Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Fence-Sitting Commonwealth



Over the many years that I have been obsessed with the history of the Civil War, I do not know how many times I have glanced at the above image titled "Scott's Great Snake." It ubiquitously appears in almost every picture history. However, until a few days ago, I had never taken time to look at the individual state depictions closely. Naturally, the depiction of Kentucky particularly caught my attention.

This map, which shows a visual representation of General Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan," was produced and printed in 1861 by J. B. Elliott. Scott, still as the U.S. forces overall commander in early 1861, suggested that a blockade of the Southern Gulf and Atlantic coasts, combined with an invasion of the South via the Mississippi River would result in a relatively bloodless and resounding win for the Union and the demise of the Confederacy. 

Many historians have debated the effectiveness of Scott's plan, but most agree that it was carried out, however, in a much altered state than the original design. A blockade was indeed placed on the Confederacy's seaports. The effectiveness of the blockade though, has been the subject of its own series of debates. And, the South was invaded via the river avenues in the Western Theater. But those invasion routes proved to be anything but bloodless. Fights at Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson were some of the fiercest of the war.


Included on this unique map is the state that I like to refer to as the "Heart of Civil War America;" Kentucky. In 1861, Kentucky was attempting to decide which side to take, and had briefly (May-September) claimed armed neutrality. The artist of the map shows the state as literally sitting on the fence during its pursuit of neutrality and its attempt to serve a a mediator to friends in both the North and South. Apparently though, the artist saw the state's attempt as an American Switzerland as preposterous and a bit crazy, as he included the label "Armed 'Nut'rality" within the state's borders.

Kentucky's armed neutrality continued until the pro-Union legislature determined in September that a Confederate force's presence in the state's western section violated that neutrality and thus declared loyalty to the Union.  

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