George McClellan replaces Winfield Scott

George McClellan replaces Winfield Scott

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On November 1, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln names George Brinton McClellan general in chief of the Union army, replacing the aged and infirm Winfield Scott. In just six months, McClellan had gone from commander of the Ohio volunteers to the head of the Union army.

McClellan, a Pennsylvania native, graduated from West Point second in his class in 1846 and went on to serve with distinction under General Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War (1846-48). McClellan left his successful military career in 1857 for an engineering position with the Illinois Central Railroad, and by the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was president of the St. Louis and Cincinnati Railroad. He resigned that position to accept command of the Ohio volunteers with the rank of major general. During the summer of 1861, McClellan led Union troops in a series of small battles in western Virginia that resulted in Federal control of the strategic region. He earned a national reputation, though it is debatable just how much McClellan contributed to these achievements; in several cases, decisions by his subordinates were the main reason for the success. Nonetheless,McClellan provided Northern victories when they were in scarce supply. On July 16, 1861, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing his accomplishments in Virginia.

Just five days later, the main Union force, commanded by General Irwin McDowell, suffered a humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia. In the aftermath of the debacle, many turned to McClellan to save the war effort. He arrived in Washington, D.C.,on July 26 to take command of the disorganized and demoralized Army of the Potomac and quickly began to build a magnificent fighting force, establishing a rigorous training procedure and an efficient command structure. He also demonstrated brashness, pomposity, and arrogance toward many of the nation’s political leaders. He loudly complained about Scott, and treated the president with utter contempt.

Still,McClellan was the only real choice to replace Scott. No other Union general had achieved much of anything at that point in the war. After alienating much of the administration by early 1862, McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac to the James Peninsula for an attack on Richmond, Virginia. As a field commander, he proved to be sluggish and timid, and he retreated from the outskirts of the Confederate capital when faced with a series of attacks by Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Seven Days Battles in June 1862. In July, Henry W. Halleck was named general in chief, and much of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was transferred to General John Pope’s Army of Virginia. After Pope was defeated at Second Bull Run in August, much of McClellan’s command was restored to him. Lee invaded Maryland, and McClellan defeated him there at the Battle of Antietam in September. Despite this victory, McClellan’s refusal to pursue the retreating Confederates led to his permanent removal in November 1862. In 1864, he challenged Lincoln for the presidency as the Democratic nominee but lost decisively.

McClellan, George B. (1826–1885)

George B. McClellan was a major general in the Union army during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Styled the “Young Napoleon” by the press, his battlefield successes and failures were eclipsed by controversies that arose between him and his superiors, especially U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Following the Union debacle at the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861, McClellan formed and took command of the Army of the Potomac , expertly training it and earning the love and devotion of his men. He led the army first through the unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles outside Richmond in 1862, and then through the climactic Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, which forced Confederate general Robert E. Lee to abandon his invasion of the North. Lincoln, however, was dissatisfied with McClellan’s lack of aggression and relieved him of command. McClellan, a Democrat, responded by challenging the Republican president in the 1864 election. It was both the logical culmination of his advocacy for a limited-war strategy, and perhaps the clumsiest confirmation of his critics’ accusations that his military caution was politically motivated. After McClellan lost his run for the presidency, he retired first to Europe and then to New Jersey, where he became governor.


George Brinton McClellan was born in Philadelphia, on December 3, 1826, the son of a prominent surgeon, Dr. George McClellan, the founder of Jefferson Medical College. [2] His father's family was of Scottish and English heritage. [3] His mother was Elizabeth Sophia Steinmetz Brinton McClellan (1800–1889), daughter of a leading Pennsylvania family, a woman noted for her "considerable grace and refinement." Her father was of English origin, while her mother was Pennsylvania Dutch. [4] The couple had five children: Frederica, John, George, Arthur and Mary. One of McClellan's great-grandfathers was Samuel McClellan of Woodstock, Connecticut, a brigadier general who served during the Revolutionary War. [5]

McClellan initially intended to follow his father into the medical profession, and attended a private academy, which was followed by enrollment in a private preparatory school for the University of Pennsylvania. [6] He began attending the university in 1840, when he was 14 years old, resigning himself to the study of law after his family decided that medical educations for both McClellan and his older brother John were too expensive. [6] After two years at the university, he changed his goal to military service. With the assistance of his father's letter to President John Tyler, McClellan was accepted at the United States Military Academy in 1842, with the academy waiving its usual minimum age of 16. [7]

At West Point, he was an energetic and ambitious cadet, deeply interested in the teachings of Dennis Hart Mahan and the theoretical strategic principles of Antoine-Henri Jomini. His closest friends were aristocratic southerners including Stonewall Jackson, George Pickett, Dabney Maury, Cadmus Wilcox, and A. P. Hill. These associations gave McClellan what he considered to be an appreciation of the southern mind and an understanding of the political and military implications of the sectional differences in the United States that led to the Civil War. [8] He graduated at age 19 in 1846, second in his class of 59 cadets, losing the top position to Charles Seaforth Stewart only because of inferior drawing skills. [9] He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [1]

Mexican–American War 1846–1848 Edit

McClellan's first assignment was with a company of engineers formed at West Point, but he quickly received orders to sail for the Mexican War. He arrived near the mouth of the Rio Grande in October 1846, well prepared for action with a double-barreled shotgun, two pistols, a saber, a dress sword, and a Bowie knife. He complained that he had arrived too late to take any part in the American victory at Monterrey in September. During a temporary armistice in which the forces of Gen. Zachary Taylor awaited action, McClellan was stricken with dysentery and malaria, which kept him in the hospital for nearly a month. Malaria would recur in later years he called it his "Mexican disease." [10] He served as an engineering officer during the war, was frequently subject to enemy fire, and was appointed a brevet first lieutenant for his services at Contreras [11] and Churubusco [12] and to captain for his service at Chapultepec. [1] He performed reconnaissance missions for Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, a close friend of McClellan's father. [13]

McClellan's experiences in the war would shape his military and political life. He learned that flanking movements (used by Scott at Cerro Gordo) are often better than frontal assaults, and the value of siege operations (Veracruz). He witnessed Scott's success in balancing political with military affairs and his good relations with the civil population as he invaded, enforcing strict discipline on his soldiers to minimize damage to property. McClellan also developed a disdain for volunteer soldiers and officers, particularly politicians who cared nothing for discipline and training. [14]

Peacetime service Edit

McClellan returned to West Point to command his engineering company, which was attached to the academy for the purpose of training cadets in engineering activities. He chafed at the boredom of peacetime garrison service, although he greatly enjoyed the social life. In June 1851, he was ordered to Fort Delaware, a masonry work under construction on an island in the Delaware River, forty miles (65 km) downriver from Philadelphia. In March 1852, he was ordered to report to Capt. Randolph B. Marcy at Fort Smith, Arkansas, to serve as second-in-command on an expedition to discover the sources of the Red River. By June the expedition reached the source of the north fork of the river and Marcy named a small tributary McClellan's Creek. Upon their arrival on July 28, they were astonished to find that they had been given up for dead. A sensational story had reached the press that the expedition had been ambushed by 2,000 Comanches and killed to the last man. McClellan blamed the story on "a set of scoundrels, who seek to keep up agitation on the frontier in order to get employment from the Govt. in one way or other." [15]

In the fall of 1852, McClellan published a manual on bayonet tactics that he had translated from the original French. He also received an assignment to the Department of Texas, with orders to perform a survey of Texas rivers and harbors. In 1853, he participated in the Pacific Railroad surveys, ordered by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, to select an appropriate route for the planned transcontinental railroad. McClellan surveyed the western portion of the northern corridor along the 47th and 49th parallels from St. Paul to the Puget Sound. In doing so, he demonstrated a tendency for insubordination toward senior political figures. Isaac Stevens, governor of the Washington Territory, became dissatisfied with McClellan's performance in his scouting of passes across the Cascade Range.

McClellan selected Yakima Pass ( 47°20′11″N 121°25′57″W  /  47.3365°N 121.4324°W  / 47.3365 -121.4324 ) without a thorough reconnaissance and refused the governor's order to lead a party through it in winter conditions, relying on faulty intelligence about the depth of snowpack in that area. In so doing, he missed three greatly superior passes in the near vicinity, which were eventually used for railroads and interstate highways. The governor ordered McClellan to turn over his expedition logbooks, but McClellan steadfastly refused, most likely because of embarrassing personal comments that he had made throughout his adventures. [16]

Returning to the East, McClellan began courting his future wife, Mary Ellen Marcy (1836–1915), the daughter of his former commander. Ellen, or Nelly, refused McClellan's first proposal of marriage, one of nine that she received from a variety of suitors, including his West Point friend, A. P. Hill. Ellen accepted Hill's proposal in 1856, but her family did not approve and he withdrew. [17]

In June 1854, McClellan was sent on a secret reconnaissance mission to Santo Domingo at the behest of Jefferson Davis. McClellan assessed local defensive capabilities for the secretary. (The information was not used until 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant unsuccessfully attempted to annex the Dominican Republic.) Davis was beginning to treat McClellan almost as a protégé, and his next assignment was to assess the logistical readiness of various railroads in the United States, once again with an eye toward planning for the transcontinental railroad. [18] In March 1855, McClellan was promoted to captain and assigned to the 1st U.S. Cavalry regiment. [1]

Because of his political connections and his mastery of French, McClellan received the assignment to be an official observer of the European armies in the Crimean War in 1855. Traveling widely, and interacting with the highest military commands and royal families, McClellan observed the siege of Sevastopol. Upon his return to the United States in 1856, he requested an assignment in Philadelphia to prepare his report, which contained a critical analysis of the siege and a lengthy description of the organization of the European armies. He also wrote a manual on cavalry tactics that was based on Russian cavalry regulations. Like other observers, though, McClellan did not appreciate the importance of the emergence of rifled muskets in the Crimean War, and the fundamental changes in warfare tactics it would require. [19]

The Army adopted McClellan's cavalry manual and also his design for a saddle, dubbed the McClellan Saddle, which he claimed to have seen used by Hussars in Prussia and Hungary. It became standard issue for as long as the U.S. horse cavalry existed and is still used for ceremonies.

