Winfield Scott

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Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott by Fredricks, 1862.jpg
3rd Commanding General of the United States Army
In office
July 5, 1841 – November 1, 1861
PresidentJohn Tyler
James K. Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Preceded byAlexander Macomb
Succeeded byGeorge B. McClellan
Personal details
Born(1786-06-13)June 13, 1786
Dinwiddie County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedMay 29, 1866(1866-05-29) (aged 79)
West Point, New York, U.S.
Resting placeWest Point Cemetery
Political partyWhig
EducationCollege of William and Mary
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal (2)
Military service
Nickname(s)"Old Fuss and Feathers"
"The Grand Old Man of the Army"
Allegiance United States
Service/branchVirginia Militia
United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1807–1808 (Militia)
1808–1861 (U.S. Army)
1861 (Union Army)
RankUnion army lt gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Lieutenant general
Commands1st Brigade, Left Division, Army of the North
Division of the North
Eastern Department
Eastern Division
Army of the Cherokee Nation
Commanding General of the United States Army
Army of Mexico
Battles/warsWar of 1812
 • Battle of Queenston Heights
 • Battle of Fort George
 • Capture of Fort Erie
 • Battle of Chippawa
 • Battle of Lundy's Lane
Seminole Wars
Black Hawk War
Mexican-American War
 • Siege of Veracruz
 • Battle of Cerro Gordo
 • Battle of Contreras
 • Battle of Churubusco
 • Battle of Molino del Rey
 • Battle of Chapultepec
 • Battle for Mexico City
American Civil War

Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866) served as a general in the U.S. Army longer than any other person in American history. He is rated as one of the Army's most senior commissioned officers, and is ranked by many historians as the best American commander of his time. Scott was also a candidate for the Whig Party presidential nomination three times; selected in 1852, he lost the general election to Franklin Pierce.

Over the course of his 53-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican–American War, and the Second Seminole War. He was the army's senior officer at the start of the American Civil War, and conceived the Union strategy known as the Anaconda Plan, which was 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.

Scott was born and educated in Virginia; after brief attendance at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and study in a law office, he attained admission to the bar. Scott practiced law briefly, and served in the Virginia Militia during the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair of 1807. In 1808, Scott was commissioned as a captain in the Light Artillery of the United States Army. He rose to prominence during the War of 1812, and attained promotion to brigadier general. Scott remained in the Army after the war, served in several command positions, and carried out high level staff tasks, including frequent updates to the Army's field regulations. After missing out on appointment as the Army's commanding general in 1828, he received it in 1841; he served in this post until his retirement in 1861, shortly after the start of the American Civil War.

Known as "Old Fuss and Feathers" and the "Grand Old Man of the Army", Scott was a national hero after the Mexican–American War, where he led one of the two invading armies; he later served as occupying military governor of Mexico City. His stature was so high that in 1852, the Whig Party passed over its own incumbent President, Millard Fillmore to nominate Scott as their candidate in that year's presidential election. Scott lost to Democratic Party nominee Franklin Pierce in the general election, but remained a popular national figure, receiving a brevet promotion to lieutenant general in 1855, becoming the first American since George Washington to hold that higher rank.[1][2]

At the start of the Civil War, Scott took steps to defend the national capital city of Washington, D.C. and ensure the successful inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president in March 1861. Though too old and infirm to take the field, Scott served as Lincoln's principal military adviser at the start of the war, and conceived of the Anaconda Plan; though dismissed by critics who regarded the plan's extended and prolonged blockade of southern ports as too passive, Scott's idea was incorporated into the overall Union strategy which brought about the eventual defeat of the Confederacy.

During his years as commanding general, Scott took great interest in the development of the United States Military Academy. Following friction with Federal senior field commander of the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan, Scott retired to West Point, New York. He died at West Point on May 29, 1866 and was buried at West Point Cemetery.

