Winfield Scott

views updated May 18 2018

Winfield Scott

Born June 13, 1786 Petersburg, Virginia

Died May 29, 1866 West Point, New York

American military leader

Considered one of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history, Winfield Scott played an important role in the Mexican American War. Assigned the task of capturing the Mexican capital, Mexico City, Scott led a successful invasion that began with an amphibious (involving both army and naval forces) attack on the coastal city of Vera Cruz. In September 1848, after a series of bloody clashes that demonstrated Scott's skill both in planning battles and motivating soldiers, he marched triumphantly into Mexico City. This was, perhaps, the high point of a long career that spanned most of the major events and conflicts of nineteenth-century America.

Beginning a military career

Winfield Scott was born on his family's estate, Laurel Branch, located near the town of Petersburg, Virginia. He was one of four children born to Ann Mason Scott and William Scott, a successful farmer and veteran of the American Revolution (1775-83) who died when Scott was six. Educated at home until he was twelve, Scott attended several boarding schools as a teenager, growing into a strapping young man who stood 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. Due to a legal technicality, he did not inherit any of his family's estate or considerable fortune and had to borrow money to pay for his tuition at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, which he entered in 1805.

Disappointed by his fellow students' lack of religious faith, Scott left William and Mary after less than a year. He studied law with a Petersburg attorney and passed the bar examination (the test that qualifies lawyers), but practiced law for only one year. In 1807—angered, like many young U.S. men of the period, by what he saw as Great Britain's crimes against U.S. ships, sailors, and trade rights on the high seas—he joined a Virginia militia unit (a private, volunteer army that could be called to assist the federal government in emergencies). The next year, Scott went to Washington, D.C., and met with President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Congressional leaders, lobbying successfully to be commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army.

Scott was ordered to report to the staff of General James Wilkinson (1757-1825), stationed in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was widely admired as a promising young officer, but his sharp tongue soon got him into trouble when he called Wilkinson a "liar and a scoundrel." Although almost everybody agreed with Scott's judgment, insulting a superior officer in this way was a clear violation of army rules. A court-martial, or military trial, found Scott guilty and sentenced him to a one-year suspension from the army. Thus Scott spent 1810 as a civilian, during which period he made a great effort to educate himself about military practices.

The War of 1812 erupts

In 1811, Scott returned to military service, reporting to General Wade Hampton (1751-1835), who had replaced Wilkinson in New Orleans. Tensions between the United States and Great Britain had by now reached a head, and war was declared in June 1812. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Scott was sent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to recruit an artillery unit (a group of soldiers trained in the use of large guns, such as cannons). Scott then took his unit north to the Niagara region (located on the border between New York State and what was then the British colony of Canada), one of several parts of the country in which fighting was to take place.

At the Battle of Queenston on October 13, 1812, in which the United States was defeated by British troops after U.S. volunteers refused to participate, Scott was captured by the enemy. After several months, he was released in exchange for a captured British officer. Soon promoted to colonel, Scott led a successful attack on British-occupied Fort George in May 1813, receiving serious wounds in the process.

Training soldiers to fight well

In this period of U.S. history, most U.S. citizens looked down on the military as a profession, and little attention was paid to improving soldiers' skills. Scott's experiences in the generally disastrous first year of the war, however, had convinced him that the U.S. troops would need much more training and discipline if their performance was to improve. Thus, he took charge of a training camp established at Buffalo, New York. There he worked hard to prepare troops for the fighting that would begin in the spring of 1814. Scott not only drilled his soldiers for many hours to sharpen their military skills, but also taught them about sanitation, the best way to prevent the diseases that often killed more soldiers than did enemy troops, as well as proper military dress and behavior.

Scott's troops lived up to his high expectations, performing well in the Battle of Chippewa on July 3, a victory for the United States, and the Battle of Lundy's Lane on July 5, which ended in a draw. For the first time, U.S. regulars (professional soldiers in the U.S. Army) had held their own against British regulars, and Scott was given much of the credit. Although his role in this war was now finished, Scott was heralded across the United States as a hero and made the rank of major-general.

A busy mediator

One of only six generals chosen to remain on active duty after the war, Scott went to work writing the army's first training manual. In 1835, this manual would be revised and published as Infantry Tactics, establishing standards that remained in use for most of the nineteenth century. Scott also traveled to Europe and studied French military methods. In 1817, he married Maria D. Mayo of Richmond, Virginia. Around this time, he also became a leader of the temperance movement, whose members warned against the dangers of drinking alcohol. Scott was famous for the punishment he gave to soldiers arrested for drunkenness; they had to dig a grave, so that they could see where they would end up if they kept drinking.

Scott returned to battle in 1832 when he led 950 troops in the Black Hawk War, the government's action against an uprising of Sac and Fox Indians, who lived in what are now the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. Three years later he undertook a similar task, though with less success. Sent to subdue members of the Seminole and Creek tribes in Florida and Georgia, Scott found his efforts limited by a lack of supplies and support from the government.

Perhaps even more than his accomplishments as a soldier, Scott earned praise for his skill as a mediator (someone who helps to work out disagreements between individuals or groups). In the decade before the Mexican American War, Scott played a key role in resolving disputes in South Carolina (where citizens had threatened to secede, or separate, themselves from the United States over a tax issue) and along the Canadian border. In 1838, he met with the Cherokee Indians and convinced them to move peacefully from their traditional home in Georgia to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma), which the U.S. government had designated for them. The next year, the Whig Party considered Scott as a possible presidential candidate for the 1840 election, but instead they nominated General William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), another hero from the War of 1812.

The army's top commander

In 1841, President John Tyler (1790-1862) named Scott commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army, which made him the army's highest-ranking member. In this position, Scott introduced many reforms, such as making punishments for misbehavior less cruel, and discipline less harsh. At the same time, he lived up to his nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers," which referred to his preference for formal dress and polished manners. Although Scott was sometimes faulted for being egotistical and pompous, he also was known for his kindness and humane approach to leadership.

As the decade of the 1840s progressed, tensions between the United States and Mexico, its southern neighbor, increased. In 1836, U.S. citizens living in the Mexican state of Texas had declared their independence, forming the Lone Star Republic. Mexico had not accepted this action, and vowed to go to war against the United States if it annexed, or made Texas a state, as seemed likely. In 1845, the annexation of Texas did occur, and war loomed large on the horizon. President James K. Polk (1795-1849; see biographical entry) and others who supported expansionism (the movement of U.S. settlers into as much as of the north American continent as possible) actually welcomed war with Mexico, for they saw it as a means of acquiring more land for the United States. Polk had his eyes not only on Texas but on the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico.

