General Winfield Scott Letter - Inventory Number: DOC 117 / SOLD
Ca. 1855 Historic letter written to Lafayette C. Baker a spy for General Winfield Scott, the head of the Secret Service (U.S. Intelligence Service) and Trapped John Wilkes Booth. Mentioning Colonel Huger, who was later known as Confederate General Benjamin Huger. Nice framed and ready for display, framed measures 16 3/4" x 10 3/8".
Letter reads as follows:
"My dear Colonel,
Will you and Colonel Ripley dine in Fanville with me today at 4 1/2 o'clock? I sent you word by Col. Huger last night.
Yours very truly
Tuesday. Jan. 20
Lafayette Curry Baker (October 13, 1826 – July 3, 1868) was a United States investigator and spy, serving the Union Army, during the American Civil War and under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
Baker was born in Stafford, New York on October 13, 1826. He became a mechanic, moved to Michigan in 1839, returned to New York in 1848, moved to California in 1853, and was a San Francisco vigilante in 1856. He moved to the District of Columbia in 1861.
Baker's exploits are mainly known through his book A History of the Secret Service which he published in 1867 after his fall from grace. During the early months of the Civil War, he spied for General Winfield Scott on Confederate forces in Virginia. Despite numerous scrapes, he returned to Washington, D.C., with information that Scott evidently thought valuable enough to raise him to the rank of captain. As Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C. from September 12, 1862 to November 7, 1863, Baker ran what the National Detective Bureau also sometimes known as the "National Detective Police Department." He was appointed colonel of D.C. Cavalry, May 5, 1863. According to Professor Glenn "Although his accomplishments were many, Baker operated with little regard for warrants or the constitutional rights of those he pursued. He is also reported to have employed brutal interrogation techniques in order to obtain information."
Baker owed his appointment largely to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, but suspected the secretary of corruption and was eventually demoted for tapping his telegraph lines and packed off to New York.
Baker was recalled to Washington after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. Within two days of his arrival in Washington, Baker's agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett. Baker received a generous share of the $100,000 reward offered to the person who apprehended the president's killer. President Andrew Johnson nominated Baker for appointment to the grade of brigadier general of volunteers, April 26, 1865, but the United States Senate never confirmed the appointment. Baker was mustered out of the volunteers on January 15, 1866.
The following year, Baker was sacked from his position as government spymaster. President Johnson accused him of spying on him, a charge Baker admitted in his book which he published in response. He also announced that he had had Booth's diary in his possession which was being suppressed by the Department of War and Secretary Stanton. When the diary was eventually produced, Baker claimed that eighteen vital pages were missing. It was suggested by Otto Eisenschiml in his book, "Why Was Lincoln Murdered?," that these would implicate Stanton in the assassination. However, this notion has been proven as speculation by author Edward Steers Jr. and based on non-reputable sources.
On July 3, 1868, Baker retired to home complaining of soreness from a gun wound during a hunting trip. He had been out drinking with Wally Pollack, his brother-in-law, and came home feeling sick, passing away later that night, reportedly from meningitis.
As it was scarcely eighteen months after his explosive allegations, Lincoln conspiracists have suggested he was killed by the War Department to silence him. Using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer to analyze several hairs from Baker's head, Ray A. Neff, a professor at Indiana State University, determined that Baker was killed by arsenic poisoning rather than meningitis. Baker had been unwittingly consuming the poison for months, mixed into imported beer provided by his wife's brother Wally Pollack. The Lincoln Conspiracy by Balsiger and Sellier in 1977 cites a diary Baker's wife kept which chronicled several dates Pollack brought Baker beer; they correspond to the gradually elevated levels of toxin in the Baker hair samples Neff studied. Wally worked for the War Department, though whether he acted on orders or alone has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, Neff's studies, along with the information chronicled in Baker's diary, set forth an alternate history of the Lincoln assassination, one distinct from the chronology most commonly promulgated by mainstream U.S. historians.
Benjamin Huger (November 22, 1805 – December 7, 1877) was a regular officer in the United States Army, who served with distinction as chief of ordnance in the Mexican-American War. In the American Civil War, as a Confederate general, he surrendered Roanoke Island and then the rest of the Norfolk, Virginia shipyards, attracting criticism for allowing valuable equipment to be captured. At Seven Pines, he was blamed unjustly by General James Longstreet for impeding the Confederate attack, but after his lacklustre performance in the Seven Days Battles, he was transferred to administrative duties.
Huger was born in 1805 in Charleston, South Carolina. (He pronounced his name /juːˈʒeɪ/, although today many Charlestonians say /ˈjuːdʒiː/.) He was a son of Francis Kinloch Huger and his wife Harriet Lucas Pinckney, making him a grandson of Maj. Gen. Thomas Pinckney. His paternal grandfather, also named Benjamin Huger, was a patriot in the American Revolution, killed at Charleston during the British occupation.
In 1821 Huger entered the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated four years later, standing eighth out of 37 cadets. On July 1, 1825, he was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant, then promoted to second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery on that same date. He served as a topographical engineer until 1828, when he took a leave of absence from the Army to visit Europe from 1828 to 1830. He then was on recruiting duty, after which he served as part of Fort Trumbull's garrison in New London, Connecticut. From 1832 to 1839 Huger commanded the Fortress Monroe arsenal located in Hampton, Virginia.