Civilian pursuits Edit

McClellan resigned his commission January 16, 1857, and, capitalizing on his experience with railroad assessment, became chief engineer and vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad, and then president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860. He performed well in both jobs, expanding the Illinois Central toward New Orleans and helping the Ohio and Mississippi recover from the Panic of 1857. Despite his successes and lucrative salary ($10,000 per year), he was frustrated with civilian employment and continued to study classical military strategy assiduously. During the Utah War against the Mormons, he considered rejoining the Army. He also considered service as a filibuster in support of Benito Juárez in Mexico. [20]

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, McClellan became active in politics, supporting the presidential campaign of Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election. He claimed to have defeated an attempt at vote fraud by Republicans by ordering the delay of a train that was carrying men to vote illegally in another county, enabling Douglas to win the county. [21]

In October 1859, McClellan was able to resume his courtship of Mary Ellen, and they were married in Calvary Church, New York City, on May 22, 1860. [22]

Ohio and Strategy Edit

At the start of the Civil War, McClellan's knowledge of what was called "big war science" and his railroad experience suggested he might excel at military logistics. This placed him in great demand as the Union mobilized. The governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the three largest states of the Union, actively pursued him to command their states' militia. Ohio Governor William Dennison was the most persistent, so McClellan was commissioned a major general of volunteers and took command of the Ohio militia on April 23, 1861. Unlike some of his fellow Union officers who came from abolitionist families, he was opposed to federal interference with slavery. For this reason, some of his Southern colleagues approached him informally about siding with the Confederacy, but he could not accept the concept of secession. [23]

On May 3 McClellan re-entered federal service as commander of the Department of the Ohio, responsible for the defense of the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and, later, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia, and Missouri. On May 14, he was commissioned a major general in the regular army. At age 34, he outranked everyone in the Army except Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, the general-in-chief. McClellan's rapid promotion was partly due to his acquaintance with Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary and former Ohio governor and senator. [24]

As McClellan scrambled to process the thousands of men who were volunteering for service and to set up training camps, he also applied his mind to grand strategy. He wrote a letter to Gen. Scott on April 27, four days after assuming command in Ohio, that presented the first proposal for a strategy for the war. It contained two alternatives, each envisioning a prominent role for himself as commander. The first would use 80,000 men to invade Virginia through the Kanawha Valley toward Richmond. The second would use the same force to drive south instead, crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky and Tennessee. Scott rejected both plans as logistically unfeasible. Although he complimented McClellan and expressed his "great confidence in your intelligence, zeal, science, and energy", he replied by letter that the 80,000 men would be better used on a river-based expedition to control the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy, accompanied by a strong Union blockade of Southern ports. This plan, which would require considerable patience of the Northern public, was derided in newspapers as the Anaconda Plan, but eventually proved to be the outline of the successful prosecution of the war. Relations between the two generals became increasingly strained over the summer and fall. [25]

Western Virginia Edit

McClellan's first military operations were to occupy the area of western Virginia that wanted to remain in the Union and subsequently became the state of West Virginia. He had received intelligence reports on May 26 that the critical Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridges in that portion of the state were being burned. As he quickly implemented plans to invade the region, he triggered his first serious political controversy by proclaiming to the citizens there that his forces had no intentions of interfering with personal property—including slaves. "Notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves, understand one thing clearly—not only will we abstain from all such interference but we will on the contrary with an iron hand, crush any attempted insurrection on their part." He quickly realized that he had overstepped his bounds and apologized by letter to President Lincoln. The controversy was not that his proclamation was diametrically opposed to the administration's policy at the time, but that he was so bold in stepping beyond his strictly military role. [26]

His forces moved rapidly into the area through Grafton and were victorious at the Battle of Philippi, the first land conflict of the war. His first personal command in battle was at Rich Mountain, which he also won. His subordinate commander, William S. Rosecrans, bitterly complained that his attack was not reinforced as McClellan had agreed. [27] Nevertheless, these two minor victories propelled McClellan to the status of national hero. [28] The New York Herald entitled an article about him "Gen. McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War". [29]

Building an Army Edit

After the defeat of the Union forces at Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Lincoln summoned McClellan from western Virginia, where McClellan had given the North the only engagements bearing a semblance of victory. He traveled by special train on the main Pennsylvania line from Wheeling through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and on to Washington City, and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds that met his train along the way. [30]

Carl Sandburg wrote, "McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion." [31] On July 26, the day he reached the capital, McClellan was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. On August 20, several military units in Virginia were consolidated into his department and he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. [32] He reveled in his newly acquired power and influence: [30]

I find myself in a new and strange position here—Presdt, Cabinet, Genl Scott & all deferring to me—by some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land. . I almost think that were I to win some small success now I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me—but nothing of that kind would please me—therefore I won't be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!

During the summer and fall, McClellan brought a high degree of organization to his new army, and greatly improved its morale with frequent trips to review and encourage his units. It was a remarkable achievement, in which he came to personify the Army of the Potomac and reaped the adulation of his men. [33] He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. [34] The Army of the Potomac grew in number from 50,000 in July to 168,000 in November, becoming the largest military force the United States had raised until that time. [31] But this was also a time of tension in the high command, as he continued to quarrel frequently with the government and the general-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Scott, on matters of strategy. McClellan rejected the tenets of Scott's Anaconda Plan, favoring instead an overwhelming grand battle, in the Napoleonic style. He proposed that his army should be expanded to 273,000 men and 600 guns and "crush the rebels in one campaign". He favored a war that would impose little impact on civilian populations and require no emancipation of slaves.

McClellan's antipathy to emancipation added to the pressure on him, as he received bitter criticism from Radical Republicans in the government. [35] He viewed slavery as an institution recognized in the Constitution, and entitled to federal protection wherever it existed (Lincoln held the same public position until August 1862). [36] McClellan's writings after the war were typical of many Northerners: "I confess to a prejudice in favor of my own race, & can't learn to like the odor of either Billy goats or niggers." [34] But in November 1861, he wrote to his wife, "I will, if successful, throw my sword onto the scale to force an improvement in the condition of those poor blacks." He later wrote that had it been his place to arrange the terms of peace, he would have insisted on gradual emancipation, guarding the rights of both slaves and masters, as part of any settlement. But he made no secret of his opposition to the Radical Republicans. He told Ellen, "I will not fight for the abolitionists." This put him in opposition with officials of the administration who believed he was attempting to implement the policies of the opposition party. [37]

The immediate problem with McClellan's war strategy was that he was convinced the Confederates were ready to attack him with overwhelming numbers. On August 8, believing that the Confederacy had over 100,000 troops facing him (in contrast to the 35,000 they had actually deployed at Bull Run a few weeks earlier), he declared a state of emergency in the capital. By August 19, he estimated 150,000 rebel soldiers on his front. McClellan's subsequent campaigns were strongly influenced by the overblown enemy strength estimates of his secret service chief, detective Allan Pinkerton, but in August 1861, these estimates were entirely McClellan's own. The result was a level of extreme caution that sapped the initiative of McClellan's army and dismayed the government. Historian and biographer Stephen W. Sears observed that McClellan's actions would have been "essentially sound" for a commander who was as outnumbered as McClellan thought he was, but McClellan in fact rarely had less than a two-to-one advantage over the armies that opposed him in 1861 and 1862. That fall, for example, Confederate forces ranged from 35,000 to 60,000, whereas the Army of the Potomac in September numbered 122,000 men in early December 170,000 by year end, 192,000. [38] Confederate returns for December 1861, found in the Official Record, Ser 4: Vol 1, place Confederate aggregate present and absent in Virginia at 133,876 men. This places McClellan's estimates as significantly closer than previously thought.

The dispute with Scott became increasingly personal. Scott (as well as many in the War Department) was outraged that McClellan refused to divulge any details about his strategic planning, or even such basic information as the strengths and dispositions of his units. McClellan claimed he could not trust anyone in the administration to keep his plans secret from the press, and thus the enemy. In the course of a disagreement about defensive forces on the Potomac River, McClellan wrote to his wife on August 10: "Genl Scott is the great obstacle—he will not comprehend the danger & is either a traitor, or an incompetent. I have to fight my way against him." [39] Scott became so disillusioned with the young general that he offered his resignation to President Lincoln, who initially refused to accept it. Rumors traveled through the capital that McClellan might resign, or instigate a military coup, if Scott were not removed. Lincoln's Cabinet met on October 18 and agreed to accept Scott's resignation for “reasons of health”. [40]

However, the subsequently formed Army of the Potomac had high morale and was extremely proud of their general, some even referring to McClellan as the savior of Washington. He prevented the army's morale from collapsing at least twice, in the aftermath of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. Many historians argue that he was talented in this aspect.

