Once the shots were fired at Fort Sumter and the Civil War began, both sides of the conflict developed a grand strategy that, in their minds, would achieve their ultimate goals – independence for the Confederacy, reunion for the Union. Both sides felt that the war would be short – in fact, Abraham Lincoln initially asked recruits to sign up for only 90 days.
The Northern military strategy was developed by the commanding general at the start of the war, General Winfield Scott. This veteran of the Mexican War (and War of 1812, believe it or not, created a plan to suffocate the South. He likened it to a boa constrictor while other derisively called in the Anaconda Plan. Scott formed “an initial plan which consisted of three steps: 1) the blockade of the Southern seaports; 2) the control of the Mississippi River; and 3) the capture of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. The first step, the blockade of the Southern seaports, was intended to prevent the South from exporting its primary crop, cotton, to Europe in exchange for supplies and weapons to support their war effort. The second step, the control of the Mississippi River, was an attempt to split the Confederacy in half by isolating the western states of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas from the eastern section of the Confederacy, preventing them from providing troops to aid Richmond. Finally, the third element of the plan was to ultimately capture Richmond and, essentially cut the head off the serpent.” (The Development of Union Strategy by Jerry Staub)
As for a political strategy, President Lincoln and his administration had multiple goals in order to succeed in the conflict. They knew they had to keep the Border Sates in the Union. This challenging task would be made even more difficult when the Confederacy pushed to get support from Kentucky and Missouri and when Lincoln limited the rights of much of his opposition in Maryland. Lincoln also wanted to stress the fact (in his perspective) that the Confederate states were not a separate country, but rather states in rebellion illegally seceding from the Union. (One reason why war was not declared is such a declaration would give the Confederacy the status of an enemy nation). Finally, Lincoln was steadfast in his push to keep foreign countries, specifically Britain and France, from recognizing and supporting the Confederacy.
Then Confederate strategy was much different, due to the size, strength, and ultimate aim of the southern states. While many Southerners pushed the Confederate leadership for an offensive war, the leadership realized a defensive war was the best possible approach to the war. “The basic war aim of the Confederacy, like that of the United States in the Revolution, was to defend a new nation from conquest. Confederates looked for inspiration to the heroes of 1776, who had triumphed over greater odds than southerners faced in 1861. The South could “win” the war by not losing; the North could win only by winning. The large territory of the Confederacy–750,000 square miles, as large as Russia west of Moscow, twice the size of the thirteen original United States–would make Lincoln’s task as difficult as Napoleon’s in 1812 or George III’s in 1776. (Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson)
“The Confederates eventually synthesized [combined] these various strands of strategic theory [ideas] and political reality into what Jefferson Davis called an “offensive-defensive” strategy. This consisted of defending the Confederate homeland by using interior lines of communication . . . to concentrate dispersed forces against an invading army and, if opportunity offered, to go over to the offensive, even to the extent of invading the North. . . . [I]t emerged from a series of major campaigns in the Virginia-Maryland and Tennessee-Kentucky area of warfare during 1862, and culminated at Gettysburg in 1863.”
The Confederacy also hoped to gain foreign support through economic means by limiting the amount of cotton in overseas markets. While not a total ban on trade, this plan of “Cotton Diplomacy” intended to hurt the textile industry of European countries, forcing their governments to recognize and come to the aid of the Confederacy, possibly by ignoring or breaking the blockade.