The war with Mexico begins

Since Scott was in charge of the U.S. Army, he seemed the obvious choice to lead the coming struggle against Mexico. But Polk was eager for action, and he disagreed with Scott's more cautious approach to war preparation and planning. Furthermore, Polk was a member of the Democratic political party while Scott favored the rival Whigs. Polk knew very well that any fame and glory that Scott, who had already demonstrated his interest in attaining political office, might earn in a war with Mexico could land him in the White House. Thus Polk turned to another officer, General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850; see biographical entry), even though he too was thought to be a Whig sympathizer, to lead the war effort.

In the summer of 1845, Taylor took several thousand troops to Corpus Christi, Texas, located on the Nueces River, the traditional border between Texas and Mexico. In early 1846, Polk ordered Taylor to move about 100 miles south to the Rio Grande river, which the United States was now claiming as its border with Mexico. When Mexican troops crossed the river and attacked and killed some of Taylor's troops, Polk asked Congress to approve a declaration of war against Mexico based on the claim that American blood had been shed upon American soil. As a result of Polk' request, war was officially declared on March 15, 1846.

Though inferior in number to the Mexican army, Taylor's force had superior in weapons and leadership, and the United States won an impressive series of battles as the U.S. troops marched across northeastern Mexico. By the end of 1846, however, it had become clear that in order to win the war, the United States would have to strike directly at the heart of Mexico, its capital, Mexico City, located in the center of the country. To accomplish this goal, Scott proposed an amphibious attack on the eastern coastal city of Vera Cruz, followed by a 200-mile march along the well-constructed National Highway to Mexico City. Despite his reluctance to give Scott such a prominent role, Polk put him in charge of the attack and ordered half of Taylor's troops to be transferred to Scott's command.

The attack on Vera Cruz

By the beginning of 1847, Scott was in Tampico, Mexico, at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Tampico had come under U.S. control in October the previous year. Scott's army now numbered fourteen thousand, although several thousand of those soldiers were suffering from various diseases. In March, Scott launched what would become the largest amphibious assault the United States would undertake until World War II (1939-45). Using a specially designed, flat-bottomed "surf boat," Scott landed about ten thousand troops at a point about 3 miles south of the well-protected city of Vera Cruz.

Scott's advisors recommended an infantry assault, with armed soldiers advancing on foot to attack the town. But Scott's policy had always been to avoid unnecessary casualties, and he believed that such an attack would cost too many lives. Instead, he ordered the combined army and navy forces to bombard Vera Cruz. The bombing began on March 22, and resulted in the Mexican army surrendering the town six days later. While only nineteen U.S. lives had been lost in the attack on Vera Cruz, almost two hundred Mexicans, including many civilians, had been killed.

Having accomplished his first goal by capturing Vera Cruz, Scott was eager to move his troops inland. The month of April marked the beginning of the season when yellow fever (called "el vomito Negro," or Black Vomit by the Mexicans, in reference to one of its symptoms) would invade the coastal region, and Scott knew that his soldiers would soon be at great risk of contracting the deadly disease. Both reinforcements and supplies were slow to arrive, but Scott decided to push ahead, regardless. On April 8, he headed west on the National Highway with about eighty-five hundred troops.

Scott's force advances toward Mexico City

Meanwhile, the dynamic Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876; see biographical entry) had regrouped after being defeated by Taylor's force at the Battle of Buena Vista in February. On April 17, backed by an army of nearly twenty thousand, Santa Anna met Scott's troops at a narrow mountain pass near the village of Cerro Gordo, which would give its name to this battle. Thanks to a clever system for moving troops and supplies that was devised by future Civil War general, Lieutenant Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), the U.S. force was able to overcome the area's difficult, mountainous terrain and move into an advantageous position. As a result, the United States won a lopsided victory here, suffering only four hundred casualties to the Mexicans' one thousand. In addition, about three thousand Mexican soldiers as well as a large number of cannons, other weapons, and supplies were captured.

Continuing to move west, Scott's troops reached Jalapa on April 19, and captured the town with no bloodshed. They occupied Puebla in a similar manner on May 15. By now, Scott's force had dwindled by seven regiments, or about three thousand troops, as soldiers' enlistments expired and they returned to the United States. Thus, Scott and his men spent the next three months at Puebla, waiting for newly enlisted troops to arrive. Meanwhile, with Mexico City still 75 miles away, other problems plagued the force. Many soldiers were too ill to fight, and the route by which supplies were carried from Vera Cruz was constantly being attacked by guerilla soldiers (armed men operating apart from the regular Mexican army).

Because of these obstacles, many observers predicted that Scott would not be able to pull off the feat of capturing Mexico City. In fact, as quoted in David Nevin's The Mexican American War, the great British general, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), who had defeated French dictator Napoleon I (1769-1821) several decades earlier, declared that "Scott is lost!" Scott, however, would not give up, and decided that the time had come to attack the Mexican capital. With his army now at almost eleven thousand men, he set out for Mexico City on August 5. On August 11, his forces reached the Valley of Mexico, the volcanic crater (46 miles long and 32 miles wide) within which the capital nestled. Home to about two hundred thousand people, Mexico City was now defended by nearly thirty thousand troops under the command of Santa Anna, who had made sure that approaches to the city were well protected from the U.S. invaders.

The conquest of the Mexican capital

There was, however, one route that had been left unguarded, perhaps because the terrain it crossed was so rough that it seemed an unlikely choice by the U.S. troops. This was the route that Scott's forces took, circling around south of the city. When they came to a particularly difficult area of broken rocks and crevasses known as the pedragal, Scott again relied on Lieutenant Robert E. Lee to scout a passage. Lee met the challenge, and as a result, the U.S. troops met Santa Anna's forces at the village of Contreras on August 19. The two armies met again the next day at Churubusco, where the Mexicans were using a convent (a residence for Roman Catholic nuns) as a weapons storehouse. The fighting was fierce and deadly for both sides, but the Mexicans were the losers, suffering about 4000 casualties to 950 on the U.S. side.

A brief armistice

On August 21, Scott sent Santa Anna a message in which he proposed that the two armies stop fighting and try to negotiate peace. The Mexicans agreed, and an armistice (a halt in the fighting) went into effect. After several weeks, however, it became clear that the Mexicans were only stalling for time in order to regroup, and the armistice was called off on September 7. The next day, Scott's forces fought an extremely bloody and costly battle at Molino del Rey, where the Mexicans were rumored to have a cannon factory. It turned out that no such factory existed, and the casualties from the battle were very high. In fact, 23 percent of those taking part in the battle were killed, wounded, or missing, the highest casualty rate of any battle of the war.