Early years[edit]

In addition to Scott using this coat of arms for his bookplate,[3] the Army has incorporated it into unit heraldry including the 1st and 7th Engineer Battalions.[4]

Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, to William Scott (1747–1791), a farmer and veteran of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), who served as an officer in the Dinwiddie County militia, and Ann Mason (1748–1803).[5] At the time, the Scott family resided at Laurel Branch, the family plantation near Petersburg.[6] Ann Mason Scott was the daughter of Daniel Mason and Elizabeth Winfield, and it was Ann's mother's maiden name that William and Ann Scott selected for their son.[7] He was educated by tutors and in the local schools; his father died when Scott was six, and his mother when Scott was seventeen. In 1805, Scott began attendance at the College of William and Mary, but he soon left in order to study law in the office of attorney David Robinson, where his contemporaries included Thomas Ruffin.[8] By 1807, Scott had attained admission to the bar, and he made a brief attempt to practice law.[9] He also gained his initial military experience as a corporal of cavalry in the Virginia militia near Petersburg in 1807, during the response to the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair.[10] (According to biographer John Eisenhower's account, Scott served with the militia without having been officially mustered in.)[11] While serving near Lynn Haven Bay, Scott led a detachment that captured two midshipmen and six sailors from the British fleet, who had attempted to land and purchase provisions.[10] Virginia authorities did not approve of this action, fearing it might spark a wider conflict; they soon ordered the release of the prisoners, who rejoined the crew of their ship.[10]

In October 1807, Scott traveled to South Carolina, intending to establish a law practice.[12] He soon discovered that South Carolina required a one-year residence before granting law licenses,[12] and requested a waiver of the residence period from the state legislature, which was denied.[12] He briefly resided in Charleston, where he intended to practice without appearing in court until he had established residence.[13] Abandoning this idea, he briefly practiced again in Petersburg, but the continued threat of war with Britain coupled with his militia experience led Scott to decide upon an Army career, and he decided to apply for a commission.[12]

Army captain[edit]

Scott's long career in the United States Army began when Senator William Branch Giles of Virginia arranged in December 1807 for Scott to be interviewed by Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of War, and President Thomas Jefferson.[14] Promised a commission when a place became available, Scott's opportunity came in April 1808, when Congress passed a law increasing the size of the Army.[14] In May, shortly before his twenty-second birthday, Scott was commissioned as a captain in the Light Artillery.[12] Tasked with recruiting a company, he raised his troops from the Petersburg and Richmond areas, and then traveled with his unit from Norfolk to New Orleans to join his regiment.[12]

Scott's early career in the army was tumultuous.[15] He had been present in Richmond for the treason trial of Aaron Burr, which followed the events now known as the Burr conspiracy.[16] Like many other observers, he had developed a negative opinion of the Senior Officer of the United States Army, General James Wilkinson as the result of Wilkinson's obvious efforts to minimize his complicity in Burr's actions by providing forged evidence and false, self-serving testimony.[17] When Scott arrived in New Orleans, he found himself serving under Wilkinson; they soon clashed over Wilkinson's refusal to follow the orders of the Secretary of War to remove troops from an unhealthy bivouac site.[12] Wilkinson owned the site, and while the poor location caused several illnesses and deaths among his soldiers, Wilkinson refused to relocate them because he personally profited.[12] Scott resigned his commission and went home to Virginia over his dissatisfaction with Wilkinson, but before his resignation had been accepted, he withdrew it and returned to the Army.[18]

In January 1810, Scott was convicted in a court-martial, partly for making disrespectful comments about Wilkinson's integrity,[19] and partly because of a $50 shortage in the $400 account he had been provided to conduct recruiting duty in Virginia after receiving his commission.[15] With respect to the money, the court-martial members indicated that Scott had not kept accurate records, but that he had not been intentionally dishonest.[20] While finding him guilty of "unofficer-like conduct" they avoided the phrase "conduct unbecoming an officer", which would have meant automatic dismissal.[21] His commission was suspended for one year,[19] but the members of his court-martial recommended remission of nine months, which was disapproved by General Wade Hampton, who had succeeded Wilkinson in command.[21]

Before departing, Scott fought a duel with Dr. William Upshaw, an Army medical officer and Wilkinson friend who had preferred the court-martial charges against Scott;[21] Scott blamed him for causing the court-martial by repeating Scott's anti-Wilkinson remarks to Wilkinson.[21] Scott's shot missed Upshaw, while Upshaw's grazed Scott's head, but left him uninjured.[21] Scott then returned home to Virginia, where he spent the year studying military tactics and strategy,[12] and practicing law in partnership with Benjamin Watkins Leigh.[22]