General-in-chief Edit

On November 1, 1861, Winfield Scott retired and McClellan became general-in-chief of all the Union armies. The president expressed his concern about the "vast labor" involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, "I can do it all." [40]

Lincoln, as well as many other leaders and citizens of the northern states, became increasingly impatient with McClellan's slowness to attack the Confederate forces still massed near Washington. The Union defeat at the minor Battle of Ball's Bluff near Leesburg in October added to the frustration and indirectly damaged McClellan. In December, the Congress formed a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which became a thorn in the side of many generals throughout the war, accusing them of incompetence and, in some cases, treason. McClellan was called as the first witness on December 23, but he contracted typhoid fever and could not attend. Instead, his subordinate officers testified, and their candid admissions that they had no knowledge of specific strategies for advancing against the Confederates raised many calls for McClellan's dismissal. [41]

McClellan further damaged his reputation by his insulting insubordination to his commander-in-chief. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon", a "gorilla", and "ever unworthy of . his high position". [42] On November 13, he snubbed the president, who had come to visit McClellan's house, by making him wait for 30 minutes, only to be told that the general had gone to bed and could not receive him. [43]

On January 10, Lincoln met with top generals (McClellan did not attend) and directed them to formulate a plan of attack, expressing his exasperation with General McClellan with the following remark: "If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time." [44] On January 12, 1862, McClellan was summoned to the White House, where the Cabinet demanded to hear his war plans. For the first time, he revealed his intentions to transport the Army of the Potomac by ship to Urbanna, Virginia, on the Rappahannock River, outflanking the Confederate forces near Washington, and proceeding 50 miles (80 km) overland to capture Richmond. He refused to give any specific details of the proposed campaign, even to his friend, newly appointed War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton. On January 27, Lincoln issued an order that required all of his armies to begin offensive operations by February 22, Washington's birthday. On January 31, he issued a supplementary order for the Army of the Potomac to move overland to attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction and Centreville. McClellan immediately replied with a 22-page letter objecting in detail to the president's plan and advocating instead his Urbanna plan, which was the first written instance of the plan's details being presented to the president. Although Lincoln believed his plan was superior, he was relieved that McClellan finally agreed to begin moving, and reluctantly approved. On March 8, doubting McClellan's resolve, Lincoln again interfered with the army commander's prerogatives. He called a council of war at the White House in which McClellan's subordinates were asked about their confidence in the Urbanna plan. They expressed their confidence to varying degrees. After the meeting, Lincoln issued another order, naming specific officers as corps commanders to report to McClellan (who had been reluctant to do so prior to assessing his division commanders' effectiveness in combat, even though this would have meant his direct supervision of twelve divisions in the field). [45]

Two more crises would confront McClellan before he could implement his plans. The Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnston withdrew from their positions before Washington, assuming new positions south of the Rappahannock, which completely nullified the Urbanna strategy. McClellan revised his plans to have his troops disembark at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and advance up the Virginia Peninsula to Richmond, an operation that would be known as the Peninsula Campaign. Then, however, McClellan came under extreme criticism in the press and Congress when it was learned that Johnston's forces had not only slipped away unnoticed, but had for months fooled the Union Army with logs painted black to appear as cannons, nicknamed Quaker Guns. Congress's joint committee visited the abandoned Confederate lines and radical Republicans introduced a resolution demanding the dismissal of McClellan, but it was narrowly defeated by a parliamentary maneuver. [46] The second crisis was the emergence of the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, which threw Washington into a panic and made naval support operations on the James River seem problematic.

On March 11, 1862, Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac, ostensibly so that McClellan would be free to devote all his attention to the move on Richmond. Lincoln's order was ambiguous as to whether McClellan might be restored following a successful campaign. In fact, the general-in-chief position was left unfilled. Lincoln, Stanton, and a group of officers who formed the "War Board" directed the strategic actions of the Union armies that spring. Although McClellan was assuaged by supportive comments Lincoln made to him, in time he saw the change of command very differently, describing it as a part of an intrigue "to secure the failure of the approaching campaign". [47]

Peninsula Campaign Edit

McClellan's army began to sail from Alexandria on March 17. It was an armada that dwarfed all previous American expeditions, transporting 121,500 men, 44 artillery batteries, 1,150 wagons, over 15,000 horses, and tons of equipment and supplies. An English observer remarked that it was the "stride of a giant". [48] The army's advance from Fort Monroe up the Virginia Peninsula proved to be slow. McClellan's plan for a rapid seizure of Yorktown was foiled by the removal of 1st Corps from the Army of the Potomac for the defense of Washington. McClellan had hoped to use the 1st Corps to capture Glouchester Point and thus outflank the Confederate position. When he discovered that the Confederates had fortified a line across the Peninsula he hesitated to attack. As Swinton notes "It is possible, however—and there is a considerable volume of evidence bearing upon this point—that General McClellan, during all the earlier portion of the month before Yorktown, had it in his mind, even without McDowell's corps, to undertake the decisive turning movement by the north side of the York. In this event, it would not only be in the direction of his plan to make no attack, but it would play into his hands that his opponent should accumulate his forces on the Peninsula. Yet this halting between two opinions had the result that, when he had abandoned the purpose of making the turning movement, it had become too late for him to make a direct attack." McClellan asked for the opinion of his chief engineer John G. Barnard, who recommended against an assault. This caused him to decide on a siege of the city, which required considerable preparation.

McClellan continued to believe intelligence reports that credited the Confederates with two or three times the men they actually had. Early in the campaign, Confederate General John B. "Prince John" Magruder defended the Peninsula against McClellan's advance with a vastly smaller force. He created a false impression of many troops behind the lines and of even more troops arriving. He accomplished this by marching small groups of men repeatedly past places where they could be observed at a distance or were just out of sight, accompanied by great noise and fanfare. [49] During this time, General Johnston was able to provide Magruder with reinforcements, but even then there were far fewer troops than McClellan believed were opposite him.

After a month of preparation, just before he was to assault the Confederate works at Yorktown, McClellan learned that Johnston had withdrawn up the Peninsula towards Williamsburg. McClellan was thus required to give chase without any benefit of the heavy artillery so carefully amassed in front of Yorktown. The Battle of Williamsburg on May 5 is considered a Union victory—McClellan's first—but the Confederate army was not destroyed and a bulk of their troops were successfully moved past Williamsburg to Richmond's outer defenses while the battle was waged and for several days thereafter. [50]

McClellan had also placed hopes on a simultaneous naval approach to Richmond via the James River. That approach failed following the Union Navy's defeat at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff, about 7 miles (11 km) downstream from the Confederate capital, on May 15. Basing artillery on a strategic bluff high above a bend in the river, and sinking boats to create an impassable series of obstacles in the river itself, the Confederates effectively blocked this potential approach to Richmond. [51]

McClellan's army moved towards Richmond over the next three weeks, coming to within four miles (6 km) of it. He established a supply base on the Pamunkey River (a navigable tributary of the York River) at White House Landing where the Richmond and York River Railroad extending to Richmond crossed, and commandeered the railroad, transporting steam locomotives and rolling stock to the site by barge. [52]

On May 31, as McClellan planned an assault, his army was surprised by a Confederate attack. Johnston saw that the Union army was split in half by the rain-swollen Chickahominy River and hoped to defeat it in detail at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks. McClellan was unable to command the army personally because of a recurrence of malarial fever, but his subordinates were able to repel the attacks. Nevertheless, McClellan received criticism from Washington for not counterattacking, which some believed could have opened the city of Richmond to capture. Johnston was wounded in the battle, and General Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan spent the next three weeks repositioning his troops and waiting for promised reinforcements. As Lee recounted, McClellan was attempting to make "this a battle of posts" which would lock the Confederate army in an attritional battle with superior Union firepower.

At the end of June, Lee began a series of attacks that became known as the Seven Days Battles. The first major battle, at Mechanicsville, was poorly coordinated by Lee and his subordinates and resulted in heavy casualties for little tactical gain. However the battle had a significant impact on McClellan's nerve. The surprise appearance of Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson's troops in the battle (when they had last been reported to be many miles away in the Shenandoah Valley) convinced McClellan that he was even more outnumbered than he had thought. He reported to Washington that he faced 200,000 Confederates, perhaps due to a false report on the arrival of another Confederate army P.G.T. Beauregard. The number of men McClellan was actually faced varies, with Joseph Harsh in Confederate Tide Rising placing Lee's army at 112,220 men compared with the 105,857 under McClellan.

Lee continued his offensive at Gaines's Mill to the east. That night, McClellan decided to withdraw his army to a safer base, well below Richmond, on a portion of the James River that was under control of the Union Navy. In doing so, Lee had assumed that the Union army would withdraw to the east toward its existing supply base and McClellan's move to the south delayed Lee's response for at least 24 hours. [53] Ethan Rafuse notes "McClellan's change of base to the James, however, thwarted Lee's attempt to do this. Not only did McClellan's decision allow the Federals to gain control of the time and place for the battles that took place in late June and early July, it enabled them to fight in a way that inflicted terrible beating on the Confederate army. More importantly, by the end of the Seven Days Battles, McClellan had dramatically improved his operational situation." [54]

But McClellan was also tacitly acknowledging that he would no longer be able to invest Richmond, the object of his campaign the heavy siege artillery required would be almost impossible to transport without the railroad connections available from his original supply base on the York River. In a telegram to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, reporting on these events, McClellan blamed the Lincoln administration for his reversals. "If I save this army now, I tell you plainly I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army." [55] Fortunately for McClellan, Lincoln never saw that inflammatory statement (at least at that time) because it was censored by the War Department telegrapher.

McClellan was also fortunate that the failure of the campaign left his army mostly intact, because he was generally absent from the fighting and neglected to name any second-in-command who might direct his retreat. [56] Military historian Stephen W. Sears wrote, "When he deserted his army on the Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields during the Seven Days, he was guilty of dereliction of duty. Had the Army of the Potomac been wrecked on either of these fields (at Glendale the possibility had been real), that charge under the Articles of War would likely have been brought against him." [57] In the battle of Glendale, McClellan was five miles (8 km) away behind Malvern Hill, without telegraph communications and too distant to command his army. In the battle of Malvern Hill, he was on a gunboat, the USS Galena, which at one point was ten miles (16 km) away, down the James River. [58] In both battles, effective command of the army fell to his friend and V Corps commander Brigadier General Fitz John Porter. When the public heard about the Galena, it was yet another great embarrassment, comparable to the Quaker Guns at Manassas. Editorial cartoons published in the course of the 1864 presidential campaign lampooned McClellan for having preferred the safety of a ship while a battle was fought in the distance. [59]

McClellan was reunited with his army at Harrison's Landing on the James. Debates were held as to whether the army should be evacuated or attempt to resume an offensive toward Richmond. McClellan maintained his estrangement from Abraham Lincoln with his repeated call for reinforcements and by writing a lengthy letter in which he proposed strategic and political guidance for the war, continuing his opposition to abolition or seizure of slaves as a tactic. He concluded by implying he should be restored as general-in-chief, but Lincoln responded by naming Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck to the post without consulting, or even informing, McClellan. [60] Lincoln and Stanton also offered command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who refused the appointment. [61]

Back in Washington, a reorganization of units created the Army of Virginia under Maj. Gen. John Pope, who was directed to advance toward Richmond from the northeast. McClellan, not wishing to abandon his campaign, delayed the return of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula enough so that the reinforcements arrived while the northern Virginia campaign was already underway. The Fifth Corps under Porter from the Army of the Potomac would serve with Pope during the campaign. A frustrated McClellan wrote to his wife before the battle, "Pope will be thrashed . & be disposed of [by Lee]. . Such a villain as he is ought to bring defeat upon any cause that employs him." [62] Lee had gambled on removing significant units from the Peninsula to attack Pope, who was beaten decisively at Second Bull Run in August.