The Mexicans surrender

On September 12, Scott ordered a bombardment of Chapultepec, the steep hill that was now all that lay between the U.S. troops and Mexico City. Scott understood the importance of this site for the Mexicans, for it housed their beloved National Military Academy and had been a proud symbol of their nation since the days of the great Mexican ruler Montezuma (c. 1480-1520). It was now defended by about eight hundred soldiers, including a small group of young cadets from the academy who had refused to leave. After the bombardment came an infantry attack that ended with hand-to-hand fighting and the deaths of all Chapultepec's defenders, including los Ninoes Heroes (the boy heroes), as the cadets would be remembered.

After capturing Chapultepec, the U.S. troops poured into Mexico City, and the brutal fighting continued throughout the day on September 13, with casualties mounting to 850 for the U.S. side and 3,000 for the Mexicans. That night, knowing that defeat was inevitable, Santa Anna fled the capital for the small, nearby town of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Scott rode into Mexico City at dawn on September 14 to accept the Mexican surrender.

The work of peacetime

Now that the war was over, the difficult task of governing this chaotic nation began. As leader of the occupying army, Scott had to cope not only with the disorder within the city walls, but with such problems as the snipers who continued to shoot at his troops and the guerillas who continued to attack his supply line. But Scott's belief in protecting the rights of civilians in occupied territory won him many admirers among the Mexican people. In fact, a small group of them asked Scott to become the nation's leader. He turned down this offer, however, and after several months the Mexicans were finally able to elect a new president and begin peace talks.

Meanwhile, some of the top U.S. officers who had taken part in Scott's campaign, including generals William Worth and Gideon Pillow and Colonel James Duncan, argued amongst themselves about who deserved credit for the U.S. victory. They sent reports to Polk that were critical of Scott. Thus, when Scott returned to the United States in February 1848, he was ordered to face a court of inquiry to face charges of misconduct. Before this could take place, however, he enjoyed a hero's welcome from the public and from Congress, and the charges were soon withdrawn.

Scott had long harbored a wish to become president of the United States, and in 1852 he had a chance to pursue this dream when he received the nomination of the Whig Party. He was, however, badly defeated by the Democratic candidate, Franklin Pierce (1804-1869), who had served under Scott during the Mexican American War. In 1855, Scott was given the highly honored title of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by the first president of the United States, George Washington (1732-1799).

A long career comes to a close

Once again at the helm of the U.S. Army, Scott set up his headquarters in New York City. In 1859, he returned to the role of mediator when he helped to resolve a dispute with Great Britain over ownership of the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound (in what is now the state of Washington). In 1861, with the American Civil War about to begin, Scott moved the army's headquarters back to Washington, D.C., and went to work preparing the wartime defenses of the nation's capital. Now seventy-five years old, Scott was eclipsed by the military's younger leaders. Nevertheless, his plan for the war, which involved an "anaconda" (referring to the snake that squeezes its prey to death) approach that would isolate and thus weaken the Confederate states, was eventually the one used by the federal government.

In October 1861, after fifty-three years of public service, Scott retired from the army, receiving praise from President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) as someone to whom the nation owed a great debt. Scott spent the remaining five years of his life traveling to Europe and writing his memoirs. Upon his death, he was buried at West Point, the site of the National Military Academy whose values and practices he had helped to shape.

Scott's military career spanned the administrations of all the U.S. presidents from Jefferson to Lincoln. As a young soldier, he had joined an army that lacked efficiency and that was not much respected by the U.S. public. By the time he died, however, he had done much to bring professionalism and dignity to military service, helping to make it a career that young men (and eventually young women) could choose with pride. Scott's actions during the Mexican American War highlighted the leadership qualities that made "Old Fuss and Feathers" an influential and memorable figure.

For More Information


Eisenhower, John S. D. Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Elliott, Charles W. Winfield Scott. New York: Macmillan, 1937.

Nevin, David. The Mexican War. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1978.


Schwarz, Frederic D. "Great Scott." American Heritage, 48, No. 2 (April1997): 99.

Schwarz, Frederic D. "The Halls of Montezuma." American Heritage, 48, No. 5 (September 1997): 105.

Web Sites

"General Winfield Scott and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848)." About North Georgia. [Online] Available (accessed on January 31, 2003).

Winfield Scott

views updated May 21 2018

Winfield Scott

Born June 13, 1786
Petersburg, Virginia

Died May 29, 1866
West Point, New York

Military officer

During the War of 1812, Winfield Scott was at the beginning of what would turn out to be a brilliant military career. He was one of several young officers whose talents were recognized after the first two disastrous years of the war. Promoted to the rank of brigadier general, he led his troops to an inspiring victory at the Battle of Chippewa. A strong leader who believed in discipline and whose personal bravery sometimes verged on recklessness, Scott went on to play a major role in the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-48). He also successfully negotiated solutions to other conflicts, and he worked to make the United States Army a more professional and efficient operation.

A military tradition

Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, on his family's estate, Laurel Branch, which was located about fourteen miles from Petersburg, Virginia. His paternal grandfather had emigrated (come to live from another country) to the United States from Scotland in 1746, and members of his family had been politically active during the colonial period. Scott's father, William, who died when he was six years old, had been a captain during the Revolutionary War (1775-83). His mother, Ann Mason Scott, raised her four children alone after her husband's death, and died herself when Scott was seventeen. He would later write in his autobiography that his beloved mother had been the inspiration for all his success.

Scott was educated at home until he was twelve years old, then sent to several boarding schools. Because of a legal technicality, he did not inherit his family's estate and all of the wealth that went with it. That meant that he had to borrow money to enroll in William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. Though a popular choice for many young men like himself, William and Mary did not suit Scott's personality. He thought the students were not religious enough.

Scott left college after only one year, having decided to become a lawyer. In the early nineteenth century, lawyers trained for their profession by becoming apprentices (low-paid assistants) to established attorneys, then taking the bar examination (a test that lawyers must pass before beginning their careers). Thus Scott went to work in the Petersburg office of David Robinson. He passed the bar in 1807. However, he only had practiced law for one year when he decided to join the army. Tensions were building between Great Britain and the United States over trade issues and sailors' rights, especially during and after the Chesapeake and Leopard affair, when the British removed some U.S. sailors by force and made them serve in the British navy. This practice of removing soldiers was called impressment.

