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Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 ‚Äď 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 ablest American commander of his time. Over the course of his fifty-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole Warmarker, 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 Citymarker. 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 the United States presidential election. 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.

Early Years

Winfield Scott was born on his family's plantation "Laurel Branch" in Dinwiddie County, near Petersburg, Virginiamarker on June 13, 1786. He was educated at the College of William & Marymarker and was a lawyer and a Virginiamarker militia cavalry corporal before being directly commissioned as captain in the artillery in 1808. Scott's early years in the United States Army were tumultuous. His commission was suspended for one year following a court-martial for insubordination in criticizing his commanding General, the pusillanimous and corrupt James Wilkinson.

War of 1812

During the War of 1812 in Canada, Lieutenant Colonel Scott took command of an American landing party during the Battle of Queenston Heightsmarker (Ontario, Canada) on October 13, 1812, but was forced to surrender, along with the militia commander Brigadier General William Wadsworth, when the majority of New York militia members refused to cross into Canada in support of the invasion.

The next year, Scott was released in a prisoner exchange. Upon release, he returned to Washington to pressure the Senate to take punitive action against British prisoners of war in retaliation for the British executing thirteen American POWs of Irish extraction captured at Queenston Heights (the British considered them British subjects and traitors). The Senate wrote the bill after Scott's urging but President James Madison refused to enforce it, believing that the summary execution of prisoners of war to be unworthy of civilized nations.

In May 1813, Scott (now a full colonel), planned and led the capture of Fort Georgemarker on the Canadian side of the Niagara Rivermarker. The operation, which used landings across the Niagara and on the Lake Ontariomarker coast, forced the abandonment of the fort by the British. It was one of the most well-planned and executed operations of the war. 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 Chippewamarker decisively. He was wounded during the bloody Battle of Lundy's Lanemarker, along with the American commander, Major General Jacob Brown, and the British/Canadian commander, Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond. Scott's wounds from Lundy's Lane were so severe that he did not serve on active duty for the remainder of the war.

A younger Winfield Scott.
Scott earned the nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence of military appearance and discipline in the United States Army, which consisted mostly of volunteers. In his own campaigns, General Scott preferred to use a core of U.S. Army regulars whenever possible. Scott perennially concerned himself with the welfare of his men, prompting an early quarrel with General Wilkinson over an unhealthy bivouac, which turned out to be on land Wilkinson owned. During an early outbreak of cholera at a post under his command, Scott himself was the only officer who stayed to nurse the stricken enlisted men.

Nullification and the Trail of Tears

In the administration of President Andrew Jackson, Scott marshaled United States forces for use against the state of South Carolinamarker in the Nullification Crisis. His tactful diplomacy and the use of his garrison in suppressing a major fire in Charleston did much to defuse the crisis.

In 1832 Scott replaced John Wool as commander of Federal troops in the Cherokee Nation. Andrew Jackson disagreed with the United States Supreme Court views on the Cherokee right to self-rule. In 1835 Jackson convinced a minority group of Cherokee to sign the Treaty of New Echota. In 1838, following the orders of Jackson, Scott assumed command of the "Army of the Cherokee Nation", headquartered at Fort Cassmarker and Fort Butler. President Martin Van Buren, who had been Jackson's Secretary of State, and then Vice President, thereafter directed Scott to forcibly move all those Cherokee who had not yet moved west in compliance with the treaty.

Scott arrived at New Echotamarker, Cherokee Nation on April 6, 1838, and immediately divided the Nation into three military districts. He designated May 26 as the beginning date for the first phase of the removal. The first phase would involve the Cherokees in Georgia. He had to use militiamen (4,000 thousand of them) instead of regulars because the latter, though promised, had not arrived yet. Scott, however, preferred regulars, who, unlike the militiamen, did not stand to benefit from the removal (some militiamen, for example, had already laid claim to Cherokee properties); yet he had to work with what he was given. In a biography on Scott, Eisenhower notes how Scott was not an enthusiast for the removal of the Cherokees and even felt troubled about the justice of it. The moral implications of President Van Buren's policies (and of his predecessor, Andrew Jackson) did not make his orders easy. But as a public servant, not an elected official, he had to follow orders. All he could do was reassure the Cherokee people of proper treatment. In his instructions to the militiamen, he reminded them that any acts of harshness and cruelty would be "abhorrent to the generous sympathies of the whole American people" (many of whom, like John Quincy Adams, were against the removal, imputing it to "Southern politicians and land grabbers"). He also admonished his troops not to fire on any fugitives they might apprehend unless they should "make stand and resist." In addition, he got very detailed about helping 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 "pecular attention, which the brave and humane will seek to adopt to the necessities of the several cases."

