War Hero and Famed General, Winfield Scott, Dies
At five minutes past 11 o’clock the morning of May 29, 1866, an aged, infirm and feeble Winfield Scott—having lost his voice two hours previously—reached out to clasp the hand of the chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), and quietly died. Thus ended the life of arguably America’s greatest military leader of the 19th century. His death, 15 days before his 80th birthday, was the final chapter in a 53-year Army career (1808-61) that was without precedent.
During his long life and full career Winfield Scott served under 14 U.S. presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln, and achieved many marks of distinction. He was a general for 47 years (the longest-serving general in American history), and Commanding General of the U.S. Army for 20 of those years (another record). For over half a century he participated in every war and military event his country was involved in, including the: War of 1812; nullification crisis in South Carolina; Seminole, Black Hawk, and Creek Indian Wars; Cherokee Indian Removal (“Trail of Tears”); boundary disputes with Canada; Mexican-American War, and the Civil War.
Because of his bravery and success during the War of 1812, Scott was brevetted to the rank of brigadier general in March 1814, promoted to the rank of major general in June 1841, and became the Army’s commanding general from July 1841 until he resigned during the Civil War’s first year in 1861. His brilliant campaigns during the Mexican-American War cemented his national reputation, as he achieved such major victories as the Battle of Churubusco and the assault on Chapultepec that led to the capture of Mexico City. After the war he served as the military governor of Mexico City, and was nominated to be the Whig Party’s presidential candidate in 1852. In 1856 Congress honored Scott by brevetting him to the rank of lieutenant general—the only other American to have held that rank was George Washington.
By the time the Civil War broke out Scott, then 74, was a physical wreck, although his mind was still sharp. He suffered from many ailments, including gout and rheumatism, his weight was well over 300 pounds, and he was too ill and fat to mount a horse to inspect troops or lead them into battle. Nonetheless, he was the commanding general of the U.S. Army and designed the so-called “Anaconda Plan” to use blockades at Southern seaports and gunboats on the Mississippi River to slowly strangle the Confederacy and force its surrender. After the shocking Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on July 21, 1861, political pressure mounted for a younger, more dashing general to take command: George B. McClellan. Yielding to the increasing demands that he step aside, Winfield Scott resigned on Nov. 1, 1861. He lived long enough to publish his memoirs in 1864 and see the Union’s final victory in the Civil War in 1865.
The following four newspaper articles are about the death of Winfield Scott, recounting many of the exploits of his life and showing the great respect with which the public and press regarded him.
This article was published by the Albany Argus (Albany, New York) on May 30, 1866:
Death of Gen. Winfield Scott
The announcement of the death of Gen. Scott will be received by the nation with universal sadness. Although it was an event to be anticipated at any time, in view of his age and infirmities, yet the death of such a man cannot fail to produce an unusual sensation upon the public mind. For more than fifty years his name has been intimately connected with the history of the country. In peace and in war his deeds have added lustre to his country’s fame, and no one has ever attempted to dispute his right to be ranked among the foremost men of his time. His brilliant military achievements have won for him the admiration of the world and the gratitude of his countrymen, and have carved for himself an imperishable record.
Gen. Scott died at West Point yesterday morning. Up to Saturday he had been in the enjoyment of his health, and upon that day took his customary ride. He seemed more feeble that evening, and failed much on Sunday and the day following. His immediate demise was not looked for until within a few hours of its occurrence. He was conscious to the last, though his voice had failed him two hours before his death.
Gen. Scott was born near Petersburg, Virginia, on the 13th of June, 1786, and was consequently near eighty years of age. His father died when he was six years old, and his mother died eleven years later. At the age of seventeen years, he was thus left to carve out his own fortunes. He was educated at William and Mary College, and studied law at Petersburg with David Robinson, Esq. He was admitted to the bar a short time before the great trial of Aaron Burr, and went to Richmond to witness the progress of that historical event. He afterwards practiced law at Charleston, South Carolina. The military, however, had greater charms for him, and upon the first opportunity he entered the regular army [in 1808], receiving a Captain’s commission.
The War of 1812 afforded scope for his ambition, and he was promoted to the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel, and ordered to the Canadian Frontier. The battles of Lundy’s Lane and Chippewa established his fame as a military leader, and he was promoted to the rank of a Major General. His bravery during the war was the theme of much comment and praise, he having been wounded once at Fort George, and twice at Lundy’s Lane.
After the conclusion of the war, he was offered a position in the Cabinet as Secretary of War, which he declined. He next visited Europe, and on his return wrote his celebrated work on tactics, and general regulations for the army, which were adopted as the standard upon those subjects.
In 1832 he directed the operations of the army against Black Hawk, and stood by General Jackson in his efforts to suppress nullification in South Carolina. In 1835, he superintended the removal of the Florida Indians to the far West; in 1837 his services were brought into requisition to prevent a violation of our neutrality in the Patriot troubles of that year; and in 1839 he aided in settling the dispute with England with reference to the Maine boundary.
His Mexican campaign, the most brilliant chapter in his history, is well remembered. While it added lustre to our arms, it placed the American commander among the first Captains of the age. With less than 15,000 men he met the enemy in repeated battles, each of which resulted in victory, and the final possession of the “Halls of the Montezumas.” His achievement was more brilliant than that of Cortez, and resulted in the addition of a vast territory on the Pacific coast to our domain, and the acquirement of immense treasures. Before his departure upon this expedition, his “hasty plate of soup” controversy with Governor Marcy will be remembered as an episode in his life, demonstrating that with him, the pen was not as mighty as the sword.