"…the bugle and the drum"

Convinced it was his duty to defend his country, Scott signed up with the Virginia militia (a state-sponsored army that is available for federal government service on a temporary basis). As he later stated in his autobiography, this is where he first "heard the bugle and the drum. It was the music that awoke the ambition." This taste of soldiering inspired Scott to seek a commission (an assignment as an officer) in the United States Army. He went to Washington, D.C., and managed to speak personally with President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who promised Scott that he would receive a commission as soon as possible.

In early 1809 Scott was made a captain in an artillery unit. It is said that after hearing the news he immediately bought himself a full dress uniform and spent several hours in front of two mirrors, admiring himself from every angle. That same year, Scott was assigned to join the army at New Orleans, where he arrived on April 1. He soon displayed not only an eagerness and ability to learn that would continue to mark his behavior, but the sharp tongue that would continue to get him into trouble.

Punished for misconduct

In 1807 Scott had been present at the Richmond, Virginia, trial of Aaron Burr (1756-1836), a former vice president who was accused of treason (he was eventually found innocent). Also involved in the scandal was an army general named James Wilkinson (1757-1825), although no charges were brought against him. Learning that Wilkinson was his commanding officer, Scott spoke openly against him, calling him a "liar and a scoundrel" who was as treasonous as Burr. Even though almost everybody agreed with Scott, such open criticism of a fellow officer went against the army's code of conduct.

Scott was court-martialed (brought before a military court) and found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman in 1810. His punishment was having to leave military service for one year. Scott used the year to study military history and British military manuals, so that by the end of this period he was probably better prepared for war than any other U.S. officer.

A promising young army officer

When Scott's one-year punishment was finished, he joined the staff of Wade Hampton (1751-1835), who had taken over for Wilkinson at New Orleans. In the meantime, the tensions between the United States and Great Britain had been mounting. The United States was upset with Britain because of its maritime policy of impressment, and because of its overly friendly relations with Native Americans. (Americans believed that the British were encouraging the Native Americans to attack white settlers who were moving west.) These issues led to the June 1812 declaration of war. Although the United States had declared the war, the country was unprepared militarily. The fact that high-ranking officers were in short supply worked to Scott's benefit: normally his court martial would have been a great strike against him, but now the army overlooked this blemish and promoted him to lieutenant colonel. He was made second-in-command of an artillery regiment stationed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

During the first year of the war, the United States had a three-pronged plan for invading British-controlled Canada. Troops were to cross the border in the Northwest Territory, at Detroit (in what is now the state of Michigan); at the Niagara River, which connects lakes Ontario and Erie in the northeastern United States; and at Lake Champlain, about 250 miles northeast of the Niagara, between New York and Vermont. Assigned to the Niagara front, Scott took his regiment to Buffalo, New York, reporting to the joint commanders, Brigadier General Alexander Smyth (1765-1830) and Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839), on October 12, 1812. He saw his first major action the next day, at the Battle of Queenston.

The Battle of Queenston

U.S. troops crossed the Niagara into Canada from Lewiston, New York, attacking the British position on the riverbank and nearby cliffs of Queenston, in what is now Ontario, Canada. Scott did not arrive with the first attachment of troops, entering the battle after the commanding officer, Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer (1774-1852; a relative of Stephen Van Rensselaer) was wounded. Although the American troops held their own at first, the arrival of British reinforcements, as well as the refusal of U.S. militia to join the fight, doomed their effort. Scott was taken prisoner and barely escaped being killed by Native American warriors (taking part in the battle as allies of the British) who did not know, or did not want to admit, that the fight was over.

Released in November in exchange for a captured British officer, Scott returned to duty in January 1813. In March, he was made a full colonel and a regimental commander. This would prove to be a bad year for the American side, and especially for Scott, who was continually frustrated by what he saw as the inefficiency and incompetence of the military's high command. On May 28, Scott had a chance to exhibit his own leadership skills when he planned and led a successful attack on British-held Fort George (located on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, downstream from Lake Ontario). Scott was the first to enter the fort, and he personally halted a trail of burning gunpowder that led to a magazine (ammunitions storehouse) and seized the British flag.

Preparing for a new campaign

Scott was put in command of the captured fort, and worked on building up its defenses. In October, he joined the U.S. troops fighting along the St. Lawrence River, annoyed by the repeated defeats suffered by the U.S. side and increasingly convinced that American soldiers needed better training. After the battle on the St. Lawrence, Scott was sent to Albany, New York to take part in preparations for the spring campaign of 1814.

As the war continued, U.S. leaders finally responded to the military's generally poor performance by getting rid of some of the older, less competent officers and promoting younger ones who had proven themselves on the battlefield. One of the latter was Scott, who became the army's youngest brigadier general in the spring of 1814. He was put in charge of his own brigade in the army headed by Jacob Brown (1778-1828), which was assembling at Buffalo, New York.

In Buffalo, Scott put into place a rigorous training program. His soldiers drilled for up to ten hours per day, six days per week. In addition, Scott made sure that his men kept up the highest standards of sanitation (cleanliness, or the lack thereof, was a huge problem in the military and contributed to a high incidence of illness), dress, discipline, and courtesy. By the time the summer arrived, Scott's troops were more than ready for battle. Major changes had taken place not only in their physical condition and military skills but in how they felt about themselves: they now had self-respect, and also deep respect for the commander who had brought them to this point.

Troops perform well at Chippewa

In 1814 the United States continued to pursue the plan, which still called for an invasion of Canada launched across the Niagara River. Scott and his men would carry out their part of this plan on July 4 and 5, when they met the British at the Battle of Chippewa (which took place on the Chippewa River, a tributary of the Niagara). Dressed in new gray jackets because the usual blue wool used for uniforms had been unavailable, Scott's troops led the advance. British general Phineas Riall (1775-1850) had assumed they were militiamen when he saw the unusual color of their uniforms, but after witnessing the coolness and skill with which the men marched, maneuvered, and shot, Riall exclaimed, "Those are regulars, by God!" (meaning, regular soldiers).

The United States won the Battle of Chippewa, marking the first time American regular soldiers had beaten British regulars in an evenly matched clash. The U.S. public rejoiced in the victory, and Scott was given much of the credit, even though some said that his aggressiveness put soldiers' lives in danger unnecessarily.

