'Scott's Great Snake': a Plan to Strangle the Confederacy

It might have snuffed out Secession with minimal loss of life; but Lincoln chose both the blockade and an invasion

“We propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the Ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points (…) the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.”


- from a letter from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to major-general George B. McClellan, dated May 3rd, 1861

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865 and cost over 600,000 lives. If US Army (i.e. northern) General-in-Chief Winfield Scott (1786-1866) had had its way, the number of casualties would have been a lot lower. At the beginning of the war, he devised a plan that would have ended the secession of the southern states with minimal loss of life.

This plan involved strangling the Southern economy by a twofold blockade: an economic blockade of Southern seaports, preventing the export of cash crops such as tobacco and cotton and the import of arms; and taking control of the Mississippi River, thus dividing the main part of the Confederated States of America from its westernmost parts on the right bank of the river.

After a popular newspaper cartoon (pictured here), Scott’s scheme was called 'Scott's Great Snake', or the ‘Anaconda Plan’, after the giant snake that throttles its victims. Incidentally, the name is borne by four types of South American snake, which makes the etymology even more paradoxical. For the consensus is that the name originates in faraway Sri Lanka, but it’s doubted whether it is Sinhalese (‘Thunder Snake’) or Tamil (‘Elephant Killer’) in origin.

Scott’s plan was not well received; the public mood called for a large-scale invasion. President Lincoln didn’t choose: he implemented the blockade as proposed by Scott, and the large-scale invasion. A total of two million Union soldiers repeatedly tried to capture Richmond, the confederate capital in Virginia, contributing to the eventual heavy toll in lives.

Winfield Scott was also known as ‘Old Fuss and Feathers’ and the ‘Grand Old Man of the Army’. Here are Ten fun facts on this interesting warhorse:

1. He was an active-duty general for over 47 years, longer than any other person in American history, serving under 14 presidents from Jefferson to Lincoln and commanding soldiers in 5 wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War and the American Civil War.

2. During the Mexican-American War, Scott commanded the southern army, landing at Veracruz and (on purpose) following the same route to Mexico City as Hernan Cortez in 1519.

3. Fat and vain, Scott was haunted by a quote from a letter from Mexico to the Secretary of War that was published to sabotage his reputation. “At about 6 PM as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup” became a catch phrase that appeared in cartoons and folk songs for the rest of his life.

4. After the Mexican War, he served as military governor of Mexico City. He was nominated for US president by the Whig Party in 1852, but lost to Franklin Pierce. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1856, the first American to hold that post since George Washington.

5. During the war of 1812, he urged that British POWs be executed as retaliation for the Brits’ executing 13 Irish-American POWs that they considered their own subjects, and therefore traitors. President James Madison refused.

6. He earned his nickname ‘Old Fuss and Feathers’ for his insistence on discipline and decorum in the US Army, at that time mostly a volunteer force.

7. In 1839, he helped defuse the territorial dispute between Maine (US) and New Brunswick (Britain), which caused the so-called ‘Bloodless Aroostook War’. In 1859, he travelled to the Northwest to settle another faux conflict with the British over San Juan Island, the so-called ‘Pig War’.

8. Scott translated several Napoleonic manuals into English, including Infantry Tactics, which was the standard drill manual for the US Army from 1840 to 1855.

9. The phrase ‘Great Scott!’ – an interjection akin to present-day favourite ‘Oh my God!’ – may refer to him, as in his later years, he weighed 137 kg.

10. Winfield Scott is not to be confused with Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886), who also served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, also was a Union general during the Civil War, and also ran unsuccessfully for president afterwards (defeated by Republican James Garfield in 1880). ‘Hancock the Superb’ was in fact named after the other Winfield Scott, by then already famous as a hero of the War of 1812. And the latter was the commander of the former during the Mexican War. Another Winfield Scott is the songwriter who wrote the song ‘Return to Sender’ for the eponymous Elvis Presley movie.

This 1861 cartoon found here on Wikipedia.

Strange Maps #139

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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