Scott's good intentions, however, didn't 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 (August, 1838), 3,000 Cherokees had left Georgia and Tennessee by water to Oklahoma; but another 13,000 still remained in camps. Thanks to the intercession of John Ross in Washington, however,these Cherokees would travel, says Eisenhower, "under their own auspices, unarmed, and free of supervision by militiamen or regulars." Though white contractors, steamboat owners, and others who were profiting by providing food and services to the government protested, Scott did not hesitate to carry out this new policy (despite retired Andrew Jackson's demand [to the Attorney General] that Scott be replaced by another general and Ross be arrested). Within months he had every Cherokee in North Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, who could not escape, captured or killed. The Cherokee were rounded up and held in rat-infested stockades with little food, according to some reports. 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."

Over 4,000 Cherokee men, women, and children died in this confinement before ever beginning the trip west. As the first groups that were herded west died in huge numbers in the heat, the Cherokees pleaded with Scott to postpone the second phase of the removal until after the summer, which he did. Determined to accompany them as an observer, Scott left Athens, Georgiamarker, on October 1, 1838, and traveled with the first "company" of a thousand people, including both Cherokees and black slaves, as far as Nashville, where he was abruptly ordered to return to Washington to deal with troubles on the Canadian border. The Cherokee removal later became known as the Trail of Tears.

On a new assignment, he helped defuse tensions between officials of the state of Mainemarker and the British Canada province of New Brunswickmarker 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, serving until 1861.

During his time in the military, Scott also fought in the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole Warmarker, and, briefly, the American Civil War.

Scott as tactician

After the War of 1812, Scott translated several Napoleonic manuals into English. Upon direction of the War Department, 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 in 1830, for the use of the American militia.

In 1840, Scott wrote Infantry Tactics, Or, Rules for the Exercise and Maneuvre of the United States Infantry. This three-volume work was the standard drill manual for the U.S. Army until William J. Hardee's Tactics were published in 1855.

General Scott was very interested in the professional development of the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy.

Mexican-American War

General Winfield Scott at the battle of Veracruz.
During the Mexican-American War, Scott commanded the southern of the two United States armies (Zachary Taylor commanded the northern army, made up of militiamen and volunteers). Landing at Veracruzmarker, Scott and his regulars, 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 Citymarker. 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, Churubuscomarker, and Molino del Rey, then assaulted the fort of Chapultepecmarker on September 13, 1847, after which the city surrendered. When seventy-two men from the Mexican Saint Patrick's Battalion ( made up of American deserters who had joined the Mexican army) were captured during Churubusco and brought to Scott, he had a problem on his hands. The punishment for desertion during war was death by hanging. 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. Scott, however, was bothered by the sweep of guilty verdicts. On the one hand, Scott didn't want to alienate the Mexican public who by now had made the deserters national heroes. Nor did he want to encourage any kind of 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 of militia and volunteers because they allegedly felt mistreated by them and had witnessed atrocities "sufficient to make Heaven weep" against fellow (Mexican) Catholics. On the other hand, Scott also felt that he had to do something to justify the trials and sentences. Never having lost interest in law from his earlier days, he concluded that some deserved less punishment and thus sat up nights attempting to find excuses to avoid the universal application of capital punishment. In the end he approved the death penalty for fifty of the seventy-two San Patricios, but later pardoned five and reduced the sentence of fifteen others, including the ringleader, Sergeant John Riley. This left the rest slated for execution, sixteen of whom were hanged on Septermber 10, 1847, when Scott was planning his attack on Mexico City, four others the next day, and the remainder assigned to Colonel William Harney for execution at some later date. Eisenhower notes that Harney used his imagination to make the experience as tormenting as possible. Thus when the fateful day came, he placed each deserter 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 put another smudge on Scott's record, as the incident broke numerous Articles of War. Eisenhower, however, attributes the incident to Harney. During political intrigues later in his life Scott openly ignored the fact that this notable incident ever occurred, declaring "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 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 cryptic phrase appeared in political cartoons and folk songs for the rest of his life. Another letter from Scott to Marcy noted Scott's desire of not wishing to "have a fire in his rear (from Washington) while he met a fire in front of the Mexicans."

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 chess prodigy gracefully. These, of course, are minor foibles alongside Scott's distinguished military career for his country. Not surprisingly, 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."

Politics

The Game-cock & the Goose, A Whig cartoon favoring Winfield Scott.


In the 1852 presidential election, the Whig Party declined to nominate its incumbent president, Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Mexican-American War hero General Zachary Taylor. Seeking to repeat their electoral success, the Whigs pushed Fillmore aside and nominated Scott, 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 the Mexican War hero Winfield 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 which 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 Massachusettsmarker, Vermontmarker, Kentuckymarker and Tennesseemarker.

