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  Name:  Winfield Scott
  Born:  June 13, 1786
  Died:  May 29, 1866

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Scott, Winfield (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866)

Winfield Scott was one of the major military figures in the United States from the War of 1812 until his retirement as general–in–chief early in the Civil War.

He was born on June 13, 1786, on a plantation in Dinwiddie County outside Petersburg, Virginia, to Ann Mason Scott and William Scott.  When young Winfield was six years old, his father died.  The boy attended a Quaker boarding school for two years before entering a Richmond academy in 1804.  He was later admitted to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, but dropped out in order to read law.  He passed the state bar in 1806.  His mother had died the previous year.

In 1807, the 21–year–old Scott joined the U.S. army, but was soon suspended by a court martial for one year.  Scott had called his commander, General James Wilkinson, "a liar and a scoundrel" for the general’s part in Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to create an independent nation in America’s newly acquired Louisiana Territory.  During the War of 1812, Scott served in the Lake Erie region, but was quickly captured by the British.  After his parole in 1813, Scott established a training camp near Buffalo, New York, and then led his disciplined troops to victory at the Battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814.  The win was an important boost to American morale, which Scott extended at the Battle of Lundy Lane on July 25.  Although technically a draw, Lundy Lane proved that American troops were the equal of the professional British army.  Congress presented Scott with a gold medal and his commanders promoted him to major general.  Two years after the war ended, in 1817, he married Maria Mayo of Richmond; the couple later had seven children.

In 1832, Scott led American troops during the Black Hawk War and negotiated a treaty with the Sac and Fox Indians.  The next year, President Andrew Jackson sent him to South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis, as that state was threatening to secede because of high tariffs.  Scott ordered the reinforcement of federal forts at Charleston, and then proceeded to inspect other Southern forts, sending a forceful message to potential rebels.  His subsequent assignment to subdue the Seminole and Creek Indians of the Southeast was largely unsuccessful.  When an uprising against British rule in Canada erupted in 1837, President Martin Van Buren transferred him to upper New York State to preserve American neutrality and keep the peace.  Scott was then sent back to the South to oversee the Cherokee removals to the West, but soon returned north to help negotiate a border dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

In 1841, Scott was promoted to commanding general of the U. S. Army, a position he would hold for twenty years.  During the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), Scott’s impressive leadership resulted in the capture of Veracruz in March 1847.  Over the next six months, he won a series of victories, including Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec (all listed in the cartoon), before capturing the capital of Mexico City on September 14, 1847.  When President James K. Polk recalled diplomat Nicholas Trist to Washington and ordered Scott to resume hostilities, Scott convinced Trist to ignore the president and negotiate with Mexico.  The resulting Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, signed on February 2, 1848, satisfied President Polk and gave the United States one–third of the Mexican Territory (areas of California, Arizona, and New Mexico).  Scott received the official Thanks of Congress and a gold medal, and was promoted to lieutenant general.

Scott was popular with his men, but was called “Old Fuss and Feathers” because of his strict concern with military protocol.  The general had been mentioned as a possible Whig presidential candidate as early as 1840, and he finally won the nomination in 1852.  However, in the general election, he lost in an electoral landslide to Democrat Franklin Pierce.  In 1857, Scott argued against the use of federal troops to force the Mormons in Utah to comply with federal law.  Two years later, he helped negotiate another border dispute between the United States and Canada, this time at San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest.

As Southern states began seceding from the Union in the winter of 1860–1861, Scott, a native Virginian, stayed loyal to the Union.  He urged the reinforcement of federal forts in the South, and oversaw security at the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.  While most observers on both sides were predicting a quick and easy victory, Scott accurately warned that the conflict would take at least three years (it lasted four), necessitating a federal troop presence in the South for several years thereafter.  His proposed Union military strategy was derided as the Anaconda Plan:  blockade Confederate ports, secure the Mississippi River, and squeeze the Confederacy to death like an anaconda snake.  The strategy was initially rejected, but describes broadly how the Union finally won the war.  

Old and ill, Scott asked to be retired after General George McClellan rudely disobeyed his orders.  Scott was placed on the retired list on November 1, 1861.  He wrote his memoirs (published in 1864) while at West Point, where he died on May 29, 1866.

Source consulted:  Richard E. Beringer, “Scott, Winfield,” American National Biography (online)


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