Southern Coastal Life and the Effects of the Anaconda Plan

Over 3,000 miles of coast makes  up the Southern seafront. From Virginia on the east coast down to Texas along the gulf, the southern shoreline is truly a magnificent stretch of beach that has helped to sustain the populations that have made the region their home, wither in the 19th century or the 21st. During the American Civil War this coast played a vital role in the Norths military strategy of strangling the South by means of the Anaconda Plan[1]. By cutting off the coast, the northern navy effectively stopped or severely hampered Confederate  naval operations throughout the South, along with cutting trade to the outside world further weakening the Confederacy as a new nation. But besides the grande scale of the blockade and its military importance to the Northern leadership, I ask what effect did it have on the civilians living along the blockaded or occupied southern coast.

To have a better in-depth look into this topic,  the broad picture must be refined to a specific area. Early on in the Civil War the city of New Orleans was taken and occupied after May 1, 1862 by Union forces starting their trek up the mighty Mississippi.[2] Southern Louisiana became a battleground and civilians living in that region quickly felt the pains of a disrupted life.  New Orleans at the wars beginning was alive with military parades and cheering crowds but soon after its occupation the population was under new military authority. The civilians both poor and wealthy then faced life under a conquering force, that to many of New Orleans residents had come down to Dixie for one purpose, to destroy their southern way of life.  For New Orleans its time in Dixie had ended and was  governed by a man they called the devil or in most cases “the Beast” for his mistreatment of southerners in the city. Major General Benjamin Butler became the commander of Union forces in the city, and during the time he was in command of the city he had William Munford, a local citizen executed for cutting down a U.S. flag before the cities capture. This was on the drastic end of what southern citizens could have experienced.[3]

Heavy handed laws and oppressive authority may have been the norm for occupied New Orleans but the region around it felt the sting of invasion and blockade differently. the blockade created shortages of food and supplies that crippled coastal populations. Even the food staples of the poor south, ham and corn  became harder to find and starvation spread as the Confederacy slowly rolled back against a tide of blue. This happens to be the time period when chicory coffee became a substitute for the real thing in the deep south. And lets say it has an acquired taste.

In short the Anaconda Plan blockaded all trade and supplies to the Confederate coast. The people living along the shore found themselves locked away from the sea, a vital source of food from fishing and from the wealth of commerce. Still it was the poorer side of society that was hardest hit. New Orleans had to endure a tyrannical general and bad coffee, but around the seashore others starved.

[1. Masur, Louis P. The Civil War: A Concise History. Oxford University Press. 2011p. 26]

[2. Foote, Shelby The Civil War: A Narrative Fort Sumter to Perryville vol. 1. Vintage Books A Division of Random House, New York. 1986. p.354]

[3. Hills, Albert Gaius. Edited by Gary L. Dyson. 2013. A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal. Published by McFarland and Company, Inc.]

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13 thoughts on “Southern Coastal Life and the Effects of the Anaconda Plan

  1. jacobaloweryuca says:

    The taking of New Orleans was an incredibly important strategic move by the Union. With it’s access to the Mississippi and its position of being such a vital port city for supplies and resource distribution, it was crucial that the Union cut off those ties for the Confederacy. Was the Anaconda plan as successful as Scott had intended it, or was his military strategy entirely too outdated to cater to the immediacy desired by Lincoln and Union soldiers? This was a nice and interesting post!

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    • gkamarunas1 says:

      I think the Anaconda plan was successful. A key part of occupying the coast is not only cutting off trade ect. but making the citizens lives hell. By doing this you push the opposition to desperation. The same happen in world war two. When we dropped two nuclear war heads on Japanese cities it forced their government to surrender due to massive civilian deaths. I can see the Anaconda plan as earlier attempt at this tactic but not as drastic.

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  2. I think you ask a great question. It is always more compelling to understand how decisions made by those in power affect the daily lived experience of those forced to deal with the consequences. The last point you make concerning different ways the blockade affected the poor versus the rich is interesting. I would be curious–maybe in future posts–to see how various classes coped with the restrictions. Maybe even consider if there were any discrepancies between genders or even free/slave status.

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  3. moonsierra says:

    You provided an interesting look into the lives of coastal people once the blockade was put in place. In class we have been discussing the Anaconda Plan, and how the ground forces and the naval forces really couldn’t seem to align with each other. I wonder, if Grant or Sherman had been in charge from the beginning, if this plan would have even come up, and if it would have been implemented. I think it was a smart plan to slowly drain the life out of the Confederacy by stopping up their ports and cutting off contact via the Mississippi River. If the land forces could have matched with the naval forces, I wonder how much sooner the Civil War would have ended. The South did run out of food for its soldiers and inhabitants eventually, so part of this plan was effective. I am not familiar with much military strategy, so this was a very interesting read.

