Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 - May 29, 1866) was a United States Army general, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852.
Known as "Old Fuss and Feathers" and the "Grand Old Man of the Army," he served on active duty as a general longer than any other man in American history, and many historians rate him the best American commander of his time. Over the course of his forty-seven-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and, briefly, the American Civil War, conceiving the Union strategy known as the Anaconda Plan that would be used to defeat the Confederacy. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army for twenty years, longer than any other holder of the office.
A national hero after the Mexican-American War, he served as military governor of Mexico City. Such was his stature that, in 1852, the United States Whig Party passed over its own incumbent President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, to nominate Scott in that year's United States presidential election. At a height of 6'5", he remains the tallest man ever nominated by a major party. Scott lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce in the general election, but remained a popular national figure, receiving a brevet promotion in 1856 to the rank of lieutenant general, becoming the first American since George Washington to hold that rank.
1 Early years,
2 Army captain,
3 War of 1812
3.1 Lieutenant Colonel at Queenston Heights,
3.2 Colonel at Fort George,
3.3 Brigadier General at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane,
3.4 Brevet Major General,
4 Peacetime activities
4.1 After War of 1812,
4.2 Indian Wars and Nullification Crisis,
4.3 Cherokee Removal,
4.4 Aroostook War,
4.5 Commanding General,
5 Mexican-American War
5.1 Command appointments,
5.2 Military campaigns,
5.3 Saint Patrick's Battalion,
5.4 Military governor,
7 Civil War,
9 Scott on U.S. Postage,
10 Dates of Rank,
12 Further reading
12.1 Primary sources,
13 External links,
Winfield Scott was born to William Scott (1747-1789) and Anna Mason (1748-1803) on Laurel Branch, the family plantation in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near Petersburg, Virginia, on June 13, 1786. He briefly attended the College of William and Mary, studied law in the office of a private attorney, and served as a Virginia militia cavalry corporal near Petersburg in 1807.
Scott's long career in the United States Army began when he was commissioned as a captain in the Light Artillery in May 1808, shortly before his 20th birthday.
Scott's early career in the army was tumultuous. Scott openly criticized the then Commanding General of the Army, James Wilkinson. Scott was court-martialed for insubordination in 1810 and had his commission suspended for one year. Afterwards, Captain Scott served in New Orleans on the staff of General Wade Hampton from 1811 to 1812.
War of 1812:
Lieutenant Colonel at Queenston Heights:
The army promoted Scott to lieutenant colonel in July 1812. Scott served primarily on the Niagara Campaign front in the War of 1812. He took command of an American landing party during the Battle of Queenston Heights (Ontario, Canada) on October 13, 1812. Most New York militia members refused to cross into Canada in support of the invasion, and the British compelled New York militia commander Brigadier General William Wadsworth and Scott, the Regular Army commander, to surrender.
The British held Scott as a prisoner of war. The British considered Irish-American prisoners of war British subjects and traitors and executed 13 such Americans captured at Queenstown Heights. The British paroled and released Scott in a prisoner exchange. Upon release, Scott returned to Washington to pressure the Senate to take punitive action against British prisoners of war in retaliation for the British executions of Irish-American soldiers. The Senate wrote a bill after this urging, but President James Madison believed the summary execution of prisoners of war unworthy of civilized nations and so refused to enforce the act.
Colonel at Fort George:
Scott was promoted to colonel in March 1813. Scott planned and led the capture of Fort George, Ontario, on the Niagara River. By crossing the Niagara and landing on the Lake Ontario shore, Scott forced the British to abandon Fort George. Colonel Scott was wounded in this battle, which is considered among the best planned and executed U.S. operations of the war.
Brigadier General at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane:
Scott was promoted to brigadier general on March 19, 1814. He was only 27 years old at the time; one of the youngest generals in the history of the U.S. Army.
General Scott earned the nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on military appearance and discipline in the Army, which consisted mostly of volunteers. In his own campaigns, Scott preferred to use a core of Army regulars whenever possible. Scott perennially concerned himself with the welfare of his men, prompting an early quarrel with General James Wilkinson over an unhealthy bivouac on land Wilkinson owned. During an early outbreak of cholera at a post under his command, Scott, alone among officers, stayed to nurse the stricken enlisted men.
Scott commanded the 1st Brigade, and was instrumental in the decisive American success at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814.
Scott had a major role in the bloody Battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25, and suffered serious wounds. The American commander, Major General Jacob Brown, and the British-Canadian commander, Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, were also wounded.
Brevet Major General:
For his valor at Lundy's Lane, Scott received a brevet (i.e. an honorary promotion) to major general to date from July 25, 1814. However, the severity of his wounds prevented his return to active duty for the remainder of the war.