On February 7, 1831, Huger married a cousin named Elizabeth Celestine Pinckney. They would have five children together; Benjamin, Eustis, Francis, Thomas Pinckney and Celestine Pinckney. One of his sons, Francis (Frank) Kinloch Huger, also attended West Point and graduated in 1860. Frank Huger would enter the Confederate forces during the American Civil War as well, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel and leading a battalion of field artillery by the end of the conflict. On May 30, 1832, Huger was transferred to the Army's ordnance department with the rank of captain; he would spend the rest of his U.S. Army career with this branch. From 1839 to 1846 he served as a member of the U.S. Army Ordnance Board, and from 1840 into 1841 he was on official duty in Europe. Huger again commanded the Fort Monroe Arsenal from 1841 to 1846, until hostilities began with Mexico.
Huger fought notably in 1846–48 during the Mexican–American War, serving as chief of ordnance on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott throughout the conflict. Huger had command of the siege train during the Siege of Veracruz, March 9–29, 1847. He was appointed to the rank of brevet major for his performance at the Veracruz on March 29, and to lieutenant colonel for the Battle of Molino del Rey on September 8. Huger was brevetted a colonel five days later for "gallant and meritorious conduct" during the storming of Chapultepec.
Returning from Mexico, Huger was appointed to a board which created an instructional system for teaching artillery principles in the US Army. From 1848-51 he once more commanded the arsenal at Fort Monroe, and then led the arsenal at Harpers Ferry until 1854. During 1852 his home state presented him with a sword, commemorating Huger's long and distinguished service to South Carolina. From 1854-60, he commanded the arsenal located at Pikesville in Baltimore County, Maryland, during which he was promoted to major as of February 15, 1855. Huger was then sent to the Crimean War as an official foreign observer in 1856. Beginning in 1860, Huger commanded the Charleston Arsenal, holding the post until resigning in the spring of 1861.
Despite the secession of his home state in December 1860, Huger remained in the U.S. Army until after the Battle of Fort Sumter, resigning effective April 22, 1861. Just prior to the battle, Huger traveled to the fort and conferred with its commander, Major Robert Anderson, to determine where he stood. Although Anderson was also Southern-born, he had already chosen to follow the Union cause, and Huger left when "their discussions came to naught."
Huger was commissioned an infantry lieutenant colonel in the regular Confederate Army on March 16, and then briefly commanded the forces in and around Norfolk, Virginia. On May 22 he was appointed a brigadier general in the state's militia, and the next day took command of the Department of Norfolk, with defensive responsibilities for North Carolina and southern Virginia, with his headquarters located at Norfolk. Sometime that June he was also commissioned a brigadier in the Virginia Provisional Army, however Huger entered the Confederate volunteer forces on June 17 as a brigadier general. Later on October 7 he was promoted to the rank of major general.
In early 1862 Union Army and Navy forces approached the North Carolina-Virginia coastline and Huger's area of responsibility. At Roanoke Island his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise, asked Huger for a variety of supplies, ammunition, field artillery, and most importantly additional men, greatly fearing an attack on his quite unfinished defenses. Huger's response to Wise asked him to rely on "hard work and coolness among the troops you have, instead of more men." Eventually Confederate President Jefferson Davis did order Huger to send help to the Roanoke Island area, but it proved too late. On February 7–8 Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough and his gunboats landed Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's infantry, initiating the Battle of Roanoke Island. Huger, having about 13,000 soldiers, failed to reinforce the immediate commanders there, an ailing Wise and Col. H. M. Shaw, and Burnside quickly eliminated the Confederate resistance and forced a surrender.
When news of the fall of Roanoke Island reached the population of Norfolk they quickly panicked, spreading the alarm to Richmond. Military historian Shelby Foote believed this loss "...shook whatever confidence the citizens had managed to retain in Huger, who was charged with their defense." On February 27, President Davis declared martial law in Norfolk and suspended the right of habeas corpus, attempting to regain control, and two days later he did the same in Richmond.
Due to the combination of the naval action at Elizabeth City on February 10, the Battle of New Bern on March 14, the Battle of South Mills on April 19, and other Union landings during the Peninsula Campaign, Confederate authorities determined Huger could not hold Norfolk. On April 27 he was ordered by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to abandon the area, salvaging from Gosport Navy Yard as much usable equipment as he could, and join the main army. On May 1 Huger began to evacuate his men and ordered the destruction by fire of the naval yards at both Norfolk as well as nearby Portsmouth. Ten days later Union forces occupied the Gosport Yards. Military historian Webb Garrison, Jr. believed Huger did not leave the area properly, stating: "...the evacuation of Norfolk was handled poorly by Confederate Gen. Benjamin Huger—too much property was left intact." Also lost as a result was the famous Ironclad warship CSS Virginia, scuttled by her own crew when she could not stay in the James River, get past Union Naval forces at its mouth, nor survive at sea even if it did. The Union would control the facilities at Norfolk for the rest of the war, and the Confederate Congress soon began to investigate Huger's part in the defeat at Roanoke Island. He led his soldiers to Petersburg, where he remained until summoned by Johnston at the end of May.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis assigned Huger to divisional command under Gen. Johnston within the Army of Northern Virginia. His command fell back with the main body as Johnston retired towards Richmond, and then participated in the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31 and June 1, 1862.
According to Johnston's battle plan, Huger's three brigades were placed under the command of Maj. Gen. James Longstreet as a support, but Huger was never notified of this. On June 1 as he moved his men toward the fight, their march was blocked by Longstreet's columns—who had taken an incorrect road—and halted. Huger found Longstreet, asked about the delay, and for the first time learned his role and the command relationship. Huger then asked whether he or Longstreet was the senior officer and was told that Longstreet was, which he accepted as true although it was not. This delay and Longstreet's instructions to stand by and wait for orders prevented Huger's division from supporting the advance on time and hampered the overall Confederate attack. In his official report of the Battle of Seven Pines, Longstreet unjustly blamed Huger for the less than completely successful action, complaining of his tardiness on May 31 but not relating the reason for the delay. In a private letter to an injured Johnston written on June 7, Longstreet stated:
The failure of complete success on Saturday [May 31] I attribute to the slow movements of Gen. Huger's command... I can't help but think that a display of his forces on the left flank of the enemy, by Gen. Huger, would have completed the affair... Slow men are a little out of place upon the field.