Maryland campaign Edit

After the defeat of Pope at Second Bull Run, President Lincoln reluctantly returned to the man who had mended a broken army before. He realized that McClellan was a strong organizer and a skilled trainer of troops, able to recombine the units of Pope's army with the Army of the Potomac faster than anyone. On September 2, 1862, Lincoln named McClellan to command "the fortifications of Washington, and all the troops for the defense of the capital". The appointment was controversial in the Cabinet, a majority of whom signed a petition declaring to the president "our deliberate opinion that, at this time, it is not safe to entrust to Major General McClellan the command of any Army of the United States". [63] The president admitted that it was like "curing the bite with the hair of the dog". But Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, "We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight." [64]

Northern fears of a continued offensive by Robert E. Lee were realized when he launched his Maryland campaign on September 4, hoping to arouse pro-Southern sympathy in the slave state of Maryland. McClellan's pursuit began on September 5. He marched toward Maryland with six of his reorganized corps. Numbers vary as to the size of McClellan's force with its paper strength at 87,164, Steven R. Stotelmyer in Too Useful to Sacrifice places it about 60,000 men noting that the 87,000 number includes non-combat soldiers and units not immediately available. McClellan would leave two corps behind to defend Washington. [64] McClellan's reception in Frederick, Maryland, as he marched towards Lee's army, was described by the correspondent for Harper's Magazine:

The General rode through the town on a trot, and the street was filled six or eight deep with his staff and guard riding on behind him. The General had his head uncovered, and received gracefully the salutations of the people. Old ladies and men wept for joy, and scores of beautiful ladies waved flags from the balconies of houses upon the street, and their joyousness seemed to overcome every other emotion. When the General came to the corner of the principal street the ladies thronged around him. Bouquets, beautiful and fragrant, in great numbers were thrown at him, and the ladies crowded around him with the warmest good wishes, and many of them were entirely overcome with emotion. I have never witnessed such a scene. The General took the gentle hands which were offered to him with many a kind and pleasing remark, and heard and answered the many remarks and compliments with which the people accosted him. It was a scene which no one could forget—an event of a lifetime. [65]

Lee divided his forces into multiple columns, spread apart widely as he moved into Maryland and also maneuvered to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. This was a risky move for a smaller army, but Lee was counting on his knowledge of McClellan's temperament. He told one of his generals, "He is an able general but a very cautious one. His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations—or he will not think it so—for three or four weeks. Before that time I hope to be on the Susquehanna." [66] Lee's assessment proved to be inaccurate as McClellan reacted quickly, with the Confederate leader remarking that McClellan was "advancing more rapidly than was convenient." Many classic histories have portrayed McClellan's army was moving lethargically, averaging only 6 miles (9.7 km) a day. [67] However, as noted by Stotelmyer this number comes from Halleck and does not match the primary source data. Numerous regimental histories from the period recall movements more than double the reported six miles.

Meanwhile, Union soldiers accidentally found a copy of Lee's orders dividing his army, wrapped around a package of cigars in an abandoned camp. They delivered the order to McClellan's headquarters in Frederick on September 13. Upon realizing the intelligence value of this discovery, McClellan threw up his arms and exclaimed, "Now I know what to do!" He waved the order at his old Army friend, Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, and said, "Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home." He telegraphed President Lincoln: "I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but I am confident, and no time shall be lost. I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. . Will send you trophies." [68]

Battle of South Mountain Edit

Despite this initial show of bravado, McClellan soon became faced with the fact that Lee's order was now obsolete, missing the first two sections and was not clear on troop numbers. Despite its acclaim by many historians, the order gave McClellan little he did not already know. McClellan within hours of receiving the order dispatched his cavalry to assess its accuracy. By 6:20 he was issuing his orders for the following day. Some have inaccurately claimed McClellan delayed by some 18 hours before reacting. This, however, is easily disproven by the fact that his army was in motion all day on the 13th due to orders McClellan issued the previous day. It was McClellan's practice to write his orders the night before.

McClellan ordered his units to set out for the South Mountain passes and was able to punch through the defended passes that separated them from Lee. The stubborn Confederate defenses gave Lee enough time to concentrate many of his men at Sharpsburg, Maryland. As noted by historians such as Stotelmyer the significance of the Union victory at South Mountain should not be underestimated. It ruined Lee's plans to invade Pennsylvania and took the initiative away from the Confederate commander. The Battle of South Mountain also presented McClellan with an opportunity for one of the great theatrical moments of his career, as historian Sears describes:

The mountain ahead was wreathed in smoke eddies of battle smoke in which the gun flashes shone like brief hot sparks. The opposing battle lines on the heights were marked by heavier layers of smoke, and columns of Federal troops were visible winding their way up the mountainside, each column . looking like a 'monstrous, crawling, blue-black snake' . McClellan posed against this spectacular backdrop, sitting motionless astride his warhorse Dan Webster with his arm extended, pointing Hooker's passing troops toward the battle. The men cheered him until they were hoarse . and some broke ranks to swarm around the martial figure and indulge in the 'most extravagant demonstrations'. [69]

The Union army reached Antietam Creek, to the east of Sharpsburg, on the evening of September 15. A planned attack on September 16 was put off because of early morning fog, allowing Lee to prepare his defenses with an army less than half the size of McClellan's. [70]


Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, as the fifth child of Ann Mason and her husband, William Scott, a planter, veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and officer in the Dinwiddie County militia. [3] At the time, the Scott family resided at Laurel Hill, a plantation near Petersburg, Virginia. [4] [5] Ann Mason Scott was the daughter of Daniel Mason and Elizabeth Winfield, and Scott's parents chose his maternal grandmother's surname for his first name. [6] Scott's paternal grandfather, James Scott, had migrated from Scotland after the defeat of Charles Edward Stuart's forces in the Battle of Culloden. [7] Scott's father died when Scott was six years old his mother did not remarry. [8] She raised Scott, his older brother James, and their sisters Mary, Rebecca, Elizabeth, and Martha until her death in 1803. [4] [9] Although Scott's family held considerable wealth, most of the family fortune went to James, who inherited the plantation. [10]

Scott's education included attendance at schools run by James Hargrave and James Ogilvie. [11] In 1805, Scott began attending the College of William and Mary, but he soon left in order to study law in the office of attorney David Robinson. [11] His contemporaries in Robinson's office included Thomas Ruffin. [12] While apprenticing under Robinson, Scott attended the trial of Aaron Burr, who had been accused of treason for his role in events now known as the Burr conspiracy. [13] During the trial, Scott developed a negative opinion of the Senior Officer of the United States Army, General James Wilkinson, as the result of Wilkinson's efforts to minimize his complicity in Burr's actions by providing forged evidence and false, self-serving testimony. [14]

Scott was admitted to the bar in 1806, and practiced in Dinwiddie. [15] In 1807, Scott gained his initial military experience as a corporal of cavalry in the Virginia militia, serving in the midst of the Chesapeake–Leopard affair. [16] Scott led a detachment that captured eight British sailors who had attempted to land in order to purchase provisions. [16] Virginia authorities did not approve of this action, fearing it might spark a wider conflict, and they soon ordered the release of the prisoners. [16] Later that year, Scott attempted to establish a legal practice in South Carolina, but was unable to obtain a law license because he did not meet the state's one-year residency requirement. [17]

First years in the army Edit

In early 1808, President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress to authorize an expansion of the United States Army after the British announced an escalation of their naval blockade of France, thereby threatening American shipping. [18] [19] Scott convinced family friend William Branch Giles to help him obtain a commission in the newly expanded army. [20] In May 1808, shortly before his twenty-second birthday, Scott was commissioned as a captain in the light artillery. [21] Tasked with recruiting a company, he raised his troops from the Petersburg and Richmond areas, and then traveled with his unit to New Orleans to join their regiment. [21] Scott was deeply disturbed by what he viewed as the unprofessionalism of the army, which at the time consisted of just 2,700 soldiers. [22] He later wrote that "the old officers had, very generally, sunk into either sloth, ignorance, or habits of intemperate drinking." [23]

He soon clashed with his commander, General James Wilkinson, over Wilkinson's refusal to follow the orders of Secretary of War William Eustis to remove troops from an unhealthy bivouac site. [21] Wilkinson owned the site, and while the poor location caused several illnesses and deaths among his soldiers, Wilkinson refused to relocate them because he personally profited. [21] In addition, staying near New Orleans enabled Wilkinson to pursue his private business interests and continue the courtship of Celestine Trudeau, whom he later married. [24]

Scott briefly resigned his commission over his dissatisfaction with Wilkinson, but before his resignation had been accepted, he withdrew it and returned to the army. [25] In January 1810, Scott was convicted in a court-martial, partly for making disrespectful comments about Wilkinson's integrity, [26] and partly because of a $50 shortage in the $400 account he had been provided to conduct recruiting duty in Virginia after being commissioned. [27] With respect to the money, the court-martial members concluded that Scott had not been intentionally dishonest, but had failed to keep accurate records. [28] His commission was suspended for one year. [26] After the trial, Scott fought a duel with William Upshaw, an army medical officer and Wilkinson friend whom Scott blamed for initiating the court-martial. Each fired at the other, but both emerged unharmed. [29]