Despite the loss at the Chippewa River, the British army kept moving north along the Niagara, looking for chances to catch the Americans unprepared. On July 25 another heated battle took place, this one at Lundy's Lane, just west of Niagara Falls. The two armies fought through the day, and the U.S. troops finally forced the British to retreat, but with the arrival of reinforcements around nightfall the British surged back. Scott had two horses shot from under him before he was finally badly wounded, shot in the shoulder and hit in the ribs with a cannonball. The American troops were forced to retreat to Fort Erie, and the battle ended in a draw.

Acclaimed as a war hero

Although Scott's wounds kept him out of the rest of the war, his fame as a military hero had spread throughout the nation and he received many honors, including a gold medal and proclamation of thanks from the U.S. Congress. Scott was not content to settle for wartime glory, however, and immediately set out in pursuit of new goals and accomplishments. Scott was named by President James Madison (1751-1836) as one of only six generals to remain on active duty in the peacetime army. In 1815, following a trip to Europe to study French military methods, Scott published Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Maneuvers of Infantry, a manual to aid the army in the training of soldiers.

In March 1817 Scott married Maria Mayo of Richmond, Virginia, and went to New York City to take up his position as head of the army's Eastern Division. During the next two decades, he would play an important role as a peacekeeper and negotiator rather than as a warrior. In the late 1820s and 1830s, Scott was called upon to help settle several conflicts that arose from the resistance of Native Americans to being resettled on land that the government had put aside for them. In June 1932, for instance, President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry) assigned Scott to help negotiate an end to an uprising of Sac and Fox tribes in Illinois and Wisconsin territories.

The Mexican-American War

Scott reached what may be considered the peak of his career during the 1840s. In 1841 President John Tyler (1790-1862) named him commander in chief of the U.S. Army, a title he would hold for the next twenty years. By now Scott had earned the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers" due to his fondness for ceremony and insistence on a strict dress code and tight discipline. He was strongly opposed to the use of alcohol, and reportedly once ordered that any soldier found drunk would be forced to dig a grave his own size, so that he could see where he would end up if he kept drinking. Scott labored to make the army more professional by constantly trying to improve training methods and enforce discipline. However, his job was made more difficult by limited funds and general lack of interest on the part of the federal government.

Scott had an opportunity to prove his brilliance as a battle strategist and commander when, in May 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico over disputed territory in Texas. At the beginning of the war, Scott had to stay in headquarters to plan and coordinate strategy, even though he would have preferred to be in the field with the soldiers. A fundamental disagreement with President James K. Polk (1795-1849), who wanted a quick end to the war and urged a more aggressive approach than Scott thought it wise to make, led to Scott being replaced by General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850). Taylor could not achieve a victory any more rapidly, so in the end command of the war effort shifted back to Scott. This time, he would go to Mexico to lead the campaign himself.

On March 9 Scott led a ten-thousand-man invasion force in a historic amphibious (involving both land and sea forces) landing at the Mexican coastal city of Vera Cruz. At the end of March, the Mexicans surrendered the city to the United States. Scott now pointed his army inland toward Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, which is located more than two hundred miles from the coast. During the spring and summer, Scott's forces won impressive victories at Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Churabusco, leading to an unsuccessful armistice (peace agreement) and the resumption of conflict in early September.

Again honored as military hero

After more battles at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, the United States forces entered Mexico City on September 13, and the war was soon over. Scott took command of a temporary military government, a job he did so well that he was asked by a group of Mexican leaders to take over as Mexico's dictator (absolute ruler). Scott declined the offer and returned home in February 1848 to a hero's welcome similar to that he had received for his role in the War of 1812. Despite continuing tensions between Scott and Polk (and Polk's attempts to discredit him), Scott was again honored with a gold medal from Congress.

Scott had long harbored a wish to hold an elected office, and in 1852 the Whigs (one of two political parties now dominant in American politics) nominated him as their presidential candidate. However, Scott's tendency to switch sides on slavery, which was a major issue in the election, caused him to alienate members of his own party, and he lost the election to Democrat Franklin Pierce (1804-1869).

In 1855 Scott was promoted to lieutenant general, a title that only George Washington (1732-1799) had previously held. Despite his advancing age, he continued to take part in attempts to negotiate disputes, such as the conflict with Great Britain over who controlled the San Juan Islands in the Pacific northwest. Scott was seventy-five years old when, in 1861, theCivil War began. He planned the defense of Washington, D.C., should the Confederacy (the Southern states) attack, and also developed a special strategy for winning the war. Known as the Anaconda Plan, it called for dividing and economically strangling the South. The plan would eventually be implemented and was credited with helping the North win the war.

Scott retired from the army in November 1861. He spent the remaining five years of his life traveling to Europe and writing his memoirs, and with the ending of the Civil War he witnessed the preservation of the Union he had served for fifty-three years.

For More Information


Elliott, Charles W. Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man. New York:Macmillan, 1937.

Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997.

Scott, Winfield. Memoirs of Lieutenant General Scott. 2 vols. New York:Sheldon and Company, 1864.

Smith, Arthur D. Howden. Old Fuss and Feathers: The Life and Exploits of Winfield Scott. New York: Greystone Press, 1937.

Web sites

General Winfield Scott. [Online] (accessed on November 26, 2001).

Winfield Scott. [Online] http:/// (accessed on November 26, 2001).

Winfield Scott: General. [Online] (accessed on November 26, 2001).

Remembering Lundy's Lane

The following reminiscence was written by William Dunlop, a surgeon present after the Battle of Lundy's Lane, which took place near Niagara Falls in New York on July 25, 1814.

"… the misery their quarrels lead to.…"

It would be a useful lesson to cold-blooded politicians, who calculate on a war costing so many lives and so many limbs as they would calculate on a horse costing so many pounds [British money] … to witness such a scene, if only for one hour.

This simple and obvious truth was suggested to my mind by the exclamation of poor woman. I had two hundred and twenty wounded turned in upon me that morning, and among others an American farmer, who had been on the field either as a militia man or a camp follower. He was nearly sixty years of age, but of a most Herculean frame. One ball [cannon ball] had shattered his thigh bone, and another lodged in his body, the last obviously mortal. His wife, a respectable elderly looking woman, came over under a flag of truce, and immediately repaired to the hospital, where she found her husband lying on a truss of straw, writhing in agony, for his sufferings were dreadful.