In 1852 he was the Whig candidate for President, and though commanding the respect of the people, he was beaten by Gen. Pierce, the Democratic candidate, who represented principles dearer to the American heart than the personal triumph of a military chieftain.
In 1855, the brevet rank of Lieutenant-General was revived for General Scott, in an act so framed that it should not survive him.
When the Rebellion broke out, he gave important advice to the government, and submitted a plan of operations. But the infirmities of age were upon him, and after the first Battle of Bull Run, he yielded to the necessities of the time, and General McClellan, by his own request, was appointed to succeed him in the command of the army.
He has lived to see the great Civil War ended and Peace proclaimed by the President, and his death will be mourned by a people who will not forget to do justice to his memory.
This notice was published by the Albany Journal (Albany, New York) on May 29, 1866—the day Scott died:
Death of General Scott
(Special dispatch to the Evening Journal.)
West Point, May 29.—General Scott died this morning at five minutes past 11 o’clock.
He was out riding Saturday afternoon, and showed no signs then of his early demise. On Sunday he began failing quite fast, though none of his physicians expected he would expire at such an early day. He was conscious up to the moment of his death, though he had lost his voice some two hours previous to his death. He recognized the Chaplain of the Post ten minutes before he died, and clasped his hand in silence.
In that same issue, the Albany Journal published this obituary of Scott:
Death of General Scott
A dispatch from West Point announces the death of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, former commander of the armies of the United States, which occurred this morning at his residence at that place, to which he recently returned after a trip in the South.
General Scott has long been in feeble health—in body and mind a mere wreck of the former man who held such a prominent position before his country and before the world. The ambition of greatness could not conceal the infirmities of years, which had gathered upon him before the war began. And since that time, the increasing weakness of age and disease, has prepared all who knew him for the announcement at any hour of the final catastrophe.
General Scott was born in Petersburg, Va., in 1786, and was therefore [almost] eighty years of age. He studied law at William and Mary College. After a year’s practice, he obtained a Captain’s appointment in the army, but was suspended soon after for uttering uncomplimentary remarks in reference to a General officer. In 1812, he was made a Lieutenant-Colonel, and sent to the Canadian frontier, where his bravery at Lewiston, Lundy’s Lane and Chippewa, gained him great reputation.
After the close of the contest, declining a seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of War, he was made a Major General. Some years were spent by him in European travel and observation.
During the nullification troubles with South Carolina, the Black Hawk War, the Seminole War, and the Creek War, the services of General Scott were called into requisition, and he bore an important part in the settlement of all these controversies, as well as of that with Great Britain, which resulted from the Canadian Rebellion.
In 1846, after some brilliant but indecisive campaigning by General Taylor, General Scott was appointed to the chief command of the army in Mexico. Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec and Vera Cruz were added to the list of famous engagements planned and won by him. His army sobriquet, which had been “Chippewa” for many years, became “Churubusco,” after this war closed.
It was the misfortune of General Scott, though he commanded the army in Mexico, never to attain the prize of ambition for which American statesmen and soldiers yearn—while two of his subordinates seized it. Gen. Taylor became President in 1848, and in 1852, the hero of Churubusco was defeated by a militia General [Franklin Pierce], whose main achievement upon that field is said to have consisted in fainting away.
In 1855, the brevet rank of Lieutenant-General was revived for General Scott, in an act so framed that it should not survive him. In 1859, he rendered important services in connection with the settlement of the Northern boundary disputes. In 1861, when Rebellion commenced, he took earnest and decided ground in support of the Government. He urged preparations for war upon [the] imbecile Buchanan.
He organized the military arrangements for protecting the inauguration of Lincoln, and stood beside a loaded cannon while the ceremonies were in progress. He advised the relief of Sumter and Pickens, and the destruction of Norfolk navy yard and Harper’s Ferry arsenal. He directed, from Washington, the early operations of the war, up to the disastrous period of Bull Run.
But his infirmities were upon him. He could not personally supervise combinations. And though he had a clear perception of what was likely to be needed, he had not the power for arranging and methodizing a campaign upon such vast proportions as those into which the struggle soon grew. It became manifest, after Bull Run, that younger minds and stronger bodies were needed, and the old hero retired—General McClellan being by his own request appointed to succeed him in the immediate command of the forces then in the field.
Since his retiracy, General Scott has been once in Europe. His presence and counsels were of great value in England at the time of the “Trent” difficulty. He has also once visited the West Indies, and but recently returned from a trip to New Orleans. Meanwhile, his personal memoirs—especially in reference to the early history of [the] Rebellion—were prepared and published; constituting one of the most valuable additions to current knowledge of affairs at Washington in the outset of the great struggle.
The General was out riding on Saturday. He seemed more feeble than usual that evening, and failed much on Sunday and yesterday; but his immediate demise was not looked for until within a few hours of its occurrence. He retained his consciousness until the last; but his voice failed him two hours before he died.
Thus, “full of years and of honors,” after a life marked by such stirring incidents as seldom fall to lot of mortals, has passed away the great soldier of a former generation—the connecting link between the past and present military of the Republic.
This article was published by the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia) on May 30, 1866:
Order by the President
Executive Mansion, May 29, 1866.
The President with profound sorrow announces to the people of the United States the death of Winfield Scott, the late Lieutenant General of the army. On the day which may be appointed for his funeral the several Executive Departments of the Government will be closed.
The heads of the War and Navy Departments will, respectively, give orders for the payment of appropriate honors to the memory of the deceased.
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