Within weeks after being sworn in as President, Abraham Lincoln and aging war hero and current General-in-Chief Winfield Scott had envisioned a blockade of all southern ports and points west, to be followed by an advance down the Mississippi River to cut the Confederacy in two. Opponents widely derided the plan as overly passive—they mockingly named it the “Anaconda” plan after the large constrictor snake. At the onset of the war the plan was also impractical, given the lack of Union naval vessels needed to enforce it. Ultimately, it would mirror the eventual means by which the North won the war.
Before the plan could be implemented, the first battle caused shock waves in the capital. On July 21, 1861, the first Battle of Bull Run (sometimes called the Battle of Manassas) was fought between Union and Confederate forces merely 25 miles from Washington, D.C. Incredible though it seems today, hundreds of carriages carrying picnickers streamed out from the city to observe what both sides expected to be a quick and decisive end to a short-lived war. After initial gains by Union forces under General Irvin McDowell, Confederate forces led by General P.G.T. Beauregard and reinforced by General Joseph Johnston counterattacked, stimulating a panicked retreat of McDowell’s forces back to Washington. Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson famously stood his ground, forever earning his sobriquet, Stonewall Jackson.
With Union forces in disarray and proximity to the capital a grave concern, Lincoln was understandably apprehensive. But Confederate forces were also shocked by the brutality and casualties of battle and could not further attack the city. Both sides realized it would be a long and drawn-out war.
[Adapted from my book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America]
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.