After the duel, Scott returned to Virginia, where he spent the year studying military tactics and strategy, [21] and practicing law in partnership with Benjamin Watkins Leigh. [30] Meanwhile, Wilkinson was removed from command for insubordination, and was succeeded by General Wade Hampton. [31] The rousing reception Scott received from his army peers as he began his suspension led him to believe that most officers approved of his anti-Wilkinson comments, at least tacitly their high opinion of him, coupled with Leigh's counsel to remain in the army, convinced Scott to resume his military career once his suspension had been served. [30] He rejoined the army in Baton Rouge, where one of his first duties was to serve as judge advocate (prosecutor) in the court-martial of Colonel Thomas Humphrey Cushing. [32]

War of 1812 Edit

Tensions between Britain and the United States continued to rise as Britain attacked American shipping, impressed American sailors, and encouraged Native American resistance to American settlement. In July 1812, Congress declared war against Britain. [33] After the declaration of war, Scott was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and assigned as the second-in-command of the 2d Artillery, serving under George Izard. While Izard continued to recruit soldiers, Scott led two companies north to join General Stephen Van Rensselaer's militia force, which was preparing for an invasion of Canada. [34] President James Madison made the invasion the central part of his administration's war strategy in 1812, as he sought to capture Montreal and thereby take control of the St. Lawrence River and cut off Upper Canada from Lower Canada. The invasion would begin with an attack on the town of Queenston, which was just across the Niagara River from New York. [35]

In October 1812, Van Rensselaer's force attacked British forces in the Battle of Queenston Heights. Scott led an artillery bombardment that supported an American crossing of the Niagara River, and he took command of American forces at Queenston after Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer was badly wounded. [36] Shortly after Scott took command, a British column under Roger Hale Sheaffe arrived. Sheaffe's numerically-superior forces compelled an American retreat, ultimately forcing Scott to surrender after reinforcements from the militia failed to materialize. [37] As a prisoner of war, Scott was treated hospitably by the British, although two Mohawk leaders nearly killed him while he was in British custody. [38] As part of a prisoner exchange, Scott was released in late November upon his return to the United States, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and made the commander of the 2d Artillery. He also became the chief of staff to General Henry Dearborn, who was the senior general of the army and personally led operations against Canada in the area around Lake Ontario. [39]

Dearborn assigned Scott to lead an attack against Fort George, which commanded a strategic position on the Niagara River. With help from naval commanders Isaac Chauncey and Oliver Hazard Perry, Scott landed American forces behind the fort, forcing its surrender. Scott was widely praised for his conduct in the battle, although he was personally disappointed that the bulk of the British garrison escaped capture. [40] As part of another campaign to capture Montreal, Scott forced the British to withdrawal from Hoople Creek in November 1813. Despite this success, the campaign fell apart after the American defeat at Battle of Crysler's Farm, and after General Wilkinson (who had taken command of the front in August) and General Hampton failed to cooperate on a strategy to take Montreal. [41] With the failure of the campaign, President Madison and Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr. relieved Wilkinson [a] and some other senior officers of their battlefield commands.

They were replaced with younger officers such as Scott, Izard, and Jacob Brown. In early 1814, Scott was promoted to brigadier general [b] and was assigned to lead a regiment under General Brown. [44]

In mid-1814, Scott took part in another invasion of Canada, which began with a crossing of the Niagara River under the command of General Brown. [45] Scott was instrumental in the American success at the Battle of Chippawa, which took place on July 5, 1814. [46] Though the battle was regarded as inconclusive from the strategic point of view because the British army remained intact, [47] it was seen as an important moral victory. It was "the first real success attained by American troops against British regulars." [48]

Later in July 1814, a scouting expedition led by Scott was ambushed, beginning the Battle of Lundy's Lane. [49] Scott's brigade was decimated after General Gordon Drummond arrived with British reinforcements, and he was placed in the reserve in the second phase of the battle. He was later badly wounded while seeking a place to commit his reserve forces. [50] Scott believed that Brown's decision to refrain from fully committing his strength at the outset of this battle resulted in the destruction of Scott's brigade and a high number of unnecessary deaths. [51] The battle ended inconclusively after General Brown ordered his army to withdraw, effectively bringing an end to the invasion. [52] Scott spent the next months convalescing under the supervision of military doctors and physician Philip Syng Physick.

Scott's performance at the Battle of Chippawa had earned him national recognition. He was promoted to the brevet rank of major general and awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. [53] [c] In October 1814, Scott was appointed commander of American forces in Maryland and northern Virginia, taking command in the aftermath of the Burning of Washington. [55] The War of 1812 came to an effective end in February 1815, after news of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (which had been signed in December 1814) reached the United States. [56]

In 1815, Scott was admitted to the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati as an honorary member, in recognition of his service in the War of 1812. [57] Scott's Society of the Cincinnati insignia, made by silversmiths Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner of Philadelphia, was a one-of-a-kind, solid gold eagle measuring nearly three inches in height. It is one of the most unique military society insignias ever produced. [58] There are no known portraits or photographs of Scott wearing the insignia, which is now in the collection of the United States Military Academy Museum. [58]

In March 1817, Scott married Maria DeHart Mayo (1789–1862). [59] She was the daughter of Abigail (née DeHart) Mayo and Colonel John Mayo, a wealthy engineer and businessman who came from a distinguished family in Virginia. [60] Scott and his family lived in Elizabethtown, New Jersey for most of the next thirty years. [61] Beginning in the late 1830s, Maria spent much of her time in Europe because of a bronchial condition, and she died in Rome in 1862. [62] They were the parents of seven children, five daughters and two sons: [63] [64]

  • Maria Mayo Scott (1818–1833), who died unmarried. [65]
  • John Mayo Scott (1819–1820), who died young. [65]
  • Virginia Scott (1821–1845), who became Sister Mary Emanuel of the Georgetown convent of Visitation nuns. [66][67]
  • Edward Winfield Scott (1823–1827), who died young. [65]
  • Cornelia Winfield Scott (1825–1885), who married Brevet Brigadier General Henry Lee Scott (1814–1866) (no relation), Winfield Scott's aide-de-camp and Inspector General of the Army. [68]
  • Adeline Camilla Scott (1831–1882), who married Goold Hoyt (1818–1883), a New York City businessman. [69]
  • Marcella Scott (1834–1909), who married Charles Carroll MacTavish (1818–1868), the grandson of Richard Caton and a member of Maryland's prominent Carroll family. [70]

Post-war years Edit

With the conclusion of the War of 1812, Scott served on a board charged with demobilizing the army and determining who would continue to serve in the officer corps. Andrew Jackson and Brown were selected as the army's two major generals, while Alexander Macomb, Edmund P. Gaines, Scott, and Eleazer Wheelock Ripley would serve as the army's four brigadier generals. [56] Jackson became commander of the army's Southern Division, Brown became commander of the army's Northern Division, and the brigadier generals were assigned leadership of departments within the divisions. [61] Scott obtained a leave of absence to study warfare in Europe, though to his disappointment, he reached Europe only after Napoleon's final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. [71] Upon his return to the United States in May 1816, he was assigned to command army forces in parts of the Northeastern United States. He made his headquarters in New York City and became an active part of the city's social life. [72] He earned the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on proper military bearing, courtesy, appearance and discipline. [73] In 1835, Scott wrote Infantry Tactics, Or, Rules for the Exercise and Maneuvre of the United States Infantry, a three-volume work that served as the standard drill manual for the United States Army until 1855. [74]

Scott developed a rivalry with Jackson after the latter took offense to a comment Scott had made at a private dinner in New York, though they later reconciled. [75] He also continued a bitter feud with Gaines that centered over which of them had seniority, as both hoped to eventually succeed the ailing Brown. [76] [d] In 1821, Congress reorganized the army, leaving Brown as the sole major general and Scott and Gaines as the lone brigadier generals Macomb accepted demotion to colonel and appointment as the chief of engineers, while Ripley and Jackson both left the army. [78] After Brown died in 1828, President John Quincy Adams passed over both Scott and Gaines due to their feuding, instead appointing Macomb as the senior general in the army. Scott was outraged at the appointment and asked to be relieved of his commission, but he ultimately backed down. [79]

Black Hawk War and Nullification Crisis Edit

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson ordered Scott to Illinois to take command of a conflict known as the Black Hawk War. [80] By the time Scott arrived in Illinois, the conflict had come to a close with the army's victory at the Battle of Bad Axe. Scott and Governor John Reynolds concluded the Black Hawk Purchase with Chief Keokuk and other Native American leaders, opening up much of present-day Iowa to settlement by whites. [81] Later in 1832, Jackson placed Scott in charge of army preparations for a potential conflict arising from the Nullification Crisis. [82] Scott traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, the center of the nullification movement, where he strengthened federal forts but also sought to cultivate public opinion away from secession. Ultimately, the crisis came to an end in early 1833 with the passage of the Tariff of 1833. [83]

Indian Removal Edit

President Jackson initiated a policy of Indian removal, relocating Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi River. Some Native Americans moved peacefully, but others, including many Seminoles, forcibly resisted. In December 1835, the Second Seminole War broke out after the Dade massacre, in which a group of Seminoles ambushed and massacred a U.S. Army company in Central Florida. [84] President Jackson ordered Scott to personally take command of operations against the Seminole, and Scott arrived in Florida by February 1836. [85] After several months of inconclusive campaigning, he was ordered to the border of Alabama and Georgia to put down a Muscogee uprising known as the Creek War of 1836. [86] American forces under Scott, General Thomas Jesup, and Alabama Governor Clement Comer Clay quickly defeated the Muscogee. [87] Scott's actions in the campaigns against the Seminole and the Muscogee received criticism from some subordinates and civilians, and President Jackson initiated a Court of Inquiry that investigated both Scott and Gaines. [88] The court cleared Scott of misconduct but reprimanded him for the language he used in criticizing Gaines in official communications. [88] The court was critical of Gaines' actions during the campaign, though it did not accuse him of misconduct or incompetence. [88] It also criticized the language he used in to defend himself, both publicly and to the court. [88] [89]