Once he learned he had been criticized and blamed, Huger asked Johnston to investigate; however this was refused. He then asked President Davis to order a court-martial, but, although approved, it never took place. Writing after the war, Edward Porter Alexander stated: "Indeed, it is almost tragic the way in which he became the scapegoat of this occasion." referring to Huger.
Huger then participated in several of the Seven Days Battles with the Army of Northern Virginia, now under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who replaced the wounded Johnston on June 1. Lee planned an offensive in late June against an isolated Union Army corps with the bulk of his army, leaving less than 30,000 men in the Richmond trenches to defend the Confederate capital. This force consisted of the divisions of Maj. Gens. John B. Magruder, Theophilus H. Holmes, and Huger. During the Battle of Oak Grove on June 25, his portion of the line was attacked by two divisions of the Union III Corps led by Brig. Gens. Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny. When part of the assault faltered in rough terrain, Huger took advantage of the confused, uneven Union line and counterattacked with the brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright. After repulsing the charge, another Union force attacked Huger but was also stopped short of the line. The Battle of Oak Grove cost Huger 541 men killed and wounded, while inflicting 626 total casualties on the Union Army.
Lee continued to order his army to pursue and destroy the Union forces. Following the action at Oak Grove, he pulled much of the defense around Richmond and added them to the chase, Huger's division included. On June 29, Magruder thought his position was to be attacked by overwhelming numbers and asked for reinforcements. Lee sent two brigades from Huger's division in response with instructions they were to be returned at 2 p.m. if Magruder was not hit by then. The appointed hour came and passed, Huger's men were sent back, and later that day Magruder "halfheartedly" fought the Battle of Savage's Station alone. Even without those two brigades, Huger was late in reaching his assigned position on June 29, countermarching needlessly and encamping his command without engaging with the enemy. The next day Huger was ordered toward Glendale but was delayed by the retreating Union forces, who had cut trees to slow pursuit, and also by the terrain which easily allowed for ambush. Attempting to follow along the Charles City Road to his assignment, Huger had his men cut a new path through the woods with axes. This further slowed their advance, while the other Confederate commands waited for his guns to fire, which was their signal to attack. Huger informed Lee of the delay by simply stating his march was "obstructed" without further description.
Around 2 p.m. Huger's lead brigade under Brig. Gen. William Mahone cut a mile-long path around the Union obstacles, winning the so-called "battle of the axes" and continued to approach Glendale. There he saw the 6,000-man division of Brig. Gen. Henry W. Slocum arrayed to block his way. Huger ordered one of his artillery batteries to fire on this Union position at 2:30 p.m. but Slocum's guns answered quickly, and Huger led his 9,000 men off the road and into the woods after taking some casualties. Despite outnumbering the Union division Huger made no further attempts to reach Glendale. However his few artillery shots were interpreted by the other Confederates as the signal to attack, igniting the Battle of Glendale, although Huger and his command would not take part in the fight and camped.
The following day, July 1, turned out to be Huger's last fight with the Army of Northern Virginia as well as his final field command in the American Civil War. His division was directed toward the Union forces on Malvern Hill without a definite target, as he was told that Lee would "place him where most needed" against the position. Because Magruder had mistakenly led his command away from the battle, Huger took up his place on the Confederate right, just north of the "Crew House", with the division of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill on his left. To give his infantry a chance to charge and break the Union line, Lee ordered a concentrated artillery barrage at Malvern Hill. One of Huger's brigades, led by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, was to determine when this barrage had the desired effect and begin the assault. Before the cannonade could begin however, the Union artillery fired first and took out most of the Confederate guns. Shortly after 2:30 p.m. Armistead went in anyway, and though his men made some progress he failed to penetrate the strong defensive position. Other Confederate units made less progress and took heavy casualties, and around 4 p.m. Magruder arrived and put in two brigades—about a third of his command—behind Armistead, but he too retired with high loss. Two more of Huger's brigades—led by Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright and Mahone, about 2,500 men—followed Armistead and toward Malvern Hill. Taking Union artillery and infantry fire as they advanced, Huger's men slowed and then stopped, finding a measure of protection in a nearby bluff. They had fought to about 75 yards (69 m) of the Union line but could go no further. Huger's last brigade under Brig. Gen. Robert Ransom managed to get within 20 yards (18 m) by 6 p.m. but also fell back after receiving heavy casualties in the Confederate defeat.
Following the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Gen. Lee began to reorganize his army and eliminate ineffective division commanders, including Huger. His actions since joining the army "left much to be desired" according to military biographer Ezra J. Warner. Other historians have also criticized Huger throughout this time: Brendon A. Rehm summarized his battle performance as "not notably successful" and John C. Fredriksen stated Huger was "lethargic" during Seven Pines as well as moved "sluggishly" during the Seven Days fights. Furthermore, the Confederate Congress held Huger accountable for the defeat at Roanoke Island. His dilatory performance also appears to have been blamed on his rather advanced age; at nearly 57, he was well above the average age of most field officers. As a result, Huger was relieved of command on July 12, 1862 along with Maj. Gen. Theophilus Holmes, another aging, ineffective division commander and that fall was ordered to serve in the Trans-Mississippi Department.