In 1815 Scott was admitted as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati in recognition of his service in the War of 1812.
After War of 1812:
Brigadier General Winfield Scott supervised the preparation of the first standard drill regulations for the Army and headed a postwar officer retention selection board in 1815. He also served as president of Board of Tactics in 1815.
Scott visited Europe to study French military methods in 1815/1816. He translated several military manuals of Napoleon I of France into English.
Scott held regional command in the Division of the North in 1816. He married Maria D. Mayo (1789-June 10, 1862) in 1817.
Scott served as president of the Board of Tactics in 1821 and 1824.
Scott commanded the Eastern Department in 1825.
Scott again served as president of the Board of Tactics in 1826.
The Army passed over Scott for army command; in 1828, he resigned, but the Army refused his resignation. Scott again visited Europe and then resumed command of the Eastern Department in 1829. Upon direction of the War Department, Scott in 1830 published Abstract of Infantry Tactics, Including Exercises and Manueuvres of Light-Infantry and Riflemen, for the Use of the Militia of the United States for the use of the American militia.
Indian Wars and Nullification Crisis:
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Cholera among his reinforcing troops prevented Scott from taking field command during the Black Hawk War. In late 1832 and early 1833 Scott served as an emissary from President Andrew Jackson to South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis. In late November and early December 1832, Scott organized U.S. Army troops for possible enforcement of Jackson's authority. His tactful diplomacy and the use of his troops in suppressing a major fire in Charleston did much to defuse the crisis.
In 1832, Scott replaced John E. Wool as commander of Federal troops in the Cherokee Nation lands in Georgia.
Scott commanded the field forces in Second Seminole War and Creek War in 1836. Scott was recalled to Washington due to the highly politicized nature of the tactics he employed and the huge expenditures incurred in policing the frontier, compounded by controversies between regular army and local militia officers. Brigadier General Edmund Meredith Shackelford was appointed commander in the area by President Jackson until Brigadier General Thomas Jesup could arrive. A court of inquiry later cleared Scott of wrongdoing in the Seminole and Creek operations.
Scott felt that his recall was a political intrigue. In 1845, Shackelford wrote to Jackson for a clarifying statement that Shackelford had had no part in Scott's recall to Washington.
Scott assumed command of the Eastern Division in 1837. Scott was responsible for maintaining order on the Canadian border, where the Patriot War threatened to entangle the U.S. in the Upper Canada Rebellion.
Presidents Jackson and Van Buren, ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, tacitly supported Georgia's expulsion of the Cherokees. In 1838, Scott was placed in charge of enforcing the Treaty of New Echota, including removal of the Cherokees to the "Indian Territory" (now Oklahoma).
Van Buren put Scott in command of the "Army of the Cherokee Nation", headquartered at Fort Cass and Fort Butler.
Arriving at New Echota, Cherokee Nation, on April 6, 1838, Scott immediately divided the Cherokee Nation into three military districts. He designated May 26, 1838 as the beginning date for the first phase of the removal. The first phase involved the Cherokees in Georgia. Scott wanted Army regulars rather than Georgia militia for this operation, because the militia had personal gains at stake; some claimed Cherokee land. The promised regulars did not arrive in time, so Scott proceeded with 4,000 Georgia militia.
The moral implications of the Jackson-Van Buren policies did not make Scott's role easy. Representative (and ex-President) John Quincy Adams opposed the removal, imputing it to "Southern politicians and land grabbers;" many Americans agreed. Scott reassured the Cherokee people of proper treatment. In his instructions to the militia, Scott called any acts of harshness and cruelty "abhorrent to the generous sympathies of the whole American people." Scott also admonished his troops not to fire on any fugitives they might apprehend unless they should "make stand and resist." Scott detailed help to render the weak and infirm: "Horses or ponies should be used to carry Cherokees too sick or feeble to march." Also, "Infants, superannuated persons, lunatics, and women in a helpless condition with all, in the removal deserve peculiar attention, which the brave and humane will seek to adopt to the necessities of the several cases."
Scott's good intentions, however, did not adequately protect the Cherokees from terrible abuses, especially at the hands of "lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage." At the end of the first phase of the removal in August 1838, 3,000 Cherokees left Georgia and Tennessee by water toward Oklahoma, but camps still retained another 13,000. By the intercession of Chief John Ross in Washington, these Cherokees traveled "under their own auspices, unarmed, and free of supervision by militiamen or regulars."
Though government contractors, steamboat owners, and others who stood to profit protested, Scott carried out this new policy. Ex-President Jackson demanded of the Attorney General the replacement of Scott and the arrest of Chief Ross.
