During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln experienced difficulty finding a general who could execute his strategic vision. Lincoln believed that the best course of action for the North was to render the Southern Army incapable of fighting. Unlike many wars, the Civil War was not about gaining territory. Instead, he wanted to cut off enemy resources, forcing them to end their rebellion. Four men would serve as Commanding General of the entire Union Army during the Civil War.

Winfield Scott

General Winfield Scott commanded U.S. forces at the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861. Scott devised a long-term strategy to defeat the rebellious Southern states. The objective was to blockade Confederate ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Next, the Navy would take control of the entire Mississippi River. The idea was to surround the South. Scott’s belief was that supplies would eventually run out, forcing the rebels to surrender. Northern critics derided the strategy. They likened the idea to an Anaconda slowly squeezing its prey to death. President Lincoln supported the Anaconda Plan, as the Northern press called it. Scott, who at the time was 75 years of age, reacted poorly to the mounting pressure from critics. Lincoln relieved the general on November 1, 1861.

George McClellan

George B. McClellan hailed from a prominent Philadelphia family. He received an elite education first at the University of Pennsylvania, then at the Military Academy. Taking over as commanding general on November 1, 1861, McClellan had difficulty comprehending the value of the Anaconda strategy. Lincoln found the general to be a bit insubordinate. After a series of confrontations, Lincoln demoted McClellan on March 11, 1862. A Democrat, McClellan would provide the Republican Lincoln a serious challenge for the Presidency in 1864.

Henry Halleck

Henry Halleck took command of the American Army on July 11, 1862. Though leading the troops for a longer period than any of the other generals, Halleck’s tenure proved unremarkable. He directed the army largely from an office in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Lincoln continued searching for a true leader. On March 12, 1864, Lincoln informed Halleck that another man had assumed command of the army three days earlier.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant accepted command on March 9, 1864. Grant agreed with Lincoln about the effectiveness of the Anaconda Plan and possessed the ability to implement it. His leadership coincided with the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. On June 22, 1864, Union troops defeated Southerners in the Battle of Atlanta. The subsequent Union Army march through Georgia signaled the impending Confederate surrender that occurred on April 18, 1865.