After the Seven Days Battles, Huger was assigned to be assistant Inspector General of artillery and ordnance for the Army of Northern Virginia. He held this post from his relief on June 12 until August, when he was sent to the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. Considered too old for field command, he would spend the remainder of the war in administrative duties. Huger was made the department's inspector of artillery and ordnance on August 26, and then was promoted to command of all ordnance within the department in July 1863. This position he held until the end of the American Civil War in 1865, when he surrendered along with Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and the rest of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi forces. Huger was paroled from Shreveport, Louisiana, on June 12 of that same year and returned to civilian life.
Huger's Trans-Mississippi service in staff positions has been rated positively by historians. Ezra J. Warner believed this area of military service was "his proper sphere" and summarized Huger's overall performance there as: "These duties he energetically and faithfully discharged until the close of the war, most of the time in the Trans-Mississippi service." Likewise John C. Fredriksen states "He functioned capably in this office until 1863, when he rose to chief of ordnance in the Trans-Mississippi Department until the end of the war."
After the war, Huger became a farmer in North Carolina and then in Fauquier County, Virginia, finally returning in poor health to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. He was also a member of Aztec Club of 1847, a social club formed just after the Mexican–American War by army officers. Huger served as its vice president from 1852-67. He died in Charleston in December 1877 and was buried at Green Mount Cemetery located in Baltimore, Maryland.
Scott, Winfield, major-general, was born in Petersburg, Va., June 13, 1786. After spending two years in William and Mary college he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1806, and the following year went to Charleston with the intention of settling there, but before he had fairly entered upon the practice of his profession, Congress in view of imminent hostilities with England, passed a bill to enlarge the army and he obtained a commission as captain of light artillery and entered upon his career as a soldier. Recruiting a company he was stationed at Baton Rouge, La., in the division commanded by Gen. Wilkinson. War having been declared against Great Britain in June, 1812, Capt. Scott was made a lieutenant-colonel in the 2nd artillery the following month, and was stationed at Black Rock with two companies of his regiment. Taking part in the battle of Queenstown heights, the field was at first won under his direction; but it was finally lost and himself and his command taken prisoners, from the refusal of the troops at Lewiston to cross to their assistance. Exchanged in Jan., 1813, immediately after the capture of York, Upper Canada, Scott rejoined the army on the frontier as adjutant to Gen. Dearborn, with the rank of colonel. He took part in the expedition against Fort George; landed his men in good order and scaled a steep height in the presence of the enemy, carrying the position at the point of the bayonet. He served well in Wilkinson's campaign, was made a brigadier-general in March, 1814, and immediately thereafter established a camp of; instruction at Buffalo, where his own and other officers were drilled into thorough and accurate discipline. He now served a vigorous and brilliant campaign, being present at the taking of Fort Erie, winning the battle of Chippewa, and doing good service at Lundy's lane, where he was twice severely wounded.
For his gallant conduct Scott was brevetted major-general, his commission dating July 25, 1814, the day of the battle of Lundy's lane. He also received a gold medal from Congress and was tendered a position in the cabinet as secretary of war, which he declined. He led the troops in the Black Hawk war of 1832, and the latter part of the same year went south to command the national troops at Charleston and elsewhere, during the nullification excitement, where his prudence, tact, and discretion, saved the country from what seemed the inevitable danger of intestine war. In 1835 he was ordered to Florida, but recalled and employed in the Creek war, and afterward sent before a court of inquiry, but dismissed with honor. In the frontier troubles connected with the Canadian rebellion of 1837, and subsequently with the disputes two years later on the northeastern boundary line, and with the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia in the 30's, Gen. Scott was efficient, conciliating and useful, as an officer and negotiator. In 1841, upon the death of Gen. Macomb, Gen. Scott was placed at the head of the army as general-in-chief, with full rank as major-general, and upon the outbreak of the war with Mexico he was ordered thither. The battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterey having been fought he took the field in time for the projected capture of Vera Cruz, which he invested on March 12, 1847, commencing the bombardment on the 22nd. On the 26th overtures of surrender were made, and ten days later the army moved on to Mexico, defeated the Mexican army under Gen. Santa Anna, at Cerro Gordo on April 18; entered Jalapa the day after; occupied the strong castle and town of La Perote on the 22nd, and the city of Puebla May 15. Contreras, San Antonio, and Churubusco, strong fortifications, were each taken in turn at the point of the bayonet, Molino del Rey and Casa de Mata, dependencies of Chapultepec, were carried by assault on Sept. 8, and, after a determined siege of several days a breach was finally effected in the strong walls of the military college at the castle of Chapultepec, and the following night Santa Anna marched out with the small remnant of his army, and the city of Mexico was at the mercy of Scott. This virtually ended the war, and the honors bestowed upon the successful commander by his country were numerous and enthusiastic, and included a vote of thanks by Congress. In 1848 Gen. Scott was a candidate for the Whig nomination for the presidency, and in 1852 was nominated, but he was defeated at the election by Gen. Franklin Pierce. In Feb., 1855, he was brevetted lieutenant-general, to take rank from March 29, 1847, in commemoration of his bravery in Mexico. The Civil war found him still in command of the army, and every inducement was offered him by the South to join their cause; but his loyalty was proof against them, and he threw the weight of his well-earned reputation upon the side of the government. During the early part of the war Gen. Scott was much in consultation with the government, and did his best to perform his official duties as general-in-chief, but he was now too infirm for so colossal a charge, and on Oct. 31, 1861, he retired from office, retaining, by special act of Congress, his pay and allowances. He died at West Point, N.Y., on May 29, 1866.
Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866) was a United States Army general and 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 most senior commissioned officers of all time, and many historians rate him 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, the Second Seminole War, and, briefly, the American Civil War, conceiving the Union strategy known as the Anaconda Plan that 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.
