Winfield Scott

From Academic Kids

This article is about the general and presidential candidate. There was also a songwriter named Winfield Scott.
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Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786May 29, 1866) was a United States general, diplomat, and presidential candidate. He served on active duty as a general longer than any other man in American history and most historians rate him the ablest American general of his time.

Scott was born on his family's farm near Petersburg, Virginia. He attended the College of William & Mary and was a lawyer and a Virginia militia cavalry corporal before being directly commissioned as captain in the artillery in 1808. Scott's early years in the Army were tumultuous. His commission as a colonel was suspended for one year following a court-martial for insubordination in criticizing his commanding general.

During the War of 1812, Colonel Scott was captured during the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1813, but was released in a prisoner exchange. In March 1814 Scott was brevetted brigadier general. In July 1814, Scott commanded the First Brigade of the American army in the Niagara campaign, winning the battle of Chippewa decisively. He was wounded during the American defeat at the Battle of Lundy's Lane, along with the American commander, Major General Jacob Brown and the British/Canadian commander, Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond. As the American army retreated across the Niagara, Scott commanded the American forces at Fort Erie, another American victory. Scott's success on the Niagara, combined with American naval victories at Lake Champlain and Lake Erie, guaranteed a stalemate on the northern frontier. Scott's wounds from Lundy's Lane were so severe that he did not serve on active duty for the remainder of the war.

Scott earned the nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence of military appearance and discipline in the U.S. Army, which consisted mostly of volunteers. In his own campaigns, General Scott preferred to use a core of U.S. Army Regulars whenever possible. Gen. Scott was later known as the Grand Old Man of the Army.

In the administration of President Andrew Jackson, Scott marshaled United States forces for use against the state of South Carolina in the Nullification Crisis. In 1838, following the orders of President Martin Van Buren, Scott carried out the initial removal of Cherokee Indians from Georgia — what later became known as the Trail of Tears. Scott also helped defuse tensions between officials of the state of Maine and the British Canada province of New Brunswick in the undeclared and bloodless Aroostook War in March 1839.

As a result of his success, Scott was appointed major general (then the highest rank in the United States Army) and general-in-chief in 1841. He held this position until November 1, 1861, when he resigned under political pressure from Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan after the Union defeat at Ball's Bluff. McClellan replaced him as general-in-chief.

During his time in the military Scott also fought in the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and, briefly, the American Civil War. He also disobeyed the "order" by colorful San Francisco eccentric Emperor Norton to disband the U.S. Congress by force during this time.

During the Mexican-American War, Scott commanded the southern of the two United States armies (Zachary Taylor commanded the northern army). Landing at Veracruz, Scott, assisted by his colonel of engineers, 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, then assaulted the fort of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847, after which the city surrendered. When a large number of men from the controversial Saint Patrick's Battalion were captured during Churubusco, Scott gave orders for them to be hanged en masse in during the battle of Chapultepec, specifying that the moment of execution should occur just after the U.S. flag was raised atop the Mexican citadel.

As military commander of Mexico City, he was held in high esteem by Mexican civil and American authorities alike. However, 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 written to Secretary of War William Marcy, Scott stated he had just risen from "at about 6 PM as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup". The Polk administration, wishing to sabotage Scott's reputation, promptly published the letter, and the phrase appeared in political cartoons and folk 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 nine-year-old chess prodigy gracefully.

In the 1852 presidential election, Scott was the unsuccessful Whig Party candidate, losing to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

Despite his faltering in the election, Scott was still a wildly popular national hero. And in 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 American history, after George Washington, to ever hold that rank.

As general-in-chief at the beginning of the American Civil War, the elderly Scott knew he was unable to go into battle himself. He offered the command of the Federal army to Colonel Robert E. Lee. However, when Virginia left the Union in April 1861, Lee resigned and command of the field forces defending Washington, D.C., passed to Major General Irvin McDowell.

Scott did not believe that a quick victory was possible for Federal forces. He devised a long-term plan to defeat the Confederacy by occupying key terrain, such as the Mississippi River and key ports on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, then moving on Atlanta. This Anaconda Plan was derided in the press; however, it was the strategy the Union actually used in its broad outlines, particularly in the Western Theater and in the successful naval blockade of Confederate ports. In 1864 it was continued by General Ulysses S. Grant and executed by General William Tecumseh Sherman in his Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea.

Scott died at West Point just before his eightieth birthday and is buried there in the National Cemetery.

Papers belonging to Scott can be found at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Further reading


Preceded by:
Alexander Macomb
Commanding General of the United States Army
1841–1861
Succeeded by:
George B. McClellan
Preceded by:
Zachary Taylor
Whig Party Presidential candidate
1852 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Millard Fillmore

Template:End boxde:Winfield Scott fr:Winfield Scott pl:Winfield Scott

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