The rousing reception Scott received from his Army peers as he began his trip to Virginia led him to believe that most officers approved of his anti-Wilkinson comments, at least tacitly; their high opinion of him, coupled with Leigh's counsel to remain in the Army, convinced Scott to resume his military career once his suspension had been served.[23] After returning to duty, he served on Hampton's staff from 1811 to 1812, first in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and then again in New Orleans.[24][25] In one notable event following his return to active duty, Scott was appointed special judge advocate for the court-martial in Baton Rouge of Colonel Thomas Humphrey Cushing, who was accused of several charges, including misappropriation of government property and insubordination.[23] He was acquitted of most charges, and for the ones on which Scott obtained guilty verdicts, Cushing's punishment consisted solely of a written reprimand.[26] (In fact, Cushing continued to serve, and was promoted to brigadier general during the War of 1812.)[27]

Scott earned the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on proper military bearing, courtesy, appearance and discipline.[28] He consistently concerned himself with the welfare of his men,[29] as demonstrated by his quarrel with Wilkinson over the New Orleans bivouac site.[30] In another instance, when cholera broke out at a post under his command, Scott was the only officer who stayed to nurse the stricken enlisted men.[1]

War of 1812[edit]

Scott during the War of 1812 age of 26-29

Lieutenant Colonel at Queenston Heights[edit]

The army promoted Scott to lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Artillery Regiment 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, (Upper 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. In part as a result of this experience, after reaching high rank himself, Scott preferred not to rely on militia, instead opting whenever possible to use in his own campaigns a core of Army regulars augmented by volunteers.

The British held Scott as a prisoner of war. They considered Irish-American prisoners of war British subjects and traitors, and executed 13 who were captured at Queenston 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. 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[edit]

Scott was promoted to colonel in March 1813.[24] He planned and led the May 1813 capture of Fort George, Upper Canada, on the Niagara River. By crossing the Niagara and landing on the Lake Ontario shore, Scott forced the British to abandon the fort. Scott was wounded in this battle, which is considered among the best-planned and best-executed U.S. operations of the war.

Brigadier General at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane[edit]

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.

Scott commanded the 1st Brigade, Left Division, Army of the North, and was instrumental in the American success at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814.[31] This battle was regarded as inconclusive from the strategic point of view, because the British army was intact and able to continue operations.[32] It was decisive from the point of view of British morale; American soldiers had fought well against a professional European army, and ended the fight in control of the battlefield. The morale of British soldiers ebbed, and their Native American allies refused to cooperate with them.[33]

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[edit]

For his valor at Lundy's Lane, Scott received a brevet to major general to date from July 25, 1814. The severity of his wounds prevented his return to active duty for the remainder of the war.[34]

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.[35] Scott's Society of the Cincinnati insignia was a solid gold eagle measuring nearly three inches in height, making it one of the most impressive Cincinnati society insignias ever produced.[36] There are no known portraits or photographs of Scott wearing the insignia, which is now in the collections of the West Point Museum.

After the War of 1812[edit]

From the War of 1812 until he became commanding general of the U.S. Army in 1841, Scott maintained a rivalry with Brevet Major General Edmund P. Gaines. The central issue was the question of which had seniority; should brevet ranks count, which would favor Scott, or were regular Army ranks what mattered, which would favor Gaines. Scott claimed he outranked Gaines because Scott's brevet rank of major general, dated July 25, 1814, made him senior to Gaines, whose brevet was dated August 15, 1814. Gaines argued that he should be senior; his and Scott's promotions to brigadier general, colonel, and lieutenant colonel were all issued on the same dates, but Gaines had been promoted to major while Scott was still a captain. The dispute was important to both because they realized that assignment as the Army's commanding general might be at stake.

Scott served as president of the Army's Board of Tactics in 1815, and supervised the modernization of the Army's drill regulations.[24] He also headed a postwar officer retention board in 1815, with post-war reductions in personnel strength the overriding concern. As a result of the board's recommendations, Jacob Brown was appointed as the Army's commander with the rank of major general; Scott and Gaines were retained as brigadier generals, and Brigadier General Alexander Macomb agreed to accept reduction in rank to colonel in order to serve as the Army's chief of engineers. Scott visited Europe to study French military methods in 1815 and 1816,[24] and translated several of the manuals from Napoleon's Army into English. Scott held command of the Division of the North beginning in 1816. He served again as president of the Board of Tactics in 1821, 1824 and 1826, and again oversaw updating of the Army's field regulations.[24] He began command of the Eastern Department in 1825.[24]

Scott and Gaines were passed over for the commanding general's post in 1828, following the death of Jacob Brown. Aware of the Scott/Gaines rivalry, President John Quincy Adams nominated Macomb. Scott attempted to resign, but it was not accepted. Scott again visited Europe and then resumed command of the Eastern Department in 1829.[24] In 1830, Scott published Abstract of Infantry Tactics, Including Exercises and Manueuvres of Light-Infantry and Riflemen, for the Use of the Militia of the United States.