A national hero after the Mexican–American War, he served as military governor of Mexico City. Such was his stature that, in 1852, the Whig Party passed over its own incumbent President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, to nominate Scott in that year's United States presidential election. At six feet five inches in height, he remains the tallest man ever nominated by a major party. Scott lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce in the general election, but remained a popular national figure, receiving a brevet promotion in 1855 to the rank of lieutenant general, becoming the first American since George Washington to hold that rank.
Winfield Scott was born 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) on Laurel Branch, the family plantation in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near Petersburg, Virginia, on June 13, 1786. He was educated by tutors and in the local schools, and briefly attended the College of William and Mary. He then studied law in the office of attorney David Robinson, where his contemporaries included Thomas Ruffin. Scott attained admission to the bar, and made a brief attempt to practice law. 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.
Scott's long career in the United States Army began when Senator William Branch Giles of Virginia arranged for Scott to be interviewed by Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of War, and President Thomas Jefferson. He was subsequently commissioned as a captain in the Light Artillery in May 1808, shortly before his 22nd birthday.
Scott's early career in the army was tumultuous. Scott openly criticized the then Commanding General of the Army, James Wilkinson over Wilkinson's refusal to follow orders and remove troops from an unhealthy bivouac site he owned near New Orleans, which caused several illnesses and deaths. Scott's commission was suspended for one year, and after returning to duty, he served in New Orleans on the staff of General Wade Hampton from 1811 to 1812.
Scott earned the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on military bearing, courtesy, appearance and discipline. In his own campaigns after reaching high rank, Scott preferred to use a core of Army regulars augmented by volunteers whenever possible. Scott perennially concerned himself with the welfare of his men, as demonstrated by his quarrel with Wilkinson over the New Orleans bivouac site. In another instance, when cholera broke out at a post under his command, Scott was the only officer who stayed to nurse the stricken enlisted men.
The army promoted Scott to lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Artillery Regiment in July 1812. Scott served primarily on the Niagara Campaign front in the War of 1812. He took command of an American landing party during the Battle of Queenston Heights (Upper Canada) on October 13, 1812. Most New York militia members refused to cross into Canada in support of the invasion, and the British compelled New York militia commander Brigadier General William Wadsworth and Scott, the Regular Army commander, to surrender.
The British held Scott as a prisoner of war. The British considered Irish-American prisoners of war British subjects and traitors and executed 13 such Americans captured at Queenstown Heights. The British paroled and released Scott in a prisoner exchange. Upon release, Scott returned to Washington to pressure the Senate to take punitive action against British prisoners of war in retaliation for the British executions of Irish-American soldiers. The Senate wrote a bill after this urging, but President James Madison believed the summary execution of prisoners of war unworthy of civilized nations and so refused to enforce the act.
Scott was promoted to colonel in March 1813. Scott planned and led the capture of Fort George, Upper Canada, on the Niagara River. By crossing the Niagara and landing on the Lake Ontario shore, Scott forced the British to abandon Fort George. Colonel Scott was wounded in this battle, which is considered among the best-planned and best-executed U.S. operations of the war.
Scott was promoted to brigadier general on March 19, 1814. He was only 27 years old at the time, one of the youngest generals in the history of the U.S. Army.
Scott commanded the 1st Brigade, and was instrumental in the American success at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814. This battle was regarded as inconclusive from the strategic point of view, because the British army was intact and able to continue operations. It was decisive from the point of view of British morale; American soldiers had fought well against a professional European army, and ended the fight in control of the battlefield. The morale of British soldiers ebbed, and their Native American allies refused to cooperate with them.
Scott had a major role in the bloody Battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25, and suffered serious wounds. The American commander, Major General Jacob Brown, and the British-Canadian commander, Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, were also wounded.
For his valor at Lundy's Lane, Scott received a brevet (temporary promotion) to major general to date from July 25, 1814. The severity of his wounds prevented his return to active duty for the remainder of the war.
In 1815, Scott was admitted as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati in recognition of his service in the War of 1812. Scott's Society of the Cincinnati insignia was a one of a kind solid gold eagle measuring nearly three inches in height, making it one of the most impressive military society insignias ever produced. There are no known portraits or photographs of Scott wearing the insignia. Scott's insignia is in the collection of the West Point Museum.
From the War of 1812 until he became commanding general of the U.S. Army in 1841, Scott had a rivalry with Brevet Major General Edmund P. Gaines. The central issue was the question of which had seniority; should brevet ranks count, which would favor Scott, or were regular Army ranks what mattered, which would favor Gaines. Scott claimed he outranked Gaines because Scott's brevet rank of major general, dated July 25, 1814 made him senior to Gaines, whose brevet was dated August 15, 1814. Gaines argued that he should be senior; his and Scott's promotions to brigadier general, colonel, and lieutenant colonel were all issued on the same dates, but Gaines had been promoted to major first. The dispute was important to both because they realized that assignment as the Army's commanding general might be at stake. (Gaines became increasingly marginalized as Scott continued to gain influence, and died in 1849 while still on active duty.)
Scott supervised the modernized standard drill regulations for the Army and headed a postwar officer retention selection board in 1815. He also served as president of Board of Tactics in 1815. Scott visited Europe to study French military methods in 1815/1816. He translated several military manuals of Napoleon I of France into English.
Scott held regional command in the Division of the North in 1816. Scott served as president of the Board of Tactics in 1821, 1824 and 1826. He commanded the Eastern Department in 1825.
Scott and Gaines were passed over for the commanding general's post in 1828, following the death of Jacob Brown. Aware of the Scott/Gaines rivalry, President John Quincy Adams nominated Alexander Macomb, who had been a brigadier general, but had agreed to reduction in rank to colonel in order to serve as the Army's chief of engineers. After losing out to Macomb, Scott attempted to resign, but it was not accepted. Scott again visited Europe and then resumed command of the Eastern Department in 1829. Upon direction of the War Department, Scott in 1830 published Abstract of Infantry Tactics, Including Exercises and Manueuvres of Light-Infantry and Riflemen, for the Use of the Militia of the United States.