Within months, Scott captured (or killed) every Cherokee in north Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama who could not escape. His troops reportedly rounded up the Cherokee and held them in rat-infested stockades with little food. Private John G. Burnett later wrote, "Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter."
More than four thousand Cherokee died in this confinement before ever beginning the trip west. As the first groups herded west died in huge numbers in the heat, the Cherokee pleaded with Scott to postpone the second phase of the removal until autumn, and he complied. Determined to accompany them as an observer, Scott left Athens, Georgia, on October 1, 1838 and traveled with the first "company" of a thousand people, including both Cherokees and black slaves, as far as Nashville. The Cherokee removal later became known as the Trail of Tears.
When Brigadier General Winfield Scott reached Nashville, superiors abruptly ordered him to return to Washington to deal with troubles on the Canadian border. On this assignment, he helped defuse tensions between officials of the state of Maine and the British colony of New Brunswick in the undeclared and bloodless Aroostook War in March 1839.
In 1840, Scott wrote Infantry Tactics, Or, Rules for the Exercise and Maneuvre of the United States Infantry. This three-volume work served as the standard drill manual for the United States Army until William J. Hardee's Tactics, published in 1855.
On June 25, 1841 the Commanding General of the United States Army, Major General Alexander Macomb, died. As he was the senior ranking officer in the Army, Scott was the obvious choice to succeed Macomb. Scott assumed office as commanding general on July 5, 1841 and was promoted to the rank of major general, then the highest rank in the Army, with the date of rank of June 25, 1841.
As commanding general of the Army, Scott took great interest in the professional development of the cadets of the United States Military Academy.
During the Mexican-American War, Major General Scott was appointed by President James K. Polk to lead an army of Regular army and volunteer units to the Rio Grande for a quick campaign. Tensions between Scott and Polk developed, and Polk gave the command to Zachary Taylor. After Taylor's victory at the Battle of Monterrey much of Taylor's army was transferred to the Gulf coast for a proposed amphibious expedition against central Mexico. Polk wanted to appoint a fellow Democrat to command this expedition, and not a Whig, as if it succeeded the commander would be a strong candidate for President. The two ranking Democratic officers in the army were William O. Butler and Robert Patterson. Butler's capacity as an army commander was unknown, and Patterson was Irish-born, and not eligible to be President. Scott was a Whig, but he had the approval of members of Polk's cabinet and was given the command.
Landing at Veracruz, Scott, assisted by one of his staff officers, Captain Robert E. Lee, and perhaps inspired by William H. Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico, followed the approximate route taken by Hernán Cortés in 1519, and assaulted Mexico City. Scott's opponent in this campaign was Mexican president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna. Despite high heat, rains, and difficult terrain, Scott won the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras/Padierna, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey. He then assaulted the fort of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847, after which the city surrendered.
When the Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo, learned that Scott had succeeded against alarming odds in capturing Mexico City, he proclaimed Scott, "the greatest living general."
Saint Patrick's Battalion:
A group of Irish-American deserters from the U.S. Army joined the Mexican army as the San Patricio (St. Patrick) Battalion. Seventy-two of them were captured at Churubusco.
The San Patricio men were deserters in action, and had traitorously joined the enemy army. There was no question about this, and the punishment for desertion and treason was death. Scott's army was still facing a dangerous enemy and possible insurgency, so he placed the prisoners before courts martial to have them settle it. Eisenhower says the men were tried in two groups. The trials were conducted fairly by Brevet Colonel John Garland and by Colonel Bennet Riley. Because all the men captured were wearing Mexican uniforms, they were found guilty and sentenced to hang.
This created a serious problem for Scott. He was troubled by the sweep of guilty verdicts. He did not want to alienate the Mexican public, who by now had made the deserters national heroes. Nor did he want to encourage insurgency among the Mexican people that would weaken his pacification program in progress. He also knew that the deserters were Irish-born Catholics, who had deserted Taylor's army because they allegedly felt mistreated and had witnessed atrocities "sufficient to make Heaven weep" against fellow Catholics, the Mexicans. Scott believed he needed to confirm the trials and sentences. He concluded that some men deserved less punishment, and sat up nights attempting to find excuses to avoid the universal application of capital punishment. In the end he approved the death penalty for 50 of the 72 San Patricios, but later pardoned five and reduced the sentence of fifteen others, including the ringleader, Sergeant John Riley. This left 30 slated for execution, 16 of whom were hanged on September 10, 1847. Four were hanged the next day, and the remainder assigned to Colonel William Harney for execution at some later date.