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  4. dberry20 says:

    We have talked about the Anaconda Plan some in class, but not as detailed as in your post. I definitely learned some new things. I know that when they blockaded the ports off that the South couldn’t export cotton and other goods to foreign countries which had to cripple their economic situation. I had no idea the effects it would have on the civilians in these areas though. The fact that they were starving is something I never thought about. Being cut off from their water source took away many sources of food. This was another form of a victory for the Union, whether they knew it or not.

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  5. mpthomas10 says:

    The Anaconda Plan was a brilliant strategy, on paper, but the Union army did not have the proper resources, nor the proper military leadership to be able to pull this type of plan off to it’s fullest. The plan did work to an extent, and, as was mentioned in an earlier comment, it would have gone much better had the naval and land forces been able to work together. This plan, had it been fully implemented, would have crippled much of the Confederacy and would have been the cause of a, potentially, much shorter war.

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  6. jmccloud1993 says:

    With the North establishing a naval blockade in the South and advancing up the Mississippi, taking control of many cities, the amount of supplies in those areas began to diminish. The Mississippi River was a crucial landmark that the South was unable to keep under their control. Without it, the South would suffer from a massive loss of supplies. In your post, you talk about the new authority in the city of New Orleans and the impact that it had on the civilians living there and other surrounding areas. One question I have is how do you think the South would have done if the North was unable to control the Mississippi River and the blockade of the Southern states? This river controls the supply route to many Southern states. Imagine if all of those resources were able to make it to the Confederates. The war might have had a different result. If not different results, it definitely would have lasted a lot longer than it did. Another question I would like to ask is if there were any cities that revolted against Union authority. Please let me know. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your post because it relates to what we have been discussing in class.
    https://history.state.gov/milestones/1861-1865/blockade

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  7. chris72493 says:

    The Anaconda plan was a complete success in my opinion. Like it was intended, it cut off the South from supplies it desperately needed, and made life miserable for everyone living down here. Unfortunately for the Union, they weren’t able to keep it up, but just imagine if they had been able to. The war might have ended a lot sooner.

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  8. megans24 says:

    I think the Anaconda Plan was a good idea at the time but your post has brought up many questions about how it really affected the people who lived on the coast. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten when the Anaconda Plan took place or that New Orleans was under a military dictatorship after being captured by the union. The fact that it was so bad that the citizens living there named a Union commander as “the Devil” is a little scary to imagine. Question though: besides having Munford killed what other acts did he do that was so bad he got the name “the devil”. That seems really harsh especially with it being the south and a lot of southerners at this time were in some form of religious faith.

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  9. jarredhf says:

    The Anaconda Plan, while successful, shows us the horrendous long-term effects of war. Blockades by their very nature are intended to enact great damage not only on the economic and military capabilities of a foe, but to sap the will of the citizenry as well. Blockades are in their very essence the same in many ways it mirrors land sieges. Both attempt to cut off essential food and supplies, which in turn lead to morale dropping and eventual surrender. Although blockades aren’t quite as disastrous to the local populace as being completely surrounded on all sides by a besieging army, they do inflict a lot of devastation. Because coastal cities generally rely heavily on either maritime trade or fishing, these blockades slowly but surely cripple a local citizens way of life.

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  10. Terra Lain Votaw says:

    Thanks for this post and for more information on the Anaconda plan. I wouldn’t call it a complete success, but the fact that it did have its desired effect, lowering resource supplies in the South, shows promise. I had never heard of the Anaconda plan before our lecture in class, and I was confused about how well it could have worked. It was interesting to see how effective it was at creating a blockade and draining the resources in cities. I very much agree with mpthomas10, good idea that could have been greater, given the proper resources and leadership.

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  11. bgoodin1 says:

    This post was so interesting! I really like this because I did my post over the “Brown water Navy” of the Union and the Ironclads. I touch slightly on how important New Orleans was for the Union to take. It was by far the South’s biggest port at the time. The Mississippi was important factor of the war, and the battles on the west side of the Civil War are sometimes so over look. Thank you for your post!

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  12. jamesgerdes says:

    We always look at the effects the blockade had on the Confederate military and economy but I’m glad you looked into how it affected the civilians and people of New Orleans. It’s interesting to see how the Union general taking over the city treated the Southerners and how their lives were changed by the blockading of the port. I think it’s an important part of the war that is largely overshadowed by the grand campaigns of Lee’s and McClellan/Grants armies in the North.

    It’s important to remember the impact it had on people and how individuals viewed the war as well as how it affected them.

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