davis was doubtful that a switch from an offensive-defensive strategy to an offensive strategy would be a wise decision. General Lees decision to a candidly offensive strategy was at best questionable especially since they were limited on both resources and manpower. In order for the strategy to be successful, the campaign would have to change as it could not remain one of maneuver. His design demanded a shift towards a climatic, Napoleonic battle.
Many important leaders played a key role as they each contributed encompassing views which led to the outcome of the war. Each opposing side had a different view on the strategical approaches and tactics that needed to be taken. The North and the South had strong battle strategies. Ultimately the Union was better prepared and equipped for war in comparison to the Confederacy. The southern states took strategical risks that ultimately led to their own downfall1.
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