On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed his intention to blockade the rebellious Southern states. Of the 90 warships on the U.S. Navy rolls, however, only 42 were in commission and most of those on foreign stations. The remainder had the task of patrolling 3,500 miles of coastline to enforce Lincoln's ban on trade with the Confederacy until the Navy obtained more ships. Blockading was initially considered the Navy's fundamental wartime role. In what the press dubbed the Anaconda Plan, U.S. Army General-in-Chief Winfield Scott envisioned the Navy and Army acting in unison, strangling the Confederacy by exerting pressure from many points. The Navy would serve as the anaconda's muscular coils to constrict the South's trade. The service, however, would do much more. The ability of its ships to move along coastlines and up rivers, battle their way past formidable enemy defenses, and land and protect troops gave the Navy the strike of a venomous snake.
More Than Just Blockade Duty
The Union Navy's West Gulf Blockading Squadron did more than merely maintain "a vigorous blockade at every point." In helping subdue Confederate forts, close down Rebel ports, and secure the Mississippi River, the squadron proved itself a potent offensive weapon.
By Robert M. Browning Jr.