On the day of execution, Harney ordered each deserter placed on a mule cart with a rope around his neck, fastening each rope to a mass gibbet. Then, during the battle of Chapultepec, just as the American flag was about to rise above the walls of the Mexican citadel, he ordered the executioners to give the mules a whack, causing the beasts to lurch forward, leaving the deserters in mid-air, dangling "en masse." Some argue that this adversely affected Scott's record, as the events violated numerous Articles of War. Eisenhower, however, attributes the incident to Harney.
During political intrigues later in his life, Scott ignored the events, stating "not one Irishman ... was ever known to turn his back upon the enemy or friend."
As military commander of Mexico City, he was held in high esteem by Mexican civil and American authorities alike, primarily owing to his pacification policy and fairness. For example, when he drew his "martial law order" to be issued and enforced in Mexico (to prevent looting, rape, murder, etc.), all offenders, both Mexicans and Americans, were treated equally.
Apart from his military career, Scott's vanity, as well as his corpulence, led to a catch phrase that was to haunt him for the remainder of his political life. Complaining about the division of command between himself and General Taylor, in a letter to Secretary of War William Marcy, Scott wrote of not wishing to "have a fire in his rear (from Washington) while he met a fire in front of the Mexicans." This offended Marcy and also Polk. In another letter, Scott wrote that a letter from Marcy arrived as "at about 6 pm as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup" . The Polk administration, eager to embarrass Scott, promptly published the letter, and the cryptic phrase appeared in political cartoons and comic songs for the rest of his life.
Another example of Scott's vanity was his reaction to losing at chess to a young New Orleans lad named Paul Morphy in 1846. Scott did not take his defeat by the eight-year-old prodigy gracefully.
Scott was a charter member of the Aztec Club of 1847, an organization of American officers who served in the Mexican War.
See also: U.S. presidential election, 1852 and Anaconda Plan
Scott had been a possible Whig Party presidential candidate in 1840 and 1848, but was passed over for other popular generals: William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.
In the 1852 presidential election, the Whig Party declined to nominate the incumbent President, Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Taylor. Seeking to repeat their previous successes with war heroes, the Whigs nominated Scott instead, who faced Democrat Franklin Pierce. However, the nomination process foreshadowed the general election:
More grievously rent by sectional rivalries than the Democrats, the Whigs balloted fifty-three times before nominating Scott. The delegates then unanimously approved the platform except for the central plank that pledged "acquiescence" in the Compromise of 1850, "the act known as the Fugitive Slave law included." The plank carried by a vote of 212 to 70, opposition coming largely from Scott's supporters. The old soldier, faced with disarray in the Whig ranks, sought out to resolve his dilemma by announcing, "I accept the nomination with the resolutions annexed." To this, antislavery Whigs rejoined, "We accept the candidate, but we spit on the platform."
Scott's anti-slavery reputation undermined his support in the South, while the Party's pro-slavery platform depressed turnout in the North, and Scott's opponent was a Mexican-American War veteran as well. Pierce was elected in an overwhelming win, leaving Scott with the electoral votes of only Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Despite his defeat in the election, Scott was still a popular national hero. In 1855, by a special act of Congress, Scott was given a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, making him only the second person in U.S. military history, after George Washington, to hold that rank.
In 1859, Scott traveled to the Pacific Northwest to settle a dispute with the British over San Juan Island, which had escalated to the so-called Pig War. The old general established a good rapport with the British, and brought about a peaceful resolution.
When the American Civil War began in the spring of 1861, Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout, rheumatism, and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight and unable to mount a horse or review troops.
As Scott could not lead an army into battle, he offered the command of the Federal army to Colonel Robert E. Lee on April 17, 1861 (Scott referred to Lee as "the very finest soldier I've ever seen"). However, Virginia left the Union on that same day. Lee, though disapproving of secession, was hesitant at the possibility of taking up arms against his home state and asked if he could keep out of the war. Scott replied "I have no place in my army for equivocal men." Lee then resigned and went south to join the Confederacy
Although Scott was born and raised in Virginia, he remained loyal to the nation that he had served for most of his life and refused to resign his commission.
The command of the Federal troops at Washington was given to Brigadier General Irwin McDowell.
At this time, public opinion throughout the North called for an immediate campaign to crush the rebellion quickly. Scott considered this wrong-headed and probably impossible. Instead, he drew up a plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and sending an army down the Mississippi Valley. Scott's scheme was derided as the "Anaconda Plan", intended to crush the Confederacy slowly; eventually the actual Union victory followed its broad outlines.
But in July 1861, the pressure to march "Forward to Richmond" was overwhelming. Lincoln set aside Scott's plan and directed McDowell to attack in Virginia.
