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Winfield Scott

the second man ever to hold the rank of Lieutenant-General

Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott was born into a wealthy family near Petersburg, Virginia, on June 13, 1786. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1804, was admitted to the bar in 1806, and entered the Army as a Captain of Artillery in 1808.

Early Military Career

Upon outbreak of the War of 1812, Scott recruited a regiment of volunteers and, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, led a series of attacks between Fort Erie and Fort George, on the Canadian side of the border, west of Buffalo, New York. He was captured during the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 11, 1812, but was released in a prisoner-of-war exchange in January 1813. Promoted to Colonel in March 1813, and to Brigadier General in March 1814, he went on to gain a victory at Chippewa in early July 1814, but was seriously wounded during the Battle of Lundy's Lane later that same month. For his services during the war, he was promoted to Major-General and given a gold medal and a vote of thanks by Congress.

After the war, Scott got married, traveled in Europe, and wrote the first complete manual of military tactics in the U.S. Army. He resumed active service during the Black Hawk War of 1832, was sent by President Andrew Jackson to restore order in Charleston, South Carolina, during the Nullification Crisis, and restored tranquility on the Canadian border during Martin Van Buren's administration. Although he oversaw the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia over the Trail of Tears in 1838, he did so with as much compassion as possible and was one of the very few military officials to earn a measure of respect from the Cherokee during the ordeal. In 1839, he helped negotiate a truce in the Aroostock War. He was made General-In-Chief of the U.S. Army in 1841.

Mexican War

Sent to Mexico in November 1846, Scott commanded all forces in the southern campaign, while General Zachary Taylor headed the northern campaign. After taking Vera Cruz on March 28, 1847, Scott led his men on a successful campaign through Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Chapultepec that resulted in the capture of Mexico City on September 14 (below).

Scott captures Mexico City

Although his successes in Mexico made Scott a national hero, his subordinates frequently complained about his leadership, and in 1848 President James Polk recalled him to Washington to face a court of inquiry. All charges were dismissed before any court could be convened, however, and Scott resumed his command. In 1852, Congress voted to elevate Scott to the rank of Lieutenant-General, the first to hold that rank since George Washington.

Post-War Career

Scott was nominated for the presidency by the Whigs in 1852, but lost the election to Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce. In 1859, he was sent to Washington Territory as a commissioner to resolve a boundary dispute with Great Britain in the San Juan Islands, which he accomplished fairly easily. Early in 1861, Scott went to Washington, D.C., where he personally recruited men to defend the capital and President Abraham Lincoln. A staunch opponent of secession, he proposed the "Anaconda Plan," which included detailed plans for defending Northern military posts and defeating the Confederacy. Although the plan was initially dismissed because most Union leaders believed the war would not last long enough for it to be necessary, Scott's plan would eventually be followed almost in its entirety as the war dragged on.

Scott was 75 years old and weighed over 200 pounds when the Civil War began, and by his own admission was not physically capable of leading an army, so he recommended that President Lincoln name Robert E. Lee to lead the Union Army and asked for permission to retire. Lee ultimately turned down Lincoln's offer, but Scott retired in November 1861

General Winfield Scott died at West Point, New York, on May 29, 1866, and is buried at the national cemetery there.


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See Also

War of 1812
President Andrew Jackson
Zachary Taylor
President James Polk
George Washington
Franklin Pierce
President Abraham Lincoln
Civil War
Robert E. Lee

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The Robinson Library >> Mexican War, 1846-1848

This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.