Black Hawk War and Nullification Crisis[edit]

Winfield Scott age of 49, 1835 portrait by George Catlin

Although Scott was ordered to lead nine companies to Illinois for combat during the Black Hawk War, by the time he arrived at Fort Armstrong, a cholera epidemic among his reinforcing troops prevented Scott from taking field command. Scott worked with Illinois Governor John Reynolds to conclude a treaty with the Sauk and Fox tribes, which culminated with the Black Hawk Purchase. Also known as Scott's Purchase, this agreement enabled white settlers to begin moving into what is now Iowa.

In late November and early December 1832, Scott organized U.S. Army troops for possible enforcement of President Andrew Jackson's authority during the Nullification Crisis. In late 1832 and early 1833 Scott served as an emissary from President Jackson to South Carolina. His tactful diplomacy and the use of his troops in suppressing a major fire in Charleston did much to defuse the crisis.[37]

Indian Wars[edit]

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 the Second Seminole War and the 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 Canada–US border, where the Patriot War threatened to entangle the U.S. in the Upper Canada Rebellion.

Cherokee Removal[edit]

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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] 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 be rendered to 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."[40]

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".[40] 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."[41]

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.[42]

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."[43][44]

More than 4,000 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.[45] The Cherokee removal later became known as the Trail of Tears.[46]

Aroostook War[edit]

When Brigadier General Winfield Scott reached Nashville, superiors abruptly ordered him to return to Washington to deal with troubles on the Canada–US 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.

Authorship of manual on tactics[edit]

In 1835, 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.

Commanding General[edit]

On June 25, 1841, Macomb died, and Scott and Gaines were still the two most obvious choices for the Commanding General's post. John Bell, the Secretary of War, had no interest in rekindling the Scott/Gaines seniority dispute; he quickly recommended Scott to President John Tyler. Tyler approved, and Scott assumed office on July 5, 1841. He was promoted to permanent major general, then the highest rank in the Army, with June 25, 1841, as his date of rank. (Gaines became increasingly marginalized as Scott continued to gain influence, and died in 1849 while still on active duty.)

As commanding general of the Army, Scott took great interest in the professional development of the cadets of the United States Military Academy.[47]

Mexican–American War[edit]

Command appointments[edit]

A drawing of Scott at the battle of Veracruz age of 60-62

During the Mexican–American War, Major General Scott was appointed by President James K. Polk to lead an army of regulars and volunteers to the Rio Grande for a hasty campaign.[48] During the planning and initial movement, worsening political tensions between Scott and the president led to a public shellacking and relief of Scott as field commander. With reluctance, Zachary Taylor was charged with leading the charge to the Rio Grande.

While Taylor was largely successful in securing the northeastern provinces of Mexico after war broke out, it became obvious by mid-1846 that the Mexicans would not surrender the captured territories without a direct assault on their capital. Deeming an overland campaign from northeastern Mexico infeasible (requiring marching over 560 mi (901 km) of Mexican desert), Scott planned an expedition to the Gulf port city of Veracruz. As Taylor gained notoriety for victories in northeastern Mexico, Polk became increasingly reluctant to position him for a presidential run post-bellum. Further, Polk and his cabinet had reasonable doubts whether Taylor could lead the complex operation. Left to choose between Taylor and Scott, Polk reluctantly chose Scott at the behest of his cabinet.[49]

Even while Scott was en route to the theater of operations, Polk continued to search for a fellow Democrat to command the expedition in lieu of Scott. Former U.S. Rep. William O. Butler and Robert Patterson were both selected as early options, but neither were deemed acceptable by Congress. Patterson, who was Irish-born and not eligible to be President, was dismissed early on as a suitable choice. Butler's capacity to command an army was questionable at best, as he lacked significant army experience.