Cholera among his reinforcing troops prevented Scott from taking field command during the Black Hawk War. In late November and early December 1832, Scott organized U.S. Army troops for possible enforcement of President Andrew Jackson's authority during the Nullification Crisis. In late 1832 and early 1833 Scott served as an emissary from President Jackson to South Carolina. His tactful diplomacy and the use of his troops in suppressing a major fire in Charleston did much to defuse the crisis.
In 1832, Scott replaced John E. Wool as commander of Federal troops in the Cherokee Nation lands in Georgia.
Scott commanded the field forces in Second Seminole War and Creek War in 1836. Scott was recalled to Washington due to the highly politicized nature of the tactics he employed and the huge expenditures incurred in policing the frontier, compounded by controversies between regular army and local militia officers. Brigadier General Edmund Meredith Shackelford was appointed commander in the area by President Jackson until Brigadier General Thomas Jesup could arrive. A court of inquiry later cleared Scott of wrongdoing in the Seminole and Creek operations.
Scott felt that his recall was a political intrigue. In 1845, Shackelford wrote to Jackson for a clarifying statement that Shackelford had had no part in Scott's recall to Washington.
Scott assumed command of the Eastern Division in 1837. Scott was responsible for maintaining order on the Canada–US border, where the Patriot War threatened to entangle the U.S. in the Upper Canada Rebellion.
Presidents Jackson and Van Buren, ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, tacitly supported Georgia's expulsion of the Cherokees. In 1838, Scott was placed in charge of enforcing the Treaty of New Echota, including removal of the Cherokees to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Van Buren put Scott in command of the "Army of the Cherokee Nation", headquartered at Fort Cass and Fort Butler.
Arriving at New Echota, Cherokee Nation, on April 6, 1838, Scott immediately divided the Cherokee Nation into three military districts. He designated May 26, 1838 as the beginning date for the first phase of the removal. The first phase involved the Cherokees in Georgia. Scott wanted Army regulars rather than Georgia militia for this operation, because the militia had personal gains at stake; some claimed Cherokee land. The promised regulars did not arrive in time, so Scott proceeded with 4,000 Georgia militia.
The moral implications of the Jackson-Van Buren policies did not make Scott's role easy. Representative (and ex-President) John Quincy Adams opposed the removal, imputing it to "Southern politicians and land grabbers"; many Americans agreed. Scott reassured the Cherokee people of proper treatment. In his instructions to the militia, Scott called any acts of harshness and cruelty "abhorrent to the generous sympathies of the whole American people." Scott also admonished his troops not to fire on any fugitives they might apprehend unless they should "make stand and resist". Scott detailed help to render the weak and infirm: "Horses or ponies should be used to carry Cherokees too sick or feeble to march." Also, "Infants, superannuated persons, lunatics, and women in a helpless condition with all, in the removal [deserve] peculiar attention, which the brave and humane will seek to adopt to the necessities of the several cases."
Scott's good intentions, however, did not adequately protect the Cherokees from terrible abuses, especially at the hands of "lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage". At the end of the first phase of the removal in August 1838, 3,000 Cherokees left Georgia and Tennessee by water toward Oklahoma, but camps still retained another 13,000. By the intercession of Chief John Ross in Washington, these Cherokees traveled "under their own auspices, unarmed, and free of supervision by militiamen or regulars."
Though government contractors, steamboat owners, and others who stood to profit protested, Scott carried out this new policy. Ex-President Jackson demanded of the Attorney General the replacement of Scott and the arrest of Chief Ross.
Within months, Scott captured (or killed) every Cherokee in north Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama who could not escape. His troops reportedly rounded up the Cherokee and held them in rat-infested stockades with little food. Private John G. Burnett later wrote, "Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter."
More than 4,000 Cherokee died in this confinement before ever beginning the trip west. As the first groups herded west died in huge numbers in the heat, the Cherokee pleaded with Scott to postpone the second phase of the removal until autumn, and he complied. Determined to accompany them as an observer, Scott left Athens, Georgia, on October 1, 1838, and traveled with the first "company" of a thousand people, including both Cherokees and black slaves, as far as Nashville. The Cherokee removal later became known as the Trail of Tears.
When Brigadier General Winfield Scott reached Nashville, superiors abruptly ordered him to return to Washington to deal with troubles on the Canada–US border. On this assignment, he helped defuse tensions between officials of the state of Maine and the British colony of New Brunswick in the undeclared and bloodless Aroostook War in March 1839.
In 1835, Scott wrote Infantry Tactics, Or, Rules for the Exercise and Maneuvre of the United States Infantry. This three-volume work served as the standard drill manual for the United States Army until William J. Hardee's Tactics, published in 1855.
On June 25, 1841, Macomb died, and Scott and Gaines were the two most obvious choices to succeed him. John Bell, the Secretary of War, had no interest in rekindling the Scott/Gaines seniority dispute; he quickly recommended Scott to President John Tyler. Tyler approved, and Scott assumed office as commanding general on July 5, 1841. He was promoted to major general, then the highest rank in the Army, with June 25, 1841, as his date of rank.
As commanding general of the Army, Scott took great interest in the professional development of the cadets of the United States Military Academy.
During the Mexican–American War, Major General Scott was appointed by President James K. Polk to lead an army of regulars and volunteers to the Rio Grande for a hasty campaign. During the planning and initial movement, worsening political tensions between Scott and the president led to a very public shellacking and relief of Scott as field commander. With reluctance, Zachary Taylor was charged with leading the charge to the Rio Grande.