Such an accumulation of misery seemed to have stunned her, for she ceased wailing, sat down on the ground, and taking her husband's head on her lap, continued long, moaning and sobbing, while the tears flowed fast down her face; she seemed for a considerable time in a state of stupor, till awakened by a groan from her unfortunate husband, she clasped her hands, and looking wildly around, exclaimed, "O that the King and the President were both here this moment to see the misery their quarrels lead to—they surely would never go to war without a cause that they could give as a reason to God at the last day, for thus destroying the creatures that He hath made in his own image."

In half an hour the poor fellow ceased to suffer.

Source: War of 1812. [Online] (accessed on November 26, 2001).

Winfield Scott

views updated May 18 2018

Winfield Scott

Born June 13, 1786
Petersburg, Virginia
Died May 27, 1866
West Point, New York

Union general in chief at the
beginning of the Civil War

Developed the "Anaconda Plan," which eventually
helped the Union win the war

Aveteran of the War of 1812 (1812–15), the Seminole Wars (1835–42), and the Mexican War (1846–48), General Winfield Scott had achieved the position of commander over all Federal forces when the Civil War began in 1861. His advanced age and poor health made it impossible for him to lead troops into combat personally, and he was forced to resign his position a few months after the war started. Before resigning, though, he developed a war strategy for the Union that helped it gain victory in the conflict. Scott's strategy helped cement his reputation as one of America's most successful military figures of the nineteenth century.

A famous American soldier

Winfield Scott was born to William and Ann Mason Scott on June 13, 1786, on a large farm about fourteen miles from Petersburg, Virginia. Scott's father died when he was six years old, leaving his mother to raise him alone. He credited her and two teachers with his training in manners as well as his passion for books. His mother died when Scott was seventeen.

After a year of high school, Scott entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. But he stayed only one year, leaving to study law with a prominent attorney, David Robinson. Shortly thereafter, Scott began his own practice, travelling around the area to provide legal aid wherever it was needed.

In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) announced the need for a militia (a group of citizens who volunteer to provide military services) to help the U.S. government keep British troops at bay during a foreign trade conflict. Hearing of the president's need, Scott rode twenty-five miles in one night to borrow a friend's old uniform and report for duty. Shortly thereafter, he was put in charge of a small group patrolling a section of coastline. A year later, Scott achieved the rank of captain of artillery. A few years later, he performed with great distinction in the War of 1812. This war, which lasted from 1812 to 1815, pitted the United States against Great Britain in a struggle for possession of lands in the North American West. Neither side was able to claim a clear victory in the struggle, and they finally agreed to a treaty that ended the war.

Scott built a very good reputation for himself during this conflict. Despite being wounded twice and captured once, he emerged as one of America's best officers. By the time the war ended, his exploits (brave deeds) fighting British troops along the Canadian border and elsewhere had made him one of the nation's best known soldiers.

Scott spent the next four decades serving his country in the military. During the 1830s and 1840s, he led American troops in important campaigns against several different Indian tribes, including Cherokee, Seminole, Winnebago, Sac (Sauk), and Fox groups. These clashes pushed the tribes onto reservations or forced them to relocate further West so that white settlers could move onto the land they had previously inhabited.

In 1841, Scott was appointed general in chief over all federal forces. A few years later, he and General Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) led American forces in the Mexican War. This war, which began in 1846, was a fight between Mexico and the United States for ownership of huge sections of land in the West. Mexico's leaders did not want to give up their claims on these lands, because they recognized that the territory was quite valuable. By 1848, though, Scott and Taylor guided American forces to a series of dramatic military victories in the heart of Mexico. These triumphs forced the Mexican government to give up its claims on California and other western lands in exchange for $15 million. The treaty that ended the war enlarged the territory held by the United States by nearly one quarter. It also reduced the size of Mexico's territory by almost one half.

Preparing for the Civil War

By the time the Mexican War ended, Scott was known across America as a fierce fighter and a bold military strategist. In 1852, the Whig political party nominated him for the presidency of the United States. They hoped to take advantage of his fame and popularity. Divisions within the party over the issue of slavery hurt Scott's cause, though, and he was soundly defeated by Democratic Party candidate Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) in the general election.

Scott remained in charge of America's army through the remainder of the 1850s, acquiring the nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers" because of his affection for military rules and conduct. His health and conditioning declined during this time, however, as advancing age and various physical ailments took their toll. By the end of the decade he was so overweight that he could not even mount a horse, and he sometimes fell asleep in the middle of important meetings. People began to wonder if perhaps he should be replaced.

Questions about Scott's ability to command the Federal military intensified in the spring of 1861, when the American Civil War began. This war came about because of longstanding differences between the nation's Northern and Southern regions over several major issues. The most important of these issues was slavery. Many Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. They wanted the federal government to take steps to outlaw slavery or at least keep it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played an important role in the Southern economy and culture. Many Southerners resented Northern attempts to contain slavery. They felt that each state should decide for itself whether to allow the practice. They did not want the federal government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life. The two sides finally went to war in 1861, after the Southern states tried to secede from (leave) the Union and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America.

When it became clear that the Southern states were going to attempt to form their own country, both North and South scrambled to convince leading military officers to join their side. Scott remained with the Federal army in the North, even though he had been born and raised in the secessionist state of Virginia. He decided that his greatest loyalty was to his country and the army to which he had devoted his life. But he recognized that his age (seventy-four) and poor health would make it impossible for him to lead armies into combat in the upcoming war. He asked an army officer and fellow Virginian named Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry) if he would accept field command of the Union Army in the upcoming war. But Lee informed Scott that he had reluctantly decided to join the Confederate Army because he could not "raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children" of Virginia. When Scott heard this, he replied, "You have made the greatest mistake of your life, but I feared it would be so."

Scott's second choice as field commander of Union forces was Major General George B. McClellan (1826–1885; see entry). McClellan gladly accepted the offer, and in May 1861, he became the second-highest ranking general in the U.S. Army. During the summer of 1861, both men worked hard preparing defenses around the U.S. capital of Washington. They recognized that if the city's defenses were not strong, Confederate forces might try to capture it in hopes of ending the war with one big victory. But while the generals succeeded in establishing effective fortifications around Washington, their relationship became strained.

Scott's "Anaconda Plan"

As Scott, McClellan, President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry), and other officials prepared the Union forces for the upcoming war, disagreements arose between them over the best strategy for obtaining victory. Many people in the North—from politicians and military officers to newspaper editors and ordinary citizens—believed that the Union Army would easily defeat the Confederate force. They called for a full-scale invasion of the South, arguing that the Union Army's advantages in manpower, weapons, supplies, and veteran officers would enable it to smash the Confederate rebellion within a matter of months.