Martin Van Buren, a personal friend of Scott's, assumed the presidency in 1837, and Van Buren continued Jackson's policy of Indian removal. [90] In April 1838, Van Buren placed Scott in command of the removal of Cherokee from the Southeastern United. Some of Scott's associates tried to dissuade Scott from taking command of what they viewed as an immoral mission, but Scott accepted his orders. [91] After almost all of the Cherokee refused to voluntarily relocate, Scott drew up careful plans in an attempt to ensure that his soldiers forcibly, but humanely, relocated the Cherokee. Nonetheless, the Cherokee endured abuse from Scott's soldiers one account described soldiers driving the Cherokee "like cattle, through rivers, allowing them no time to take off their shoes and stockings. [92] In mid-1838, Scott agreed to Chief John Ross's plan to let the Cherokee lead their own movement west, and he awarded a contract to the Cherokee Council to complete the removal. Scott was strongly criticized by many Southerners, including Jackson, for awarding the contract to Ross rather than continuing the removal under his own auspices [93] Scott accompanied one Cherokee group as an observer, traveling with them from Athens, Tennessee to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was ordered to the Canada–United States border. [94]

Tensions with the United Kingdom Edit

In late 1837, the so-called "Patriot War" broke out along the Canadian border as some Americans sought to support the Rebellions of 1837–1838 in Canada. Tensions further escalated due to an incident known as the Caroline affair, in which Canadian forces burned a steamboat that had been used to deliver supplies to rebel forces. President Van Buren dispatched Scott to Western New York to prevent unauthorized border crossings and prevent the outbreak of a war between the United States and the United Kingdom. [95] Still popular in the area due to his service in the War of 1812, Scott issued public appeals, asking Americans to refrain from supporting the Canadian rebels. [96] In late 1838, a new crisis known as the Aroostook War broke out over a dispute regarding the border between Maine and Canada, which had not been conclusively settled in previous treaties between Britain and the United States. Scott was tasked with preventing the conflict from escalating into a war. [97] After winning the support of Governor John Fairfield and other Maine leaders, Scott negotiated a truce with John Harvey, who commanded British forces in the area. [98]

Presidential election of 1840 Edit

In the mid-1830s, Scott joined the Whig Party, which was established by opponents of President Jackson. [99] Scott's success in preventing war with Canada under Van Buren confirmed his popularity with the broad public, and in early 1839 newspapers began to mention him as a candidate for the presidential nomination at the 1839 Whig National Convention. [100] By the time of the convention in December 1839, party leader Henry Clay and 1836 presidential candidate William Henry Harrison had emerged as the two front-runners, but Scott loomed as a potential compromise candidate if the convention deadlocked. [101] After several ballots, the convention nominated Harrison for president. [102] [e] Harrison went on to defeat Van Buren in the 1840 presidential election, but he died just one month into his term and was succeeded by Vice President John Tyler.

Service under Tyler Edit

On June 25, 1841, Macomb died, and Scott and Gaines were still the two most obvious choices for the position of Commanding General of the United States Army. Secretary of War John Bell recommended Scott, and President Tyler approved Scott was also promoted to the rank of major general. [f] According to biographer John Eisenhower, the office of commanding general had, since its establishment in 1821, been an "innocuous and artificial office . its occupant had been given little control over the staff, and even worse, his advice was seldom sought by his civilian superiors." Macomb had largely been outside of the chain-of-command, and senior commanders like Gaines, Scott, and Quartermaster General Thomas Jesup reported directly to the Secretary of War. [104] Despite Scott's efforts to invigorate the office, he enjoyed little influence with President Tyler, who quickly became alienated from most of the rest of the Whig Party after taking office. [105] Some Whigs, including Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, favored Scott as the Whig candidate in the 1844 presidential election, but Clay quickly emerged as the prohibitive front-runner for the Whig nomination. [106] Clay won the 1844 Whig nomination, but he was defeated in the general election by Democrat James K. Polk. Polk's campaign centered on his support for the annexation of the Republic of Texas, which had gained independence from Mexico in 1836. After Polk won the election, Congress passed legislation enabling the annexation of Texas, and Texas gained statehood in 1845. [107]

Mexican–American War Edit

Early war Edit

Polk and Scott had never liked one another, and their distrust deepened after Polk became president, partly due to Scott's affiliation with the Whig Party. [108] Polk came into office with two major foreign policy goals: the acquisition of Oregon Country, which was under joint American and British rule, and the acquisition of Alta California, a Mexican province. [109] The United States nearly went to war with Britain over Oregon, but the two powers ultimately agreed to partition Oregon Country at the 49th parallel north. [110] The Mexican–American War broke out in April 1846 after U.S. forces under the command of Brigadier General Zachary Taylor clashed with Mexican forces north of the Rio Grande in a region claimed by both Mexico and Texas. [111] [112] Polk, Secretary of War William L. Marcy, and Scott agreed on a strategy in which the U.S. would capture Northern Mexico and then pursue a favorable peace settlement. [113] While Taylor led the army in Northern Mexico, Scott presided over the expansion of the army, ensuring that new soldiers were properly supplied and organized. [114]

Invasion of Central Mexico Edit

Taylor won several victories against the Mexican army, but Polk eventually came to the conclusion that merely occupying Northern Mexico would not compel Mexico to surrender. Scott drew up an invasion plan that would begin with a naval assault on the Gulf port of Veracruz and end with the capture of Mexico City. With Congress unwilling to establish the rank of lieutenant general for Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Polk reluctantly turned to Scott to command the invasion. [115] Among those who joined the campaign were several officers who would later distinguish themselves in the American Civil War, including Major Joseph E. Johnston, Captain Robert E. Lee, and Lieutenants Ulysses S. Grant, George B. McClellan, George G. Meade, and P. G. T. Beauregard. [116] While Scott prepared the invasion, Taylor inflicted what the U.S. characterized as a crushing defeat on the army of Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista. [117] In the encounter known in Mexico as the Battle of La Angostura, Santa Anna brought U.S. forces to near collapse, capturing cannons and flags, and returned to Mexico City, leaving U.S. forces on the field. [118] Santa Anna left to put down a minor insurrection, and recruited a new army. [119]

According to biographer John Eisenhower, the invasion of Mexico through Veracruz was "up to that time the most ambitious amphibious expedition in human history." [120] The operation commenced on March 9, 1847 with the Siege of Veracruz, a joint army-navy operation led by Scott and Commodore David Conner. [g] After safely landing his 12,000-man army, Scott encircled Veracruz and began bombarding it the Mexican garrison surrendered on March 27. [122] Seeking to avoid a mass uprising against the American invasion, Scott placed a priority on winning the cooperation of the Catholic Church. Among other initiatives designed to show respect for church property and officials, he ordered his men to salute Catholic priests on the streets of Veracruz. [123] After securing supplies and wagons, Scott's army began the march towards Xalapa, a city on the way to Mexico City. [124] Meanwhile, Polk dispatched Nicholas Trist, Secretary of State James Buchanan's chief clerk, to negotiate a peace treaty with Mexican leaders. [125] Though they initially feuded, Scott and Trist eventually developed a strong working relationship. [126]

In mid-April, Scott's force met Santa Anna's army at Cerro Gordo, a town near Xalapa. Santa Anna had established a strong defensive position, but he left his left flank undefended on the assumption that dense trees made the area impassible. [127] Scott decided to attack Santa Anna's position on two fronts, sending a force led by David E. Twiggs against Santa Anna's left flank, while another force, led by Gideon Pillow, would attack Santa Anna's artillery. [128] In the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Pillow's force was largely ineffective, but Twiggs and Colonel William S. Harney captured the key Mexican position of El Telegrafo in hand-to-hand fighting. [129] Mexican resistance collapsed after the capture of El Telegrafo Santa Anna escaped the battlefield and returned to Mexico City, but Scott's force captured about 3,000 Mexican soldiers. [130] After the battle, Scott continued to press towards Mexico City, cutting him and his army off from his supply base at Veracruz. [131]

Mexico City Edit

Scott's force arrived in the Valley of Mexico in August 1847, by which time Santa Anna had formed an army of approximately 25,000 men. Because Mexico City lacked walls and was essentially indefensible, Santa Anna sought to defeat Scott in a pitched battle, choosing to mount a defense near the Churubusco River, several miles south of the city. [132] The Battle of Contreras began on the afternoon of August 19, when the Mexican army under General Gabriel Valencia attacked and pushed back an American detachment charged with building a road. [133] In the early morning of the following day, an American force led by General Persifor Frazer Smith surprised and decimated Valencia's army. [134] News of the defeat at Contreras caused a panic among the rest of Santa Anna's army, and Scott immediately pressed the attack, beginning the Battle of Churubusco. Despite the strong defense put up by the Saint Patrick's Battalion and some other units, Scott's force quickly defeated the demoralized Mexican army. [135] After the battle, Santa Anna negotiated a truce with Scott, and the Mexican foreign minister notified Trist that they were ready to begin negotiations to end the war. [136]

Despite the presence of Scott's army just outside of Mexico City, the Mexican and American delegations remained far apart on terms Mexico was only willing to yield portions of Alta California, and refused to accept the Rio Grande as its northern border. [137] While negotiations continued, Scott faced a difficult issue in the disposition of 72 members of Saint Patrick's Battalion who had deserted from the U.S. Army and were captured while fighting for Mexico. All 72 were court-martialed and sentenced to death. Under pressure from some Mexican leaders, and personally feeling that the death penalty was an unjust punishment for some defendants, Scott spared 20, but the rest were executed. [138] In early September, negotiations between Trist and the Mexican government broke down, and Scott exercised his right to end the truce. [139] In the subsequent Battle for Mexico City, Scott launched an attack from the west of the city, capturing the key fortress of Chapultepec on September 13. [140] Santa Anna retreated from the city after the fall of Chapultepec, and Scott accepted the surrender of the remaining Mexican forces early on the 14th. [141]

