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General Winfield Scott of the US Army


With so many people involved in the American Civil War on both the Union and Confederate sides, it was hard to choose who to start this chronological category on Union men important to the war.  Most people already know about the famous president that led the political side of the war and had little patience for generals he felt were too cautious.  Most people also know about his vice-president who took over for Lincoln when he was assassinated.  The next in the chain of command then would be the generals of the Union Army.

The first overall general of the Union Army was Winfield Scott, a 74 year old general who was suffering from health issues and was so overweight that he couldn’t ride a horse.  A popular man with a successful military career, Scott had been a general for 47 years and served thirteen different presidents.  McClellan and his supporters in Washington pressured Scott to retire and McClellan was happily given the post as overall General-in-Chief on November 1, 1861, about seven months into the War Between the States.  Although he had little effect on the war as it happened, he tried to prepare for it as best he could with leaders who refused to acknowledge the coming troubles.  As succession talks grew louder, Scott tried to get permission to reinforce the forts in the South but his requests were denied.  He also created what was nicknamed the “Anaconda Plan” by papers that planned on a war lasting at most three months.  When he finally resigned, the plan was scrapped but when Grant became the main general, he used the basic parts of the Anaconda Plan and slowly squeezed the resistance out of the Confederate army and people.

Although General Scott had a short time in charge of the Army during the American Civil War, he had already fought in three major wars before that, was forced to lead what would be called the Trail of Tears, ran for President in 1852, and was promoted to lieutenant general in 1855, making him the first to hold that rank since George Washington.  He was called “Old Fuss and Feathers” due to his belief that an army that had to keep their uniforms pristine would be more likely to behave properly.  As I read through his biography on Wikipedia I was surprised to see how well he treated his men and those under him.  What struck me was how determined President Jackson portrayed as being in the article that the Trail of Tears occurred without any kindness for the Cherokee while Brigadier General Scott tried to force his men to be kind to the Cherokees.  No amount of orders from a distant general could prevent the mistreatment of those most of the militia men Scott was forced to use considered worthless animals in the way of personal profits.  He is also noted as being fair while military governor of Mexico and treating both the Americans and Mexicans the same.

Winfield Scott died in 1866 and is buried at West Point.  Called “the greatest living general” by the Duke of Wellington, Scott is remembered as a great general and was still sought out by Lincoln for advice throughout the war.  His popularity led to a number of counties and towns being named for him as well as boats and he was featured on a postage stamp in 1861 as well as another stamp in 1937.  A popular and fair leader, the war would probably have been different if he had been a younger man able to defeat his protégé, General Robert E. Lee, who served under Scott in the Mexican War.  As it was, many of the leaders in the American Civil War were taught or influenced by the general that stood General-in-Chief of the army they all served in for 20 years.

Filed under: American Civil War factsMen of the WarUnion Men

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