What were the Union's strategic objectives during the Civil War?

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The Union’s overall strategic goal in the Civil War was to force the South to surrender, thereby restoring the Union. There were a number of lower-level strategic goals that the Union needed to accomplish in order to achieve this overall goal.  Some of them included:

  • Blockade Southern ports. The Union needed to do this so that the South could not receive supplies from Europe.  If the South received supplies, it would be able to continue fighting for longer and could do so more effectively.
  • Taking control of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi cut the Confederacy in two and was a major means of transportation for the CSA. If the Union could control the entire river, it would prevent the western part of the CSA from helping the East and it would reduce the South’s ability to move men and materiel around.
  • Prevent European countries from siding with the CSA.  In particular, the US needed to keep Britain and France from aiding the CSA and it needed to keep them from even recognizing the CSA as an independent state. European aid would have extended the war tremendously and might have defeated the Union.  Even mere recognition of the CSA would have hurt the US’s efforts internationally because the war would no longer be seen as an internal affair.
  • Attrition.  Eventually, the Union developed a strategy of simply wearing the Confederacy down.  It used its numerical advantages in personnel and materiel to wear down the South. In this strategy, any battle where equal numbers of Northern and Southern soldiers were killed was a Union victory because the Union could afford much more in the way of losses.
  • Total war.  By the end of the war, the Union was using a strategy of destroying everything that could help the CSA.  The most famous example of this is Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” in which he destroyed crops and other supplies that could help the Confederate army, even when those supplies were still in civilian hands.
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