Unrest broke out in the days following the capture of Mexico City, but, with the cooperation of civil leaders and the Catholic Church, Scott and the army restored order in the city by the end of the month. Peace negotiations between Trist and the Mexican government resumed, and Scott did all he could to support the negotiations, ceasing all further offensive operations. [142] As military commander of Mexico City, Scott was held in high esteem by Mexican civil and American authorities alike, primarily owing to the fairness with which he treated Mexican citizens. [143] In November 1847, Trist received orders to return to Washington, and Scott received orders to continue the military campaign against Mexico Polk had grown frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations. With the support of Scott and Mexican president Manuel de la Peña y Peña, Trist defied his orders and continued the negotiations. [144] Trist and the Mexican negotiators concluded the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo [h] on February 2, 1848 it was ratified by the U.S. Senate the following month. [146] In late 1847, Scott arrested Pillow and two other officers after they wrote letters to American newspapers that were critical of Scott. In response, Polk ordered the release of the three officers, and removed Scott from command. [147]

Upon the founding of the Aztec Club of 1847, a military society of officers who served in Mexico during the war, Scott was elected as one of only two honorary members of the organization. [148]

Taylor and Fillmore administrations Edit

Scott was again a contender for the Whig presidential nomination in 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. [149]

After the war, Scott returned to his administrative duties as the army's senior general. [150] Congress became engaged in a divisive debate over the status of slavery in the territories, and Scott joined with Whig leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster in advocating for passage of what became known as the Compromise of 1850. Meanwhile, Taylor died of an illness in July 1850 and was succeeded by Vice President Millard Fillmore. [151] The Compromise of 1850 and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 badly divided the country as a whole and the Whig Party in particular. Northerners strongly objected to the stringent provisions of the act, while Southerners complained bitterly about any perceived slackness in enforcement. [152] Despite Scott's support for the Compromise of 1850, he became the chosen candidate of William Seward, a leading Northern Whig who objected to the Compromise of 1850 partly because of the fugitive slave act. [153]

Presidential election of 1852 Edit

By early 1852, the three leading candidates for the Whig presidential nomination were Scott, who was backed by anti-Compromise Northern Whigs, President Fillmore, the first choice of most Southern Whigs, and Secretary of State Webster, whose support was concentrated in New England. [154] The 1852 Whig National Convention convened on June 16, and Southern delegates won approval of a party platform endorsing the Compromise of 1850 as a final settlement of the slavery question. [155] On the convention's first presidential ballot, Fillmore received 133 of the necessary 147 votes, while Scott won 131 and Webster won 29. After the 46th ballot still failed to produce a presidential nominee, the delegates voted to adjourn until the following Monday. Over the weekend, Fillmore and Webster supporters conducted unsuccessful negotiations to unite behind one candidate. [155] On the 48th ballot, Webster delegates began to defect to Scott, and the general gained the nomination on the 53rd ballot. [155] Fillmore accepted his defeat with equanimity and endorsed Scott, but many Northern Whigs were dismayed when Scott publicly endorsed the party's pro-Compromise platform. [156] Despite the party's effort to appeal to southerners by nominating William Alexander Graham of North Carolina for vice president, many Southern Whigs, including Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Toombs, refused to support Scott. [157]

The 1852 Democratic National Convention nominated dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce, a Northerner sympathetic to the Southern view on slavery who had served under Scott as a brigadier general during the Mexican War. [158] Pierce had resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1842, and had briefly held only the minor office of United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire since then, but emerged as a compromise candidate partly because of his service under Scott in the Mexican–American War. [159] The Democrats attacked Scott for various incidents from his long public career, including his court-martial in 1809 and the hanging of members of the Saint Patrick's Battalion during the Mexican–American War. [160] Scott proved to be a poor candidate who lacked popular appeal, and he suffered the worst defeat in Whig history. [161] In the South, distrust and apathy towards Scott led many Southern Whigs to vote for Pierce or to sit out the election, and in the North, many anti-slavery Whigs voted for John P. Hale of the Free Soil Party. [162] Scott won just four states and 44 percent of the popular vote, while Pierce won just under 51 percent of the popular vote and a large majority of the electoral vote. [163]

Pierce and Buchanan administrations Edit

After the 1852 election, Scott continued his duties as the senior officer of the army. He maintained cordial relations with President Pierce but frequently clashed with Pierce's Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, over issues like travel expenses. [164] Despite his defeat in the 1852 presidential election, Scott remained broadly popular, and on Pierce's recommendation, in 1855 Congress passed a resolution promoting Scott to brevet lieutenant general. [165] [166] Scott was the first U.S. Army officer since George Washington to hold the rank of lieutenant general. [167] [i] He also earned the appellation of the "Grand Old Man of the Army" for his long career. [168]

The passage of the 1854 Kansas–Nebraska Act and the outbreak of violent confrontations between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in Kansas exacerbated sectional tensions and split both major parties. Pierce was denied re-nomination in favor of James Buchanan, while the Whig Party collapsed. In the 1856 presidential election, Buchanan defeated John C. Frémont of the anti-slavery Republican Party and former President Fillmore, the candidate of the nativist American Party. [169] Sectional tensions continued to escalate after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Buchanan proved incapable of healing sectional divides, and some leading Southerners became increasingly vocal in their desire to secede from the union. [170] In 1859, Buchanan assigned Scott to lead a mission to settle a dispute with Britain over the ownership of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. Scott reached an agreement with British official James Douglas to reduce military forces on the islands, thereby resolving the so-called "Pig War". [171]

In the 1860 presidential election, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, while the Democrats split along sectional lines, with Northern Democrats supporting Senator Stephen A. Douglas and Southern Democrats supporting Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Lincoln won the election, taking just 44 percent of the popular vote but winning a majority of the electoral vote due to his support in the North despite his name not being on the ballot in many Southern States. [172] Fearing the possibility of imminent secession, Scott advised Buchanan and Secretary of War John B. Floyd to reinforce federal forts in the South. He was initially ignored, but Scott gained new influence within the administration after Floyd was replaced by Joseph Holt in mid-December. With assistance from Holt and newly appointed Secretary of State Jeremiah S. Black, Scott convinced Buchanan to reinforce or resupply Washington, D.C., Fort Sumter (near Charleston, South Carolina), and Fort Pickens (near Pensacola, Florida). Meanwhile, several Southern states seceded, formed the Confederate States of America, and chose Jefferson Davis as president. [173]

Because Scott was from Virginia, Lincoln sent an envoy, Thomas S. Mather, to ask whether Scott would remain loyal to the United States and keep order during Lincoln's inauguration. Scott responded to Mather, "I shall consider myself responsible for [Lincoln's] safety. If necessary, I shall plant cannon at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and if any of the Maryland or Virginia gentlemen who have become so threatening and troublesome show their heads or even venture to raise a finger, I shall blow them to hell." [174] Scott helped ensure that Lincoln arrived in Washington safely, and ensured the security of Lincoln's inauguration, which ultimately was conducted without a major incident. [175]

Lincoln administration Edit

By the time Lincoln assumed office, seven states had declared their secession and had seized federal property within their bounds, but the United States retained control of the military installations at Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens. [176] Scott advised evacuating the forts on the grounds, that an attempted re-supply would inflame tensions with the South, and that Confederate shore batteries made re-supply impossible. [177] Lincoln rejected the advice and chose to re-supply the forts although Scott accepted the orders, his resistance to the re-supply mission, along with poor health, undermined his status within the administration. Nonetheless, he remained a key military adviser and administrator. [178] On April 12, Confederate forces began an attack on Fort Sumter, forcing its surrender the following day. [179] On April 15, Lincoln declared that a state of rebellion existed and called up tens of thousands of militiamen. On the advice of Scott, Lincoln offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union forces, but Lee ultimately chose to serve the Confederacy. [180]

Scott took charge of molding Union military personnel into a cohesive fighting force. [181] Lincoln rejected Scott's proposal to build up the regular army, [j] and the administration would largely rely on volunteers to fight the war. [183] Scott developed a strategy, later known as the Anaconda Plan, that called for the capture of the Mississippi River and a blockade of Southern ports. By cutting off the eastern states of the Confederacy, Scott hoped to force the surrender of Confederate forces with a minimal loss of life on both sides. Scott's plan was leaked to the public, and was derided by most Northern newspapers, which tended to favor an immediate assault on the Confederacy. [184] As Scott was too old for battlefield command, Lincoln selected General Irvin McDowell, an officer whom Scott saw as unimaginative and inexperienced, to lead the main Union army in the eastern theater of the war. [185] Though Scott counseled that the army needed more time to train, Lincoln ordered an offensive against the Confederate capital of Richmond. Irvin McDowell led a force of 30,000 men south, where he met the Confederate Army at the First Battle of Bull Run. The Confederate army dealt the Union a major defeat, ending any hope of a quick end to the war. [186]

McDowell took the brunt of public vituperation for the defeat at Bull Run, but Scott, who had helped plan the battle, also received criticism. [187] Lincoln replaced McDowell with McClellan, and the president began meeting with McClellan without Scott in attendance. [188] Frustrated with his diminished standing, Scott submitted his resignation in October 1861. Though Scott favored General Henry Halleck as his successor, Lincoln instead made McClellan the army's senior officer. [189]

Scott was very heavy in his last years of service, and was unable to mount a horse or walk more than a few paces without stopping to rest. [190] He was often in ill health, and suffered from gout, dropsy, rheumatism, and vertigo. [190] After retiring, he traveled to Europe with his daughter, Cornelia, and her husband, H. L. Scott. In Paris, he worked with Thurlow Weed to aid American consul John Bigelow in defusing the Trent Affair, a diplomatic incident with Britain. [191] On his return from Europe in December 1861, he lived alone in New York City and at West Point, New York, where he wrote his memoirs and closely followed the ongoing civil war. After McClellan's defeat in the Seven Days Battles, Lincoln accepted Scott's advice and appointed General Halleck as the army's senior general. In 1864, Scott sent a copy of his newly published memoirs to Ulysses S. Grant, who had succeeded Halleck as the lead Union general. The copy that Scott sent was inscribed, "from the oldest to the greatest general." [192] Following a strategy similar to Scott's Anaconda Plan, Grant led the Union to victory, and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia surrendered in April 1865. [193]

On October 4, 1865, Scott was elected as a Companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and was assigned insignia number 27. [194] He is one of the few individuals who belonged to the three most senior military societies of the United States - the Society of the Cincinnati, the Aztec Club of 1847 and the Loyal Legion.

