Nick Name: The Grand Old Man of the Army
Birthday: June 13, 1786
Died At Age: 79
Sun Sign: Gemini
Born Country: United States
Born in: Dinwiddie County, Virginia, United States
Famous as: Military Officer
Spouse/Ex-: Maria D. Mayo (m. 1817)
father: William Scott
mother: Anna Mason
siblings: George Washington Scott
Died on: May 29, 1866
place of death: West Point, New York, United States
U.S. State: Virginia
education: College of William & Mary
awards: Congressional Gold Medal
Winfield Scott was an American military and political leader, who served as a general in the ‘United States Army’ from 1814 to 1861. He had participated in the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War, the initial phases of the American Civil War, and various battles with the Native Americans. He was the presidential nominee of the ‘Whig Party' in the 1852 election but ended up being defeated by ‘Democrat’ candidate Franklin Pierce. Scott was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” and the “Grand Old Man of the Army.” He is remembered as one of the most efficient commanders in American military history.
Childhood & Early Life
Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, at his family’s farm near Dinwiddie Courthouse, situated in the southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, United States, to Ann Mason and William Scott.
His father was a farmer and an American Revolutionary War veteran. He was also an officer in the Dinwiddie County army. His mother was the daughter of an affluent local family. Scott’s parents named him after his maternal grandmother's maiden name, “Winfield.”
His paternal grandfather, James Scott, was from Scotland and had supported Bonnie Prince Charlie in his failed effort to win the English crown. After the prince lost at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, James fled to the United States, where he became a successful lawyer later.
Scott's father passed away when Scott was 6 years old. His mother did not remarry and raised Scott and her other children singlehandedly. Scott had a brother and two sisters. After his mother’s death, most of the family’s fortunes were inherited by his older brother, James.
In 1805, Scott joined the ‘College of William and Mary.’ However, he soon quit studies to study law under attorney David Robinson. There, he met Thomas Ruffin and others.
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Early Military Career
He began his military career on May 3, 1808, just before turning 22, as a captain in the ‘U.S. Light Artillery.’ Scott was against the commanding general of the army, James Wilkinson, and criticized his policies. He was thus punished with a court martial in 1810 and a suspension for a year.
He was part of the staff of Wade Hampton II (father of Confederate General Wade Hampton III) in New Orleans, from 1811 to 1812.
The War of 1812
At the beginning of the War of 1812, Scott was promoted to the position of lieutenant colonel (July 6, 1812) of the ‘Second Artillery Regiment.’ He was then posted at the Niagara region.
His first battle was the Battle of Queenston Heights, where he was in charge of the American landing party. However, his army had to surrender eventually.
Till 1813, he was held in captivity by the British. Following his return to duty, he was promoted to the post of colonel (March 12, 1813). He commanded the attack on Fort George and sustained an injury in the process.
He was promoted to the post of brigadier general on March 9, 1814. By this time, Scott had come to be known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his attention to military discipline.
Scott was in charge of a brigade at the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane. At Lundy’s Lane, he suffered a grave injury and was thus forced to withdraw from the rest of the war. His action at Lundy’s Lane earned him a brevet promotion to the position of major general on July 25, 1814.
After the War of 1812, Scott standardized the drills of the army. He wrote the “General Regulations for the Army” in 1821. It was the first structured set of military bylaws that laid down proper standards for a soldier’s life. He thus codified every part of army life and brought in a focus on professionalism.
He was overlooked for command in 1828, which made him contemplate his resignation. However, it was denied by the army.
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He was in command during the Indian Wars in the west, during the 1830s. In 1832, he led the U.S. forces at the Black Hawk War in the Illinois Territory.
In 1838, he managed the Cherokee Removal, which was part of the “Trail of Tears.” It involved forced relocation of the Cherokee population to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), between 1836 and 1839.
The Mexican American War
He was then made a major general on June 25, 1841. He became a brevet lieutenant general on March 29, 1847. Following this, he led the American army into Mexico during the Mexican–American War. After leading the siege of Veracruz, the port city, in March 1847, he defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna and his combined Mexican forces at the Battle of Cerro Gordo (April 18, 1847), the Battle of Contreras (against the army of General Gabriel Valencia, in August 1847), and the Battle of Churubusco (against the ‘Saint Patrick's Battalion,’ on August 20, 1847).
He then besieged Mexico City in September 1847. He began by attacking the Chapultepec fortress on September 13. The next day, the Mexican soldiers surrendered.
His actions in Mexico made him a national hero. During the beginning of the Civil War, Scott retained his position, although he was 74 and frail.
Politics & Retirement
Meanwhile, he also ran for president as the ‘Whig Party’ nominee in the 1852 elections. He had joined the party earlier, during the mid-1830s. However, he lost the presidential race to Franklin Pierce of the ‘Democrats.’
Scott took responsibility for the loss of the ‘Union’ forces at the hands of the ‘Confederates’ at the First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, in the American Civil War, on July 21, 1861. However, he also implied that he was led to attack by President Lincoln.
Scott resigned from the army in November 1861. At the time of his retirement, Scott had served as a general for a longer period of time than his successor, George McClellan, had been alive. He was thus known as the “Grand Old Man of the Army.” He eventually saw the ‘Union’ forces win the war.
In his long career, Scott managed to create an American version of European discipline in his forces. His military career gave him a taste of aristocracy. Although he was suspended from the army once due to charges of mishandling of funds, his military ability was par excellence.
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Scott used frontal assaults if required but liked winning battles by sudden and unexpected moves. He was known for his intelligent strategies. The Duke of Wellington had declared Scott "the greatest living general" following his siege of Mexico City.
Family & Personal Life
Scott got married to Maria DeHart Mayo in March 1817. Maria was the daughter of Colonel John Mayo and Abigail (née DeHart) Mayo. Her father was an affluent engineer and businessman and belonged to one of the most prestigious families of Virginia.
Scott lived in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, for the better part of the next 30 years. Since the late 1830s, Maria began spending more time in Europe because of a bronchial issue. In 1862, Maria died in Rome.
They had seven children: their five daughters, Maria, Virginia, Cornelia, Cornelia, and Marcella, and two sons, John and Edward. Their sons died young.
Scott died on May 29, 1866, at West Point. He was 79 at the time of his death. He remains buried in the ‘Academic Cemetery’ at West Point, Orange County, New York.
Several counties, in the states of Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, Minnesota, and Tennessee, have been named in his honor.
Several other places, such as Winfield, Illinois; Winfield, Alabama; Winfield, Indiana; and Winfield, Tennessee, have been named after Scott.
Other places named in his honor include the city of Fort Scott in Kansas, and Scott Depot and Winfield in West Virginia.
Lake Winfield Scott in Georgia and Mount Scott in Oklahoma, too, have been named after him.
Scott's oriole, a medium-sized bird, has been named after him by Darius N. Couch. Scott Circle in Washington, D.C. has a statue of Scott.
A steamer launched in 1850 was named the ‘Winfield Scott,’ and a ‘US Army’ tugboat, too, bears the same name.
His home, the ‘General Winfield Scott House’ in New York City, where he stayed from 1853 to 1855, was declared a “National Historic Landmark” in 1973. He has also been honored on a U.S. postage stamp.