Military campaigns[edit]

Allegorical depiction of Winfield Scott on horseback during the Battle of Cerro Gordo age of 62

Landing at Veracruz on March 9, 1847, 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, Mexican president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna, had just suffered a crushing defeat at Buena Vista and faced impending revolt by the Mexican populace. Santa Anna chose to meet Scott after the landing, assuming the American force to be significantly degraded after a costly offense on the well-fortified Vera Cruz. Despite high heat, rains, and difficult terrain, Scott won the battles of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, Contreras/Padierna on August 19–20, 1847, Churubusco on August 20, 1847, and Molino del Rey on September 8, 1847. He then assaulted the fort of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847, after which Mexico 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".[50]

Saint Patrick's Battalion[edit]

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 Patricios captured by the U.S. Army were treated and punished as traitors for desertion in time of war. Seventy-two men were immediately charged with desertion by the Army.[51] Eisenhower says the men were tried in two groups. The trials were conducted by Brevet Colonel John Garland and by Colonel Bennet Riley.

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.[52] 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.[53][54] In response to these, in 1847, Scott ordered that Protestants respect Catholic ceremonies.[55]

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.[52] 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.[56] 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.

Engraving of Winfield Scott

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".[57] Some argue that this adversely affected Scott's record, as the events violated numerous Articles of War. Eisenhower, however, attributes the incident to Harney.[57]

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".[58][59][60]

Military governor[edit]

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.[61]

Conflict with American civil authorities[edit]

Apart from his military career, Scott's vanity, as well as his corpulence, led to a catch phrase that haunted 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 L. 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".[62] 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".[62] The Polk administration, eager to embarrass Scott, promptly published the letter, and the cryptic phrase "hasty plate of soup" appeared in political cartoons and comic songs for the rest of his life.

Scott was made an honorary member of the Aztec Club of 1847, an organization of American officers who served in the Mexican War. Originally, the only officers who could join were those who served in the occupation of Mexico City. Later, the organization allowed for other officers who served during the Mexican War to join along with their descendants.

Presidential campaigns[edit]


Scott was one of the candidates to be the Whig Party nominee for president in 1840. The leading contenders were General William Henry Harrison and Senator Henry Clay, with Scott in third place. Scott's hope was that delegates might turn to him if Harrison and Clay deadlocked. During the balloting at the party's December 1839 convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Clay and Scott were at the Astor House hotel in New York City, and played cards with Whig politicians John J. Crittenden and George Evans. When the group received word of Harrison's victory on the fifth ballot, Clay blamed his loss on Scott for not withdrawing and instructing his delegates to vote for Clay. In the ensuing argument, Clay struck Scott, with the blow landing on the shoulder which had been wounded during Scott's participation in the Battle of Lundy's Lane. Afterwards Clay had to be physically removed from the hotel room. Scott then sent Crittenden to Clay with Scott's challenge for a duel, but Crittenden reconciled them by convincing Clay to apologize.[63]


Scott was again a contender for the Whig presidential nomination for the 1848 election. Clay, Daniel Webster, and General Zachary Taylor were also candidates for the nomination. As in 1840, Whigs were looking for a non-ideological war hero to be their candidate. Scott's main appeal was to anti-slavery "conscience Whigs", who were dismayed by the fact that two of the leading contenders, Clay and Taylor, were slaveholders. Ultimately, however, the delegates passed on Scott for a second time, nominating Taylor on the fourth ballot. Many anti-slavery Whigs then defected to support the nominee of the Free-Soil Party, former President Martin Van Buren. Taylor went on to win the general election.[64]


The Game-cock & the Goose, an 1852 Whig cartoon favoring Winfield Scott
Scott in 1855, painted by Robert Walter Weir

In the 1852 presidential election, anti-slavery Whigs were able to block the nomination of the incumbent President, Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Taylor. These Whigs were angered by Fillmore's signing of the Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850.[65] Seeking to repeat their previous successes with war heroes, the Whigs nominated Scott instead, who faced Democrat Franklin Pierce. At six feet five inches, he remains the tallest man ever nominated by a major party. 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 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."[66]

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, which lessened the effectiveness of Scott's war hero status. Pierce was elected in an overwhelming win, leaving Scott with the electoral votes of only Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee.[66] A contemporary newspaper called the 1852 election the most "ludicrous, ridiculous, and uninteresting presidential campaign" in history.[67] The 1852 campaign is the only one in American history where one candidate (Pierce) had served under the command of the other (Scott) in time of war.

Scott in civilian clothes

Later career[edit]

Despite his defeat in the election, Scott was still a popular national hero. In February 1855, by a special act of Congress, Scott was given a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, making him 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.

American Civil War[edit]

Lieut. Gen. Winfield Scott age of 75, 1861

When the American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Scott was 74 years old and suffering from health problems, including gout, rheumatism, and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight and unable to mount a horse or review troops. Although Scott was born and raised in Virginia, he remained loyal to the United States and never considered joining the seceding states.

