Winfield Scott, born June 13, 1786, was one of the American Civil War’s most influential generals. Even though Scott’s direct involvement in the war was brief, his strategy for bringing it to an end was what turned the tide in favor of the Union.
Born in Virginia, Scott became a soldier and fought in the War of 1812, the Seminole War, the Black Hawk War and the Mexican-American War. He was promoted to brevet brigadier general in 1814 and full brigadier general later that same year. His career in the military spanned 47 years.
The Trail of Tears
It was Scott who was given the responsibility of removing the Cherokee from the Trans-Mississippi Region in 1838. Scott’s troops spent months rooting out every Cherokee they could find in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. They were held in appalling conditions, awaiting removal. More than 4,000 died in confinement before they began the march west in what became known as the Trail of Tears.
And yet, Scott is said to have insisted that his soldiers treat the Cherokee humanely. Women, children, the elderly and anyone with physical problems that made travel difficult were given assistance.
Scott ran for president in 1852 but, known for his anti-slavery sentiments, was undermined by the South.
American Civil War
When the American Civil War began, Scott was commander-in-chief of the Union Army. But Scott was too old and poor of health for field duty, suffering from gout and rheumatism. He weighed more than 300 pounds and was unable to mount a horse. He offered command of the Union forces to Robert E. Lee. Lee’s home state seceded on the same day of Scott’s offer and Lee’s conscience would not let him raise his hand against his home state.
An ambitious young officer named George B McClellan and his supporters forced Scott to retire in 1861. Scott had served under fourteen presidential administrations, from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln. He survived to see the end of the war (dying a year later on May 29, 1866) and the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy using a plan very similar to one Scott had proposed. What became known as the “Anaconda Plan”, used by Grant, commander-in-chief at the end of the war, it involved taking military occupation of key locations, giving the Union control of the country. It would wrap their forces around the country like an anaconda before moving on Atlanta. The strategy was implemented by Grant, but it had been Scott’s brainchild, and it helped win the war for the North.