Winfield Scott did not agree with this strategy, however. He believed that a big invasion of the South was a terrible idea for several reasons. For one thing, he thought that the South might be a far tougher opponent than most Northerners realized. He also did not have a lot of confidence in the inexperienced soldiers that the Union was training for the war. Scott worried that it would take months before these men developed into competent troops. Finally, he believed that a successful full-scale invasion might produce "devastated [slave states] not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations, by heavy garrisons [large numbers of troops]."

Instead of an invasion plan, Scott developed a strategy to "envelop the insurgent [secessionist] States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan," as he stated in a May 1861 letter to McClellan. Under Scott's proposed plan, the North would hold off on a major invasion and instead concentrate its efforts on blockading Southern ports and controlling the Mississippi River, which ran through the western section of the Confederacy.

The general believed that these waterways held the key to Union victory. Northern control of the seas would prevent the Confederacy from receiving weapons and other supplies from other nations. Northern control over the Mississippi River, meanwhile, would drive a wedge between Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas and the rest of the Confederacy. Scott firmly believed that if the North could establish an effective blockade and divide the South by taking control of the Mississippi, the Confederacy would eventually collapse from supply shortages and economic weakness. The Union could then invade and smash the remains of the Confederate Army into pieces.

Scott believed that his plan would eventually work, and that it would cause less bloodshed than other strategies. But many Northerners did not like Scott's plan. Political leaders, newspaper writers, and ordinary farmers and townspeople all said that his plan was too cautious and that it would take too long to execute. They called Scott's strategy the Anaconda Plan, after the large snake that kills its victims by slowly squeezing them to death. Impatient and overconfident, these critics continued to call for a massive military invasion of the South. Public demand for a big offensive (attacking) campaign finally became so great that Lincoln agreed to an invasion plan.

McClellan pushes Scott into retirement

During the summer of 1861, the North mounted a major offensive into Virginia. The invasion ended in disaster, though, when Southern troops smashed the Union Army at Manassas Junction on July 21. Many Northerners called on Scott to retire when they learned the results of this battle, called the First Battle of Bull Run or the First Battle of Manassas. Since he was general in chief over all Union troops, they argued that he deserved some of the blame for the defeat, even though he had been at his offices in Washington, D.C., when the actual battle took place.

General McClellan maneuvered to push Scott into retirement as well. McClellan ignored the general, saying that "he understands nothing, appreciates nothing." Submitting his reports directly to Lincoln, he tried to convince Northern political leaders that Scott should resign. Lincoln tried to calm the bitter rivalry between the two generals, but his efforts failed. On November 1, Scott retired from active military service "for reasons of health." In reality, though, it was the actions of McClellan and his political allies that forced him to retire.

Scott spent the rest of the war watching from the sidelines. As the war progressed, he noted with great satisfaction that the Union used a great deal of his Anaconda Plan to defeat the Confederacy. The Union Navy established a blockade of Southern ports that eventually became extremely effective, and his proposal to seize control of the Mississippi Valley became a key part of Union strategy by 1862. In the spring of 1865, the Union finally won the war.

Scott lived to see the Union restored, although health problems plagued him throughout the Civil War years. He died in 1866 while staying at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York.

Where to Learn More

Eisenhower, John S. D. Agent of Destiny: Life and Times of General WinfieldScott. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Johnson, Timothy D. Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Winfield Scott

views updated May 23 2018

Winfield Scott

The American Winfield Scott (1786-1866) was the leading general of the Mexican War and a superb tactician. He was the Whig nominee for president in 1852.

Winfield Scott became a soldier at a time when the U.S. Army was very ineffective. By study and hard work, he made himself the best military man in the country, wrote the standard manuals on tactics and infantry, and upgraded the Army into an effective unit. Moreover, he was a negotiator who avoided war on several occasions. Yet the presidency, which he coveted, eluded him.

Scott was born near Petersburg, Va., on June 13, 1786. Failing to inherit the family wealth through legal technicalities, he attended William and Mary College but quit because he disapproved the irreligious attitude of the students. After reading law, he was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1806 and practiced until appointed a captain in the military in 1808. Sent to New Orleans, he was soon in trouble. He declared that the commanding general of the department, James Wilkinson, was as great a traitor as Aaron Burr; Scott was court-martialed and suspended from the Army for a year (1810).

War of 1812

A lieutenant colonel at the outbreak of war, Scott distinguished himself in a number of battles. Several times wounded, the 6-foot 5-inch, 230-pound officer showed such judgment and courage that he was promoted to brigadier general, was breveted a major general, and was voted the thanks of Congress and a gold medal. He declined the offered position of secretary of war in James Madison's administration.

Scott went to Europe in 1815 and in 1829 to study foreign military tactics, and he wrote military manuals for the Army that remained standard for half a century. He married Maria D. Mayo of Richmond, Va., in 1817. He also conducted military institutes for the officers of his command, the Eastern Division, which was headquartered in New York City.

In 1828 Scott participated in the Black Hawk War. Four years later President Andrew Jackson sent him to South Carolina during the nullification controversy, and his tact prevented civil war at that time. In 1835 Jackson sent him to fight the Seminole and Creeks in Florida, but he was deprived of materials and moved slowly. Jackson removed him from command to face a board of inquiry. The board promptly exonerated him with praise for his "energy, steadiness and ability."

Following the abortive Canadian revolt of 1837, President Martin Van Buren sent Scott to bring peace to the troubled Niagara region. Later in 1838 Scott convinced 16,000 outraged Cherokee that they should move peacefully from Tennessee and South Carolina to the Indian Territory; he also persuaded them to be vaccinated. His tact and skill as a negotiator in 1839 brought peace in the "Lumberjack War" over the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. In reward for these activities, he was named general in chief of the Army in 1841, a position he held for 20 years.

Mexican War

Scott's name had been mentioned prominently for the Whig nomination for president in 1840 and 1844; thus, at the outbreak of the Mexican War, President James K. Polk did not want Scott to achieve the prominence that would earn him the presidential nomination. When Zachary Taylor's campaign in northern Mexico failed to achieve victory, however, Polk had to turn to Scott. Scott's strategy proved effective: landing at Veracruz in March 1847, he was in Mexico City within 6 months after brilliant victories at Cerro Gordo, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. His force then became an army of occupation, restoring order so effectively that a delegation of Mexicans asked him to become dictator of the nation. Polk wanted to court-martial Scott and thereby discredit him as a rival, but Congress voted Scott a second gold medal and thanks for his conduct of the war. Polk's charges were withdrawn.

