Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott by Fredricks, 1862.jpg
3rd Commanding General of the United States Army
In office
July 5, 1841 – November 1, 1861
PresidentJohn Tyler
James K. Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Preceded byAlexander Macomb
Succeeded byGeorge B. McClellan
Personal details
Born(1786-06-13)June 13, 1786
Dinwiddie County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedMay 29, 1866(1866-05-29) (aged 79)
West Point, New York, U.S.
Resting placeWest Point Cemetery
Political partyWhig
EducationCollege of William and Mary
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal (2)
Military service
Nickname(s)"Old Fuss and Feathers"
"The Grand Old Man of the Army"
Allegiance United States
Service/branchVirginia Militia
United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1807–1808 (Militia)
1808–1861 (U.S. Army)
1861 (Union Army)
RankUnion army lt gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Lieutenant General
Commands1st Brigade, Left Division, Army of the North
Division of the North
Eastern Department
Eastern Division
Army of the Cherokee Nation
Commanding General of the United States Army
Army of Mexico
Battles/warsWar of 1812
 • Battle of Queenston Heights
 • Battle of Fort George
 • Capture of Fort Erie
 • Battle of Chippawa
 • Battle of Lundy's Lane
Seminole Wars
Black Hawk War
Mexican-American War
 • Siege of Veracruz
 • Battle of Cerro Gordo
 • Battle of Contreras
 • Battle of Churubusco
 • Battle of Molino del Rey
 • Battle of Chapultepec
 • Battle for Mexico City
American Civil War

Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866) was a United States Army general and the 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 person in American history, is rated as one of the Army's most senior commissioned officers, and is ranked by many historians as the best American commander of his time. Over the course of his 53-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican–American War, and the Second Seminole War. He was the army's senior officer at the start of the American Civil War, and conceived the Union strategy known as the Anaconda Plan, which was 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.

Scott was born and educated in Virginia; after brief attendance at the College of William and Mary and study in a law office, he attained admission to the bar. Scott practiced law briefly, and served in the Virginia Militia during the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair. In 1808, Scott was commissioned as a captain in the Light Artillery. He rose to prominence during the War of 1812, and attained promotion to brigadier general. Scott remained in the Army after the war, served in several command positions, and carried out high level staff tasks, including frequent updates to the Army's field regulations. After missing out on appointment as the Army's commanding general in 1828, he received the appointment in 1841; he served in this post until his retirement in 1861, shortly after the start of the American Civil War.

A national hero after the Mexican–American War, he served as military governor of Mexico City. His stature was so high that in 1852, the Whig Party passed over its own incumbent President, Millard Fillmore to nominate Scott as their candidate in that year's presidential election. Scott lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce in the general election, but remained a popular national figure, receiving a brevet promotion to lieutenant general in 1855, becoming the first American since George Washington to hold that rank.[1][2]

At the start of the Civil War, Scott took steps to defend Washington, DC and ensure the successful inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Though too old and infirm to take the field, Scott served as Lincoln's principal military adviser at the start of the war, and conceived of the Anaconda Plan; though dismissed by critics who regarded the plan's extended and prolonged blockade of southern ports as too passive, Scott's idea was incorporated into the overall Union strategy which brought about the defeat of the Confederacy.

During his years as commanding general, Scott took great interest in the development of the United States Military Academy (West Point). Following friction with senior field commander George B. McClellan, Scott retired to West Point. He died at West Point on May 29, 1866 and was buried at West Point Cemetery.

Early years

In addition to Scott using this coat of arms for his bookplate,[3] the Army has incorporated it into unit heraldry including the 1st and 7th Engineer Battalions.[4]

Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, to William Scott (1747–1791), a farmer and veteran of the American Revolution who served as an officer in the Dinwiddie County militia, and Ann Mason (1748–1803).[5] At the time, the Scott family resided at Laurel Branch, the family plantation in Dinwiddie County, near Petersburg, Virginia.[6] Ann Mason Scott was the daughter of Daniel Mason and Elizabeth Winfield, and it was Ann's mother's maiden name that William and Ann Scott selected for their son.[7] He was educated by tutors and in the local schools; his father died when Scott was six, and his mother when Scott was seventeen. In 1805, Scott began attendance at the College of William and Mary, but he soon left in order to study law in the office of attorney David Robinson, where his contemporaries included Thomas Ruffin.[8] By 1807, Scott had attained admission to the bar, and he made a brief attempt to practice law.[9] He also gained his initial military experience as a corporal of cavalry in the Virginia militia near Petersburg in 1807, during the response to the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair.[10] (According to biographer John Eisenhower's account, Scott served with the militia without having been officially mustered in.)[11] While serving near Lynn Haven Bay, Scott led a detachment that captured two midshipmen and six sailors from the British fleet, who had attempted to land and purchase provisions.[10] Virginia authorities did not approve of this action, fearing it might spark a wider conflict; they soon ordered the release of the prisoners, who rejoined the crew of their ship.[10]

In October 1807, Scott traveled to South Carolina, intending to establish a law practice.[12] He soon discovered that South Carolina required a one-year residence before granting law licenses,[12] and requested a waiver of the residence period from the state legislature, which was denied.[12] He briefly resided in Charleston, where he intended to practice without appearing in court until he had established residence.[13] Abandoning this idea, he briefly practiced again in Petersburg, but the continued threat of war with Britain coupled with his militia experience led Scott to decide upon an Army career, and he decided to apply for a commission.[12]

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