Scott, Winfield

Born: 1786-06-13 Virginia

Died: 1866-05-29 West Point, New York

Winfield Scott was an American army officer, general, and presidential candidate. Born at Laurel Branch, the family plantation near Petersburg, Virginia, Scott received two years of rudimentary education at a Quaker boarding school before attending school in Richmond. He matriculated to the College of William and Mary but left after a year to read law. In 1806, Scott earned admittance to the Virginia bar. In 1807, the Chesapeake affair and brewing tension between the United States and the United Kingdom prompted Scott to join a volunteer calvary unit, and his experience convinced him to seek a captain's commission in the U.S. Army, which President Thomas Jefferson gave him in May 1808. Stationed in New Orleans, Scott ran afoul of his commanding officer, and a court-martial found him guilty of disrespectful language to a superior and suspended him from the army without rank or pay for a year. Scott spent this year educating himself on military training and tactics. Returning to the army, Scott received promotion to lieutenant colonel, and upon the commencement of the War of 1812, he was commanding an artillery regiment. During the War of 1812, Scott served with distinction in the Niagara theater, introducing professional military training and tactics to the army and leading his forces to a resounding victory at Battle of Chippewa and limited success at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. He rose in rank from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general, and Congress awarded him a gold medal for his victory at Chippewa. The War Department promoted him to brevet major general for his service at Chippewa. After the war, Scott commanded American forces in the Northeast. In 1817, he married Maria D. Mayo, with whom he would have seven children. Nicknamed "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on proper military bearing, dress, deportment, and discipline, Scott drew the ire of Andrew Jackson in 1817 when he suggested that some of Jackson's orders during the war were mutinous. He also became embroiled in an acrimonious dispute with fellow general Edmund P. Gaines over seniority--an argument that led both to break army regulations and engaged in a pamphlet war over the issue. In 1832, Scott led American forces in the Black Hawk War, and in 1836, he fought an unsuccessful campaign against the Seminole in the Second Seminole War. In 1838 and 1839, Scott prevented a dispute between the United States and the United Kingdom over the northeast American-Canadian border from becoming a full-scale war. Scott's success as a peacemaker brought him to the attention of the Whig Party, which considered him as the party's candidate for president in 1840 before deciding on William Henry Harrison. In 1841, Scott became general-in-chief of the army. During the Mexican-American War, Scott led an expedition against Veracruz that lead to the capture of Mexico City, enhancing Scott's status as an American hero. He received the thanks of Congress and a gold medal, and the War Department promoted him to brevet lieutenant general effective March 1847 for his service in Mexico. The Whig Party again considered him as a candidate for president in 1848 before turning to Zachary Taylor, but in 1852, the Whigs selected Scott as their nominee. Scott failed to unite the party, and he lost the election to Democrat Franklin Pierce. In the 1850s, Scott battled Secretary of War Jefferson Davis over the command structure and civilian authority over the army. Scott also devoted himself to establishing a soldiers' home, a retired list, and to increasing the pay of soldiers and officers. In 1859, he traveled to the Pacific Northwest to mediate a boundary dispute between the United States and the United Kingdom over the island of San Juan. During the Secession Crisis, Scott urged the reinforcement and proper garrisoning of federal forts in the South, and he enacted measures to ensure the peaceful transition of power from James Buchanan to Abraham Lincoln. He also arranged for the army to provide security for the inauguration. Scott did not follow many of his fellow Virginians into the Confederacy, and he urged Robert E. Lee and other Virginians in the army to remain with the Union. Scott proposed the Anaconda Plan as a means to confront and defeat the Confederacy, but the Lincoln administration rejected the plan. He helped plan the initial campaign in Virginia, which led to disaster at the First Battle of Bull Run. Conflict with General George B. McClellan drove Scott to ask President Lincoln to retire him, and he went on the retired list in November 1861. After a trip to Europe for a bronchial ailment, Scott spent the summer of 1862 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he wrote his memoirs, which were published in 1864.

John S. D. Eisenhower, Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997); Timothy D. Johnson, Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998); Richard E. Beringer, "Scott, Winfield," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 19:513-17.