Because he couldn't lead troops into battle, on April 17, 1861 Scott offered field command to Colonel Robert E. Lee, to whom Scott referred as "the very finest soldier I've ever seen", but Virginia declared that it had left the Union on the same day. Lee was hesitant to take 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, and the command of U.S. troops in Washington was given to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell.

Public opinion throughout the Northern states called for an immediate campaign to crush the rebellion quickly. Scott considered this impossible and 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, it prevented most sea-going vessels from leaving or arriving from Confederate ports, and the actual Union victory followed the broad outlines of Scott's plan.[68][69]

1861 characterized map of Scott's "Anaconda Plan" to squeeze the South

In July 1861, the pressure for an immediate assault on the Confederacy was overwhelming. Lincoln set aside Scott's blockade plan and directed McDowell to attack Confederate troops 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, where Scott assumed responsibility. Major General George B. McClellan then took command of the army at Washington (now the Army of the Potomac).[70]

Scott also ran into conflict with Lincoln and others who proposed organizing 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.[citation needed] Scott retired on November 1, 1861, and McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief.[71] Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war.


Scott received the Congressional Gold Medal for his accomplishments during the War of 1812, and again for his service during the Mexican–American War.[72]

In 1814, Scott received the honorary degree of Master of Arts from Princeton University.[73] He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Columbia University (1850) and Harvard University (1861).[74]

Retirement and death[edit]

After his retirement from the Army, Scott lived the rest of his life at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Scott lived to see the Union's victory in the Civil War in April 1865.

On October 4, 1865, he was elected as a Companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of 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 was assigned MOLLUS insignia number 27 but, for undetermined reasons, the insignia was never issued to Scott. (Scott was one of the few individuals to have belonged to the Society of the Cincinnati, the Aztec Club of 1847 and the Loyal Legion.)

General Scott died at the West Point Hotel on May 29, 1866, and is buried at the West Point Cemetery.

Fanny Crosby, the hymn writer, recalled that Scott's "gentle manner did not indicate a hero of so many battles; yet there was strength beneath the exterior appearance and a heart of iron within his breast. But from him I learned that the warrior only it is, who can fully appreciate the blessing of peace. ... "[75]


In 1817, Scott married Maria D. Mayo (1789 – June 10, 1862[76]).[24] She was the daughter of Colonel John Mayo of Richmond, Virginia, who granted the couple the use of his house in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near the New York City headquarters Scott was assigned to at the time of the wedding.[77] They were the parents of seven children—five daughters and two sons:[78][79]

  • Maria Mayo (1818–1833)
  • John Mayo (1819–1820)
  • Virginia (1821–1845)
  • Edward Winfield (1823–1827)
  • Cornelia Winfield (1825–1885) – The wife of Brevet Brigadier General Henry L. Scott (1814–1866), who served as Winfield Scott's aide-de-camp and Inspector General of the Army.
  • Adeline Camilla (1831–1882) – The wife of Goold Hoyt (1818–1883), a New York City businessman.
  • Marcella (1834–1909) – The wife of Charles Carroll MacTavish (1818–1868), a member of Maryland's prominent Carroll family.


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, and twenty years (1841–61) as commanding general. He holds the record for the greatest length of active service as general in the U.S. Army as well as the longest tenure as the Army's chief officer.

Scott is one of a very few American officers who have served as a general during three major wars. (The others include General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and General Lewis B. Hershey.) Historians rank Scott highly both as a strategist and as a battlefield commander.

When Scott retired from the Army in November 1861 he had been a general longer than his successor, General McClellan, had been alive.


Currier & Ives engraving of Winfield Scott, depicted with other Union generals, indicative of the Northern sentiment towards him and others in 1861

Scott's papers can be found at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan.[80]

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, Virginia;[81] Scott County, Minnesota; Scott County, Tennessee; Winfield, Illinois; Winfield, Indiana; Winfield, Alabama; and Winfield, Tennessee were also named for him. Fort Scott, Kansas, a former Army outpost, was also named for him, as were the towns of Scott Depot and Winfield[82] 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.[83] 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.[84]

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.[85] A paddle steamer named the Winfield Scott launched in 1850 and a 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.[86] 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.

Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, Confederate General Winfield Scott Featherston and Admiral Winfield Scott Schley were named after General Scott. (Scott was possibly the only general in history to have a subordinate named after himself.)

Retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a descendant of Winfield Scott.[87]

Dates of rank[edit]

Insignia Rank Component Date
Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain Regular Army 3 May 1808
Union Army LTC rank insignia.png Lieutenant Colonel Regular Army 6 July 1812
Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel Regular Army 12 March 1813
Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General Regular Army 9 March 1814
Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General Regular Army 25 July 1814
Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General Regular Army 25 June 1841
Union army lt gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Lieutenant General Regular Army 29 March 1847

Scott retired effective November 1, 1861.

Scott commemorated[edit]

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—surviving examples 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.[88][89][90]

Scott is also honored in various other ways. Several statues of Scott exist, including the one located on a traffic circle named after him in Washington, D.C.

~ First Winfield Scott stamp ~
Issue of 1870
~ Jackson ~ Scott ~
Army issue of 1937
Statue of Winfield Scott on Scott Circle in Washington, D.C.


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  54. ^ Commenting on Taylor's initial occupation, Scott wrote to the Secretary of War, William Marcy: {{quote|Sir, our militia and volunteers [under Taylor], if a tenth of what is said be true, have committed atrocities – horrors – in Mexico, sufficient to make Heaven weep, and every American, of Christian morals, blush for his country. Murder, robbery – rape on mothers and daughters, in the presence of the tied up males of the families, have been common all along the Rio Grande. I was agonized with what I heard – not from Mexicans and regulars alone; but from respectable individual volunteers – from the masters and hands of our steamers.|Chichetto, 5.
  55. ^ Scott, Winfield (1786–1866) General orders: No. 297 (24 September 1847) – The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
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  59. ^ In a private letter to William Robinson, Scott wrote about his Irish American soldiers: "In Mexico, we estimated the number of persons, foreigners by birth, at, about, 3,500, and of these more than 2,000 were Irish. How many had been naturalized I cannot say; but am persuaded that seven out of ten, had at least declared their intentions, according to law, to become citizens. It is hazardous, or may be invidious to make distinctions; but truth obliges me to say that, of our Irish soldiers – save a few who deserted from General Taylor, and had never taken the naturalization oath – not one ever turned his back upon the enemy or faltered in advancing to the charge. Most of the foreigners, by birth, also behaved faithfully and gallantly. Chichetto,5.
  60. ^ On another occasion, Scott remarked to Robinson: "In my recent campaign in Mexico, a very large proportion of the men under my command were your country men (Irish), German, etc. I witnessed with admiration their zeal, fidelity, and valor in maintaining our flag in the face of every danger. Vying with each other, and our native-born soldiers in the same ranks, in patriotism, constancy, and heroic daring, I was happy to call them brothers in the field, as I shall always be to salute them as countrymen at home." Chichetto, 5.
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  73. ^ Scott, Winfield (1861). Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D. New York, NY: Sheldon & Company. p. 628.
  74. ^ Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D., p. 628.
  75. ^ Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2013 printing), p. 88, ISBN 978-1-59856-281-1.
  76. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 667.
  77. ^ Agent of Destiny, p. 109.
  78. ^ Scott, Winfield; Johnson, Timothy D. (2015). Memoirs of Lieut.-General Winfield Scott. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. p. 344. ISBN 978-1-62190-198-3.
  79. ^ Peskin, Allan (2003). Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-87338-774-3.
  80. ^ William L. Clements Library.
  81. ^ The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States by Henry Gannett
  82. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 685.
  83. ^ History of Scott Township
  84. ^ Fort Sill Archived 2014-07-23 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on August 17, 2013.
  85. ^ Fort Winfield Scott, NPS website.
  86. ^ World Wide Words website
  87. ^ "National Portrait Gallery | Faces of the Frontier". Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  88. ^ Jackson-Scott 1937 stamp, 3c, Quantities issued: 93.8 million issued; Scotts US Stamp Catalogue, Quantities Issued.
  89. ^ Scotts US Stamp Catalogue (The Scotts US Stamp Catalogue and Winfield Scott have no association.)
  90. ^ Smithsonian National Postal Museum




Further reading[edit]

External video
Booknotes interview with John Eisenhower on Agent of Destiny, April 19, 1998, C-SPAN

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Alexander Macomb
Commanding General of the United States Army
Succeeded by
George B. McClellan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Zachary Taylor
Whig nominee for President of the United States
Succeeded by
Millard Fillmore