Despite his faltering in the election, Scott was still a wildly 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, ever to hold that rank.

In 1859, Scott traveled to the Pacific Northwest to settle a dispute with the Britishmarker over San Juan Islandmarker, which had escalated to the so-called Pig Warmarker. The old general established a good rapport with the British, and was able to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Civil War

1861 cartoon of Scott's "Anaconda Plan" to squeeze the South
As Union general-in-chief at the beginning of the American Civil War, the elderly Scott knew he was unable to go into battle himself. He was too large to mount or ride his horse. 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 the command of the Federal field forces defending Washington, D.C.marker passed to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, Scott remained loyal to the nation that he had served for most of his life and refused to resign his commission upon his home state's secession.

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, and then moving on Atlantamarker. This Anaconda Plan was derided in the press; however, in its broad outlines, it was the strategy the Union actually used, 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 Campaignmarker and March to the Sea.

Engraving of Winfield Scott.
Scott's physical infirmities cast doubt on his stamina; he suffered from gout and rheumatism and his weight had ballooned to over 300 lbs, prompting some to use a play on his nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers," instead calling him "Old Fat and Feeble." Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the field commander, was insubordinate and ambitious; political pressure from McClellan's supporters in Congress led to Scott's resignation on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief.

General Scott lived to see the Union victory in the Civil War. He died at West Point, New York, and is buried in West Point Cemetery.

Legacy

Scott served under every president from Jefferson to Lincoln, a total of fourteen administrations, and was an active-duty general for thirteen of them; a total of 47 years of service. Historians rank him 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 Michiganmarker.



Scott Countymarker in the state of Iowamarker 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, Minnesotamarker, and Scott County, Tennesseemarker, and Winfield, Illinoismarker and Winfield, Alabamamarker, were also named for him. Fort Scott, Kansasmarker, a former Army outpost, was also named for him, and the towns of Scott Depotmarker and Winfieldmarker in West Virginia. Scott Township in Mahaska County, Iowamarker, 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, Iowamarker, Buena Vista County, Iowamarker, and the town of Churubusco, Indianamarker, were named for battles where Scott led his troops to victory. Lake Winfield Scottmarker, near Suchesmarker, is one of Georgiamarker's highest elevation lakes. In 1882, the fort now known as Fort Pointmarker at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridgemarker 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 Franciscomarker. 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.The General Winfield Scott Housemarker, 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.

General Winfield Scott Hancock and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley were named after General Scott.

Notes

  1. Eisenhower, John S.D., Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott (New York: The Free Press, 1997), 1.
  2. Garrison, Tim Alan, The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002)
  3. Eisenhower, 188-91.
  4. Eisenhower, 189.
  5. Eisenhower, 190.
  6. Eisenhower, 191-3.
  7. Eisenhower, 193.
  8. Trail of Tears, Cherokee North Carolina website.
  9. Cherokee Nation official website John Burnett's Story of the Trail of Tears
  10. Eisenhower, 194-5
  11. A Brief History of the Trail of Tears, Cherokee Nation website.
  12. Waugh, John, The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, and Their Brothers, Ballantine Books, 1999, ISBN 0-345-43403-X.
  13. Eisenhower, 287-8.
  14. Chichetto, James Wm., "General Winfield Scott's Policy of Pacification in the Mexican American War of 1846-1848," Combat Literary Journal, Volume 5, Number 4, Fall/Oct., 2007, 4-5.
  15. Commenting on Taylor's initial occupation, Scott wrote to the Secretary of War, William Marcy: "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.
  16. Eisenhower, 288.
  17. Chichetto, 5.
  18. Eisenhower, 297.
  19. peskin, Allan, Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms, Kent State University Press, 2003, ISBN 0873387740, p. 212.
  20. In a private letter to William Robinson, Scott said this 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.
  21. 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.
  22. Chichetto, 4.
  23. Sargent, Nathan. Public Men and Events from the Commencement of Mr. Monroe's Administration. 1875, J.B. Lippincott & Co., p. 297.
  24. Patricia Brady, Arts and Entertainment in Louisiana‚Äé, (2006) p. 465
  25. Johnson, Timothy D., Winfield Scott (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1998), 1.
  26. Mr. Lincoln's White House: an examination of Washington DC during Abraham Lincoln's Presidency
  27. William L. Clements Library.
  28. History of Scott Township
  29. Fort Winfield Scott, NPS website.
  30. World Wide Words website


Further reading

  • Eisenhower, John S.D., Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8061-3128-4.
  • Elliott, Charles Winslow, Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man, 1937.
  • Johnson, Timothy D., "Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory, University Press of Kansas, 1998, ISBN 0-7006-0914-8.
  • Peskin, Allan, Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms, 2003.


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