Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The US Navy's Role in the Western Theater of the Civil War

The riverine warfare fought during the Civil War was very important to the success of the Anaconda Plan. American rivers, particularly the Cumberland, the Tennessee and most importantly the Mississippi reached like fingers, deep into southern territory. The river boats, and ironclads of the Federal forces allowed the Federals to extend their lines down these fingers cutting off major lines of communication in the South, not only on the waterways, but also on the railroads as the ground forces worked in coordination with these efforts. Since there was no Confederate Naval force on the rivers to speak of, this gave the Federal Navy a great advantage.

The early joint operations like Fort Henry and Fort Donelson set the stage for what would come later, and taught commanders like U.S. Grant and W. T. Sherman the importance and advantages of joint Naval and Army operations. The most important example of this joint operations offense was along the Mississippi River as called for in Winfield Scott’s plan. With the capture of New Orleans at the mouth of the river, the only major Confederate strong points left were Vicksburg and Port Hudson. When joint riverine operations secured these crucial points, one of the key components of the Anaconda plan was completed. With the fall of Vicksburg and shortly thereafter Port Hudson, the Confederacy would now be cut off from the West, and the Federal forces were free to strike inward from any point along the Mississippi they desired.