General Winfield Scott


Winfield Scott was a war general who served in his position longer than any other man in American history and was considered by many to be the greatest commander of his time. Born in Virginia, Scott briefly attended the College of William and Mary before joining the state militia cavalry in 1806. One year later, he was commissioned as a captain, but he did not last long in the position; after openly criticizing his superior, General James Wilkinson, he was court-martialed and his contract suspended. During this time, Scott served instead in New Orleans under General Wade Hampton.

Winfield Scott
Winfield was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1812, and he served primarily on the Niagara campaign during the War of 1812. Yet despite the army’s early successes, many New York militiamen refused to enter Canada, and Scott and his commander were soon forced to surrender. Scott was taken captive, but he avoided the death sentences that faced his comrades and was later released during a prisoner exchange. He was promoted to colonel in 1813, and shortly thereafter he led the capture of Fort George in Ontario, Canada. The battle was among the best-executed operations during the War of 1812, and as a result it earned Winfield the position of brigadier general. Scott was nicknamed "Old Fuss and Feathers" for the discipline and strict dress code he enforced among his men, who were at that time primarily volunteers; yet despite his exacting demeanor, Scott cared greatly for his troops, and during an outbreak of cholera at a military camp, the general alone remained to nurse the sick back to health. Scott later served during the Battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, suffering serious injuries during the latter, reputably the bloodiest battle fought on Canadian soil. Although considered for a position as major general, his wounds kept him out of active duty for the remainder of the war.

Following the War of 1812, General Scott served as president of the Board of Tactics and headed a postwar officer retention selection board. He also visited France to study the country’s military methods. Upon his return, he married Maria Mayo and took command of the Division of the North and the Eastern Department, but after being passed over as commander of the Army, he attempted to resign. When his resignation was refused, Scott left again for Europe, returning in 1829 and publishing an Abstract of Infantry Tactics in 1830. Scott served as emissary to South Carolina during the nullification crisis, and he commanded forces during the Second Seminole and Creek Wars that occurred in 1836. He was recalled during a controversy regarding his policies on the western front, but he was later cleared of any wrongdoing and assumed control of the Eastern Division on the Canadian border. Scott also supervised Martin Van Buren’s Cherokee removal, treating the Indians with respect and forbidding any acts of violence or cruelty against them. Unfortunately, however, even the general could not protect the Native Americans, and more than 4000 Cherokee died from disease or starvation before even making the journey west. In 1838, Scott accompanied the first Indians on their journey to Nashville, now known as the Trail of Tears. Two years later, after resolving the bloodless Aroostook War between Maine and New Brunswick, he wrote another three-volume military work. In 1841, Winfield was promoted to major general, then the highest rank in the U.S. Army. During the Mexican-American War, Scott commanded one of two regiments, leading his men in an assault on Mexico City and forcing the region to surrender after several American victories. A more difficult military decision came later in the war, when a group of U.S. deserters were captured along with their Mexican comrades. The entire group was sentenced to hang, but Scott was afraid that doing so would alienate the Mexican public—and he also knew that many of the white traitors were Catholics who had been appalled by the treatment of their fellow Mexican churchgoers. Determined to lessen their punishment, Scott finally ensured that, in the end, only 30 of the original 72 prisoners were executed. Because of this and other measures, the general was fairly liked by authorities on both sides of the war.

During the 1852 presidential election, Scott was chosen as the Whig Party candidate, but his anti-slavery sentiments lost him support in the South, and Democrat Franklin Pierce emerged victorious. Nevertheless, Scott remained a popular national hero, and notwithstanding his age and poor health, he entered into the military once more at the start of the Civil War in 1861. Despite Virginia’s secession, Scott remained loyal to the Union, and he drew up a plan for the long-term defeat of the South through a naval blockade of Confederate ports. Although the “Anaconda Plan” was publicly rejected, the eventual strategy used by the North relied largely on Scott’s work. By this time, Winfield was 74 years old and weighed over 300 lbs, and supporters of Major General George McClellan finally pressured the old man into retirement, allowing McClellan to take his place. Scott passed away shortly after the war’s successful conclusion and was buried at West Point Cemetery.

Key events during the life of Winfield Scott:

Joined the state militia cavalry.
Commissioned as a captain but was court-martialed shortly thereafter.
Promoted to lieutenant colonel.
  Was taken captive but later released.
Promoted to colonel.
  Led the capture of Fort George in Ontario.
Travelled to France to study military tactics.
Served intermittently on the Board of Tactics.
Led troops during the Seminole and Creek wars.
Accompanied the first group of Cherokee along the Trail of Tears.
Promoted to major general; served in the Mexican-American War.
Competed for the U.S. presidency but lost to Franklin Pierce.
Reentered military service at the start of the Civil War.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Mexican War  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber
Capture of Vera Cruz  in  The War with Mexico  by   Horatio O. Ladd
Second Conquest of the Capital of Mexico  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
War with the United States  in  A Short History of Mexico  by  Arthur Howard Noll

Image Links

General Winfield Scott in 1860
 in Indian History for Young Folks
Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
 in Back Matter

General Scott
 in Young Folks' History of Mexico

Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States
 in Into Mexico with General Scott

Short Biography
Oliver Hazard Perry Naval Hero, commander of American forces at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
Stephen Decatur Naval Hero noted for his exploits during the war Barbary War, and also the War of 1812.
Billy Bowlegs AmerIndian chief who frustrated warred against the United States in the Seminole Wars.
James K. Polk U.S. President who followed the policies of Andrew Jackson. President during the Mexican-American War.