While Taylor was largely successful in securing the northeastern provinces of Mexico after war broke out, it became obvious by the mid-1846, the Mexicans would not surrender the captured territories without a direct assault on their capital. Deeming an overland campaign from northeastern Mexico unfeasible (required marching over 560 mi (901 km) of arid Mexican desert), Scott planned an expedition to Gulf port city of Veracruz. As Taylor gained notoriety for victories in northeastern Mexico, Polk became increasingly reluctant to posture Taylor for a presidential run post-bellum. Further, Polk and his cabinet had reasonable doubts whether Taylor could lead the complex operation. Left to choose between Taylor and Scott, Polk reluctantly chose Scott at the behest of his cabinet.
Even while Scott was en route to the theater of operations, Polk continued to search for a fellow Democrat to command the expedition in lieu of Scott. Senator William O. Butler and Robert Patterson were both selected as early options, but neither were deemed acceptable by Congress. Patterson, who was Irish-born and not eligible to be President, was dismissed early on as a suitable choice. Butler's capacity to command an army was questionable at best, never seeing combat and lacking experience in the regular Army.
Landing at Veracruz on March 9, 1847, Scott, assisted by one of his staff officers, Captain Robert E. Lee, and perhaps inspired by William H. Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico, followed the approximate route taken by Hernán Cortés in 1519, and assaulted Mexico City. Scott's opponent in this campaign, Mexican president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna, had just suffered a crushing defeat at Buena Vista and faced impending revolt by the Mexican populace. Santa Anna chose to meet Scott after the landing, assuming the American force to be significantly degraded after a costly offense on the well-fortified Vera Cruz. Despite high heat, rains, and difficult terrain, Scott won the battles of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, Contreras/Padierna on August 19–20, 1847, Churubusco on August 20, 1847, and Molino del Rey on September 8, 1847. He then assaulted the fort of Chapultepec on September 13, 1847, after which Mexico City surrendered.
When the Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo, learned that Scott had succeeded against alarming odds in capturing Mexico City, he proclaimed Scott "the greatest living general".
A group of Irish-American deserters from the U.S. Army joined the Mexican army as the San Patricio (St. Patrick) Battalion. Seventy-two of them were captured at Churubusco.
The San Patricio men were deserters in action, and had traitorously joined the enemy army. There was no question about this, and the punishment for desertion and treason was death. Scott's army was still facing a dangerous enemy and possible insurgency, so he placed the prisoners before courts martial to have them settle it. Eisenhower says the men were tried in two groups. The trials were conducted fairly by Brevet Colonel John Garland and by Colonel Bennet Riley. Because all the men captured were wearing Mexican uniforms, they were found guilty and sentenced to hang.
This created a serious problem for Scott. He was troubled by the sweep of guilty verdicts. He did not want to alienate the Mexican public, who by now had made the deserters national heroes. Nor did he want to encourage insurgency among the Mexican people that would weaken his pacification program in progress. He also knew that the deserters were Irish-born Catholics, who had deserted Taylor's army because they allegedly felt mistreated and had witnessed atrocities "sufficient to make Heaven weep" against fellow Catholics, the Mexicans. In response to these, in 1847, Scott ordered that Protestants respect Catholic ceremonies.
Scott believed he needed to confirm the trials and sentences. He concluded that some men deserved less punishment, and sat up nights attempting to find excuses to avoid the universal application of capital punishment. In the end he approved the death penalty for 50 of the 72 San Patricios, but later pardoned five and reduced the sentence of fifteen others, including the ringleader, Sergeant John Riley. This left 30 slated for execution, 16 of whom were hanged on September 10, 1847. Four were hanged the next day, and the remainder assigned to Colonel William Harney for execution at some later date.
On the day of execution, Harney ordered each deserter placed on a mule cart with a rope around his neck, fastening each rope to a mass gibbet. Then, during the battle of Chapultepec, just as the American flag was about to rise above the walls of the Mexican citadel, he ordered the executioners to give the mules a whack, causing the beasts to lurch forward, leaving the deserters in mid-air, dangling "en masse". Some argue that this adversely affected Scott's record, as the events violated numerous Articles of War. Eisenhower, however, attributes the incident to Harney.
During political intrigues later in his life, Scott ignored the events, stating "not one [Irishman] ... was ever known to turn his back upon the enemy or friend".
As military commander of Mexico City, he was held in high esteem by Mexican civil and American authorities alike, primarily owing to his pacification policy and fairness. For example, when he drew his "martial law order" to be issued and enforced in Mexico (to prevent looting, rape, murder, etc.), all offenders, both Mexicans and Americans, were treated equally.
Apart from his military career, Scott's vanity, as well as his corpulence, led to a catch phrase that haunted him for the remainder of his political life.
Complaining about the division of command between himself and General Taylor, in a letter to Secretary of War William L. Marcy, Scott wrote of not wishing to "have a fire in his rear (from Washington) while he met a fire in front of the Mexicans". This offended Marcy and also Polk. In another letter, Scott wrote that a letter from Marcy arrived as "at about 6 pm as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup". The Polk administration, eager to embarrass Scott, promptly published the letter, and the cryptic phrase appeared in political cartoons and comic songs for the rest of his life.
Scott was made an honorary member of the Aztec Club of 1847, an organization of American officers who served in the Mexican War. Originally, the only officers who could join were those who served in the occupation of Mexico City. Later, the organization allowed for other officers who served during the Mexican War to join along with their descendants.
