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Biography of General Winfield Scott


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WINFIELD SCOTT, American general, was born at Petersburg, Virginia, of Scottish ancestry, January 13th, 1786. He was educated at William and Mary College, and studied the profession of law; but in 1808, having a genius for military pursuits, he was appointed captain of artillery in General Wilkinson's division, stationed at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but was suspended for having accused his general of complicity with the conspiracy of Aaron Burr. At the commencement of the war of 1812, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel and sent to the Canadian frontier. He crossed with his regiment at Queenstown Heights, where the American troops were at first successful; but on the British receiving reinforcements, they were repulsed with heavy loss, and Scott was taken prisoner. The following year, having been exchanged, he was appointed adjutant-general, and was wounded by the explosion which followed the assault on Fort George. In 1814, as brigadier-general, he established a camp of instruction, and from April to July, drilled raw levies in the French tactics with such effect, that on the 3rd of July he took Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, by assault; and on the fifth fought a sharp-drawn battle at Chippewa, and twenty days after, the famous battle of Lundy's Lane, in which he had two horses killed under him, and was twice wounded, the last time severely. He was raised to the rank of major-general, and compiled the General Regulations of the Army, and translated and adapted from the French the system of Infantry Tactics, which was afterwards the text-book of the American army. In the Indian hostilities of the American frontier, in the excitement attending the threat of Nullification in South Carolina, and in the Seminole war, General Scott manifested those qualities of wisdom and moderation which made him rather a pacificator than a warrior. During the Canadian revolt of 1837-1838, he displayed great tact in allaying the excited passions of the frontier. In 1841, he was appointed commander in-chief of the United States army, and in 1846 directed the military operations in the war against Mexico. Taking the field in person, he landed 12,000 men at Vera Cruz, March 9th, 1847, and invested and bombarded the city, which capitulated on the 26th. April 18th, he carried the heights of Cerro Gordo, on the 19th he took Jalapa, on the 22nd, Perote, and on May 15th, Puebla, where, owing to his heavy losses, chiefly by diseases incident to the climate, he was obliged to wait for reinforcements. On the 10th of August, he advanced, with 10,780 men, to encounter the larger forces and strong positions of General Santa Anna. He turned El Penon, and won the brilliant victories of Contreras and Churubusco. Santa Anna entered upon negotiations to gain time and strengthen his defenses. These were followed by the sharp battles of Molino del Rey and Chepultapec September 8th, strong positions skilfully and bravely defended by superior numbers. On the 14th Scott entered the City of Mexico at the head of fewer than 8,000 soldiers. Peace was negotiated, with the cession of New Mexico and California to the United States, and the victorious general was welcomed home with the liveliest demonstrations. In 1852, General Scott was the candidate of the Whig party for the presidency, but was defeated by one of his subordinate officers, General Franklin Pierce. In 1855, the office of lieutenant-general was created for him at the beginning of the war of Secession, in 1861, he foresaw more than many others its extent and serious character, and advised the calling out of a much larger force than was first brought into the field. He had even suggested the advisability of allowing the "wayward sisters to part in peace." Age and growing infirmities compelled him to retire in November 1861, and, after visiting Europe, he died at West Point in May, 1866.