Presidential Nominee

In 1848 the Whig party elected Zachary Taylor to the White House. In 1852 the Whig presidential nomination went to Scott, but he was defeated easily in a pompous and lackluster campaign. Congress 3 years later recognized his accomplishments by naming him a lieutenant general, the first American to hold that rank since George Washington.

In 1857 Scott argued against the "Mormon War" in favor of negotiation. Though President James Buchanan sent him to negotiate a dispute with England over the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest in 1859, he refused Scott's advice to strengthen Southern forts and posts to avoid their capture should civil war break out.

In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Scott stayed in the Union Army despite his Virginia heritage. He recommended the policy of dividing and containing the South to President Abraham Lincoln, a policy later followed successfully. On Nov. 1, 1861, Scott retired at his own request. Lincoln summarized the nation's sentiment when he said, "We are … his debtors." Scott died on May 29, 1866, at West Point, N.Y., and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Scott's insistence on maintaining strict standards of dress and discipline in the Army caused the troops to refer to him as "Old Fuss and Feathers." Opposed to the use of strong alcoholic beverages, he once ordered that any soldier found intoxicated had to dig a grave for his own size and then contemplate it, for soon he would fill it if he persisted in drinking. His arguments against alcoholic beverages led to the founding of the first temperance societies in the United States.

Further Reading

Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott, LL.D., Written by Himself (2 vols., 1864), filled with rhetorical flourishes, contains Scott's own version of his life and times. Two standard biographies are Charles W. Elliott, Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man (1937), and Arthur D. H. Smith, Old Fuss and Feathers: The Life and Exploits of Lt.-General Winfield Scott (1937). Justin H. Smith, The War with Mexico (2 vols., 1919), traces Scott's activities in that conflict.

Additional Sources

Keyes, Erasmus D. (Erasmus Darwin), Fighting Indians in Washington Territory, Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1988. □

Scott, Winfield

views updated May 29 2018

Scott, Winfield (1786–1866), U.S. Army officer and commanding general.Born in Virginia, Scott entered the army in 1807. In the War of 1812, promoted to brigadier general, he trained his troops superbly and led his brigade ably in battle, defeating British regulars in 1814 at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy's Lane where Scott was severely wounded and became a national hero. To this day, West Point cadets wear gray 1814 uniforms in honor of the American victory over British regulars. After the war, he prepared a three‐volume manual on infantry tactics that endured throughout the smoothbore era. He served in the Black Hawk War and in the campaigns against the Seminoles and Creeks, and in 1838, he supervised the removal of the Cherokees to the West. Scott had a talent for peacemaking, demonstrated first in 1832 when President Andrew Jackson sent him to Charleston and he helped negotiate the Nullification crisis. Later, he helped restore peace on the Canadian border during the Caroline crisis in 1838 and during the so‐called Aroostook war over the Maine border in 1839. In 1841, as a major general, Scott was appointed commanding general of the U.S. Army, a position he held until 1861.

During the Mexican War of 1846–48, Scott achieved the most spectacular success of any U.S. commander, but his pompous attitude and his squabbles with subordinates and superiors marred his effort and contributed to his sobriquet, “Old Fuss and Feathers.” While Zachary Taylor led the invasion of northern Mexico, Scott in 1847 personally led the southern expedition.

Scott's campaign began with the first major amphibious landing in U.S. history: more than 12,000 U.S. troops were put ashore by the U.S. Navy without loss of life near the Mexican port of Veracruz in surfboats specifically requested by Scott. The city surrendered after an 88‐hour bombardment by Scott's siege guns, which killed between 1,000 and 1,500 Mexicans. At the beginning of the campaign, Scott had issued General Order No. 20, responding to atrocities committed by some of the volunteer troops; in it he required U.S. troops to respect the rights and property of Mexicans, local government, and the Roman Catholic Church.

To avoid yellow fever on the coast and to capture the Mexican capital, Scott then led the expedition on a long, overland campaign across mountainous terrain to Mexico City. He broke through Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's defense at the strategic pass of Cerro Gordo and then paused at Puebla to await replacements for the twelve‐month volunteers whose enlistments expired. When Scott departed from his line of supply and decided to live off the countryside, the Duke of Wellington in Britain declared he would be lost. But Scott successfully led the U.S. troops to Mexico City, first winning victories at Contreras and Churubusco, where Scott's casualties were one‐tenth that of the Mexicans, largely because of his use of superior artillery and flanking maneuvers. U.S. troops at Churubusco captured members of the San Patricio Battalion, Irish American soldiers who had changed sides when Mexico offered them land and protection of their rights as Roman Catholics. Scott ordered the survivors executed as traitors.

Arriving in front of Mexico City, Scott agreed to Santa Anna's request for an armistice, hoping for a negotiated peace. But when the Mexicans sought to rebuild their army, Scott resumed the offensive, defeating the Mexicans at Molino del Rey in an uncharacteristic frontal attack that cost nearly 800 U.S. casualties and 2,000 Mexicans killed and wounded. Attacking Mexico City, Scott's forces bombarded, then stormed the Castillo de Chapultepec, overcoming the defenders—including the young cadets, “los Niños,” of the military academy there, who died defending the Mexican capital.

President James K. Polk recalled Scott from Mexico in early 1848 after the disagreements and suspicion between the Democratic president and the Whig general were compounded by the myriad disputes that erupted between Scott and his fellow officers, some of whom filed charges against him. A court of inquiry dismissed these, however, and Scott became a national hero. In 1852, Congress brevetted Scott a lieutenant general and he ran poorly as the Whig Party candidate for president against Democrat Franklin Pierce. In the mid‐1850s, Scott's squabbles with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis were legendary.

Despite his Virginia birth, Scott remained loyal to the Union when the South seceded. In declining health, he still formulated the much derided but thoughtful “Anaconda Plan” for a long, strangling blockade and siege of the Confederacy to preserve the Union while keeping casualties low. After the First Battle of Bull Run, which he opposed, he retired in November 1861; he died at West Point in 1866.
[See also Mexican War; Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans.]


Winfield Scott , Memoirs, 2 vols., 1864.
Charles Winslow Elliott , Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man, 1937.
Arthur D. Howden Smith , Old Fuss and Feathers: The Life and Exploits of Lt.‐General Winfield Scott, 1937.
John S. D. Eisenhower , Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott, 1997.
Timothy D. Johnson , Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory, 1999.

John M. Hart