Scott was one of the candidates to be the Whig Party nominee for president in 1840. The leading contenders were General William Henry Harrison and Senator Henry Clay, with Scott in third place. Scott's hope was that delegates might turn to him if Harrison and Clay deadlocked. During the balloting at the party's December 1839 convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Clay and Scott were at the Astor House hotel in New York City, and played cards with Whig politicians John J. Crittenden and George Evans. When the group received word of Harrison's victory on the fifth ballot, Clay blamed his loss on Scott for not withdrawing and instructing his delegates to vote for Clay. In the ensuing argument, Clay struck Scott, with the blow landing on the shoulder which had been wounded during Scott's participation in the Battle of Lundy's Lane. Afterwards Clay had to be physically removed from the hotel room. Scott then sent Crittenden to Clay with Scott's challenge for a duel, but Crittenden reconciled them by convincing Clay to apologize.
Scott was again a contender for the Whig presidential nomination for the 1848 election. Clay, Daniel Webster, and General Zachary Taylor were also candidates for the nomination. As in 1840, Whigs were looking for a non-ideological war hero to be their candidate. Scott's main appeal was to anti-slavery "conscience Whigs", who were dismayed by the fact that two of the leading contenders, Clay and Taylor, were slaveholders. Ultimately, however, the delegates passed on Scott for a second time, nominating Taylor on the fourth ballot. Many anti-slavery Whigs then defected to support the nominee of the Free-Soil Party, former President Martin Van Buren. Taylor went on to win the general election.
In the 1852 presidential election, anti-slavery Whigs were able to block the nomination of incumbent President, Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Taylor. These Whigs were angry by Fillmore's signing of the Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850. Seeking to repeat their previous successes with war heroes, the Whigs nominated Scott instead, who faced Democrat Franklin Pierce. However, the nomination process foreshadowed the general election:
More grievously rent by sectional rivalries than the Democrats, the Whigs balloted fifty-three times before nominating Scott. The delegates then unanimously approved the platform except for the central plank that pledged "acquiescence" in the Compromise of 1850, "the act known as the Fugitive Slave law included." The plank carried by a vote of 212 to 70, opposition coming largely from Scott's supporters. The old soldier, faced with disarray in the Whig ranks, sought out to resolve his dilemma by announcing, "I accept the nomination with the resolutions annexed." To this, antislavery Whigs rejoined, "We accept the candidate, but we spit on the platform."
Scott's anti-slavery reputation undermined his support in the South, while the Party's pro-slavery platform depressed turnout in the North, and Scott's opponent was a Mexican–American War veteran as well, which lessened the effectiveness of Scott's war hero status. Pierce was elected in an overwhelming win, leaving Scott with the electoral votes of only Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee. A contemporary newspaper called the 1852 election the most "ludicrous, ridiculous, and uninteresting presidential campaign" in history. The 1852 campaign is the only one in American history where one candidate (Pierce) had served under the command of the other (Scott) in time of war.
Despite his defeat in the election, Scott was still a popular national hero. In February 1855, by a special act of Congress, Scott was given a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, making him the second person in U.S. military history, after George Washington, to hold that rank.
In 1859, Scott traveled to the Pacific Northwest to settle a dispute with the British over San Juan Island, which had escalated to the so-called Pig War. The old general established a good rapport with the British, and brought about a peaceful resolution.
When the American Civil War began in the spring of 1861, Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout, rheumatism, and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight and unable to mount a horse or review troops.
As Scott could not lead an army into battle, he offered the command of the United States' army to Colonel Robert E. Lee on April 17, 1861, whom Scott referred to as "the very finest soldier I've ever seen". However, Virginia declared that it had left the Union on that same day. Lee, though disapproving of secession, was hesitant at the possibility of taking up arms against his home state and asked if he could keep out of the war. Scott replied, "I have no place in my army for equivocal men." Lee then resigned and went south to join the Confederate army instead.
Although Scott was born and raised in Virginia, he remained loyal to the U.S., the nation that he had served for most of his life, and refused to resign his commission.
The command of the U.S. troops at Washington was given to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell.
At this time, public opinion throughout the Northern states called for an immediate campaign to crush the rebellion quickly. Scott considered this wrong-headed and probably impossible. Instead, he drew up a plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and sending an army down the Mississippi Valley. Scott's scheme was derided as the "Anaconda Plan", intended to crush the Confederacy slowly; eventually, the actual Union victory followed its broad outlines.
But in July 1861, the pressure to march "Forward to Richmond" was overwhelming. Lincoln set aside Scott's plan and directed McDowell to attack in Virginia.
When Lincoln received news that the Union Army had been defeated at Manassas on July 21, 1861, he went to Scott's residence. Scott assumed responsibility for the Union defeat. Major General George B. McClellan took command of the army at Washington (now the Army of the Potomac).
Scott's physical infirmities cast doubt on his fitness for command; his weight had ballooned to over 300 lbs. In a play on his old nickname, he was called "Old Fat and Feeble".
He also ran into conflict with President Lincoln and others who wanted to organize the army into divisions. Scott argued that in the Mexican War, no commands larger than brigades had been needed and that none were needed now, even though the Army of the Potomac was more than triple the size of Scott's army in Mexico. McClellan, the ambitious new field commander, wanted Scott out and had many influential political friends. Scott resigned on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief. Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war.
After his retirement from the Army, Scott lived the rest of his life at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Scott lived to see the Union's victory in the Civil War in April 1865.
On October 4, 1865, he was elected as a Companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), an organization of Union officers who had served in the Civil War. Scott was assigned MOLLUS insignia number 27 but, for undetermined reasons, the insignia was never issued to Scott. (Scott was one of the few individuals to have belonged to the Society of the Cincinnati, the Aztec Club of 1847 and the Loyal Legion.)
General Scott died at the West Point Hotel on May 29, 1866, and is buried in the West Point Cemetery.
Inventory Number: DOC 117 / SOLD