When Lincoln received news that the Union Army had been defeated at Manassas on July 21, 1861 he went to Scott's residence. Scott assumed responsibility for the Union defeat. General George McClellan took command of the army at Washington (now the Army of the Potomac).
Scott's physical infirmities cast doubt on his fitness for command; his weight had ballooned to over 300 lbs, In a play on his old nickname, he was called "Old Fat and Feeble."
He also ran into conflict with President Lincoln and others who wanted to organize the army into divisions. Scott argued that in the Mexican War, no commands larger than brigades had been needed, and that none were needed now, even though the Army of the Potomac was more than triple the size of Scott's army in Mexico. McClellan, the ambitious new field commander, wanted Scott out, and had many influential political friends. Scott resigned on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief. Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war.
General Scott lived to see the Union victory in the Civil War in April 1865. Shortly after the war's end, he joined the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), an organization of Union officers who had served in the Civil War. Scott received MOLLUS insignia number 27.
He died at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery.
Scott served under every President from Jefferson to Lincoln, a total of fourteen administrations. Scott served a total of 53 years of active service as an officer - including 47 years as a general. Scott is one of a very few American officers who have served as a general in three major wars. (The others are Douglas MacArthur and Lewis B. Hershey.) Historians rank Scott highly both as a strategist and as a battlefield commander.
Scott's papers can be found at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Scott County in the state of Iowa is named in Winfield Scott's honor, as he was the presiding officer at the signing of the peace treaty ending the Black Hawk War; Scott County, Kansas, Scott County, VirginiaScott County, Minnesota, Scott County, Iowa, Scott County, Tennessee, Winfield, Illinois, Winfield, Indiana, Winfield, Alabama, were also named for him. Fort Scott, Kansas, a former Army outpost, was also named for him, and the towns of Scott Depot and Winfield in West Virginia. Scott Township in Mahaska County, Iowa, was formerly called Jackson before residents formally petitioned to change the township's name in light of their strong support of Scott in the 1852 presidential campaign. In addition, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, and the town of Churubusco, Indiana, were named for battles where Scott led his troops to victory. Lake Winfield Scott, near Suches, is one of Georgia's highest elevation lakes. Mount Scott (Oklahoma) was named after Winfield Scott by Captain Randolph B. Marcy in 1851.
In 1882, the fort now known as Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio was given the name "Fort Winfield Scott" by U.S. Army Headquarters. That fort officially retained the name until 1886, when the fort was downgraded to a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco. The name was then used once again for the new coast artillery post established in 1912 in the Presidio. A paddle steamer named the Winfield Scott launched in 1850 and the US Army tugboat currently in service is named Winfield Scott.
The General Winfield Scott House, his home in New York City during 1853-1855, was named National Historic Landmark in 1973. The saying "Great Scott!" may have originated from a soldier under Winfield Scott. The Scott's Oriole was named for him by Darius N. Couch, a major general. It had turned out that the species was described several years earlier by naturalist Charles Bonaparte, but Scott's name was retained in the common name anyway.
A small Illinois town, Winfield, was named after the hero.
Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, Confederate General Winfield Scott Featherston and Admiral Winfield Scott Schley were named after General Scott.
The actor Stuart Randall played Scott in the 1960 episode "The Quota" of NBC's Riverboat western television series.
Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a descendant of Winfield Scott.
Scott on U.S. Postage:
General Winfield Scott is one of very few US Army Generals to be honored on a US Postage stamp. He was the first General to appear on a postage stamp after Washington, who was portrayed as a general on an issue of 1861. The first Winfield Scott stamp issue was released to the public in 1870, four years after the General's death at West Point. The engraving depicts Scott in classic profile with an arc of 13 stars overhead and allegorical military weaponry at the bottom of the design. Because of the higher denomination of 24-cents, which was a considerable sum for a postage stamp in 1870, the stamp only had a printing of a little more than one million. Consequently surviving examples of this stamp are very scarce and quite valuable today. General Scott was honored again on the Army issue of 1937, one in a series of five commemorative stamps honoring notable Army heroes where Scott is depicted along with Andrew Jackson on the 2-cent stamp of this series. The Army and the Navy issues were very popular when released, had a much larger printing and examples of this issue are still somewhat common today.
Dates of Rank:
Captain, Light Artillery - May 3, 1808,
Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd Artillery - July 6, 1812,
Colonel, 2nd Artillery - March 12, 1813,
Colonel, Adjutant General - March 18 to July 18, 1813,
Brigadier General - March 9, 1814,
Brevet Major General - July 25, 1814,
Major General - June 25, 1841,
Brevet Lieutenant General - March 29, 1847,
Retired - November 1, 1861
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license