Scott died at West Point on May 29, 1866. [10] President Andrew Johnson ordered the flags flown at half-staff to honor Scott, and Scott's funeral was attended by many of the leading Union generals, including Grant, George G. Meade, George H. Thomas, and John Schofield. He is buried at the West Point Cemetery. [195]

Historical reputation Edit

Scott holds the record for the greatest length of active service as general in the U.S. Army, [193] as well as the longest tenure as the army's chief officer. Steven Malanga of City Journal writes that "Scott was one of America’s greatest generals . but he had the misfortune to serve in two conflicts—the War of 1812 and the controversial Mexican-American War—bracketed by the far more significant American Revolution and Civil War." [196] Biographer John Eisenhower writes that Scott "was an astonishing man" who was the country's "most prominent general" between the retirement of Andrew Jackson in 1821 and the onset of the Civil War in 1861. [197] The Duke of Wellington proclaimed Scott "the greatest living general" after his capture of Mexico City. [198] Robert E. Lee wrote, "the great cause of our success [in Mexico] was in our leader [Scott]". [199] Historians Scott Kaufman and John A. Soares Jr. write that Scott was "an able diplomat who proved crucial in helping avert war between Britain and the United States in period after the War of 1812." [200] Fanny Crosby, the hymn writer, recalled that Scott's "gentle manner did not indicate a hero of so many battles yet there was strength beneath the exterior appearance and a heart of iron within his breast. But from him I learned that the warrior only it is, who can fully appreciate the blessing of peace." [201]

In addition to his reputation as a tactician and strategist, Scott was also noteworthy for his concern about the welfare of his subordinates, as demonstrated by his willingness to risk his career in the dispute with Wilkinson over the Louisiana bivouac site. [202] In another example, when cholera broke out among his soldiers while they were aboard ship during the Black Hawk campaign and the ship's surgeon was incapacitated by the disease, Scott had the doctor tutor him in treatment and risked his own health by tending to the sick troops himself. [203]

Scott was the recipient of several honorary degrees. [204] These included a Master of Arts from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1814, a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from Columbia University in 1850, and an LL.D. from Harvard University in 1861. [204]

Memorials Edit

Scott has been memorialized in numerous ways. Scott County, Iowa in the state of Iowa Scott County, Kansas Scott County, Virginia [205] Scott County, Minnesota and Scott County, Tennessee were all named for him. Communities named for Scott include Winfield, Illinois Winfield, Indiana Winfield, Iowa Winfield, Alabama and Winfield, Tennessee, Fort Scott, Kansas, and Scott Depot and Winfield, [206] West Virginia. Other things named for Scott include Lake Winfield Scott in Georgia, Mount Scott in Oklahoma, and the Scott's oriole, a bird. [207]

A statue of Scott stands at Scott Circle in Washington, D.C. [208] Scott was also honored by having his likeness depicted on a U.S. postage stamp. [209] [210] [211] A paddle steamer named Winfield Scott launched in 1850, and a US Army tugboat in service in the 21st century is named Winfield Scott. Various individuals, including officers Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, [212] Confederate General Winfield Scott Featherston, [213] and Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, [214] were named after General Scott. The US Army Civil Affairs Association views General Scott as the 'Father of Civil Affairs' and the regimental award medallions bear his name. [215]

The General Winfield Scott House, his home in New York City during 1853–1855, was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1975. [216] Scott's papers are held by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan. [217]

During his career, which ended with his retirement on November 1, 1861, Scott was promoted from captain to brevet lieutenant general. [218] The effective dates of his promotions were: [218]

Insignia Rank Component Date
Captain Regular Army May 3, 1808
Lieutenant Colonel Regular Army July 6, 1812
Colonel Regular Army March 12, 1813
Brigadier General Regular Army March 9, 1814
Brevet Major General Regular Army July 25, 1814
Major General Regular Army June 25, 1841
Brevet Lieutenant General Regular Army March 29, 1847
Brevet Lieutenant General Retired November 1, 1861

Scott's fame and political career led to the creation of several musical pieces named for him. In 1848, Hall, a Boston publisher, produced the Scott & Taylor Almanac to capitalize on the name recognition of the Mexican–American War's two most famous generals. [219] In 1852, Huestis and Couzans of New York City published Scott and Graham Melodies, a book of songs used during the 1852 presidential campaign. [220] Another book of songs used by Whig campaigners in 1852, The Scott Songster, was published by Edwards & Goshorn of Cincinnati. [221] In 1861, Stephen Glover created in Scott's honor an instrumental music piece, General Scott's Grand Review March. [222] [223]

Actor Roy Gordon portrayed Scott in the 1953 film Kansas Pacific. [224] Scott was played by Patrick Bergin in the 1999 film One Man's Hero, a drama about the Mexican–American War's Saint Patrick's Battalion. [225]

Later Years and Death

Winfield Scott retired from the military on November 1, 1861. General George McClellan succeeded him as General-in-chief. Even though he was retired his military advice was still sought after. There were many instances where Abraham Lincoln consulted Scott for advice on military tactics.

Scott&rsquos Anaconda Plan was followed. General Ulysses S. Grant eventually took control of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and with the Union Blockade the North continued to destroy the Southern economy and with it their ability to wage war.

Even with all the stories of valor and great Confederate Generals the war eventually became a war of attrition and the South could not sustain themselves.

Scott lived long enough to see the country he helped expand be unified. After retirement, he resided at West Point where he would eventually die. He died on May 29, 1866, at 79 years old.

A New Man in Charge: George B. McClellan (Part 3)

George Brinton McClellan / Mathew Brady Studio, undated / Modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

George Brinton McClellan ascended to the command of the Union army partially as a result of his own self-promotion, but mostly due to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s trust in his former protégé. McClellan biographer Stephen Sears notes, "It was . . . no surprise that with the firing on Fort Sumter George McClellan quickly became the most sought-after former officer in the North. By the time the war was a month old he was . . . outranked in the United States service only by the general in chief himself."

Winfield Scott’s service to the United States was meritorious, and his judgment was widely respected. McClellan had served under Scott during the Mexican-American War, wherein—as C. J. Prime writes in the introduction to McClellan’s autobiography, McClellan’s Own Story—“he was brevetted first lieutenant for gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco, captain for Chapultepec.”

McClellan was a young star arcing toward the zenith when he served in Mexico he then served the army by instructing at West Point (1848–51), working on a survey team in the far western United States (1852–54), and monitoring and recording the status of several European armies while on the Delafield Commission (1855–56).

As an observer on that venture, McClellan and two other soldiers witnessed action in the Crimean War. Upon their return, they provided the United States Army with information on the behaviors of those European armies. One of McClellan’s more impressive academic feats took place in the assembly of his report. Stephen Sears records:

His colleagues were to focus on their specialties . . . while he dealt more generally with the organization of Europe’s principal armies, paying particular attention to engineer troops and cavalry. He had brought back with him from Europe nearly a hundred books and manuals on topics ranging from field rations to veterinary medicine. With his facility for languages, those in French and German posed no problems for those in Russian he simply set out to teach himself the language. . . . Less than three months after embarking on his study, he had translated on 300-page Russian volume and was starting on a second. As a result, his description of the Russian army was the most comprehensive available to American readers.

George B. McClellan was a smart man.

Winfield Scott / Mathew Brady
Studio, 1861 / Albumen silver print/
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian

In the years just before the war, he had left the army to become a railroad executive, but then the call to duty brought him back to serve his country. It was only a matter of time before he would rise to supplant his old boss.

McClellan was young—thirty-four at the war’s onset—as well as talented and ambitious. Scott (right) was much older—seventy-four when the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter—and was, as accounts say, too fat to ride a horse. Winfield Scott had had his day. Actually, he had had many days, as he had served in the United States military since Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

McClellan’s thinking seemed to be that if ever it was time for the young to put the old under a shawl and into a porch chair, this was it. Scott retired on November 1, 1861 McClellan then became general-in-chief of all federal armies.

McClellan then went to war on two fronts. First, and less effectively, he was the agent responsible for conducting the Civil War against the Confederate army. Second, and more bizarrely, he fought against the powers of state in Washington. He treated President Lincoln with unmitigated scorn. Military historian Edward H. Bonekemper III writes:

All too soon, McClellan began openly showing disrespect for the president. When Lincoln arranged a conference with Governor Dennison of Ohio, a Union general, and McClellan, the commanding general chose not to appear. . . . That event was followed in mid-November by an even more blatant snub of the president. On the evening of November 13, the president, [Secretary of State William] Seward, and John Hay came to McClellan’s home to confer with him. After they had waited an hour because McClellan was out, the general returned, went straight upstairs to his room and ignored their presence. When, a half hour later, the three visitors asked the servant to tell him they were waiting, the servant responded that the general had gone to bed.

George B. McClellan chose to answer to no one.

However, he was not unaware of the personalities running the rest of the American government. Bonekemper notes that McClellan’s senior intelligence officer, Allan Pinkerton, kept the general informed of political upheavals inside the capital, “using his lead spy to track events in Washington,” although “a better use of Pinkerton would have been to adequately scout the enemy.”

Abraham Lincoln/Alexander Gardner,
1861/Albumen silver print/National Portrait
Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Time and time again, when Lincoln (right) urged him to attack, McClellan would hesitate or fail altogether to act under the excuse that Confederate numbers were greatly superior or that the time and conditions were not right for an offensive.

Bonekemper’s summary of McClellan’s character is damning, noting simply, “There is nothing in McClellan’s Civil War record to demonstrate that he had the intestinal fortitude to undertake an all-out offensive with his available troops.”

On March 11, 1862, he was relieved of command of the entire Union effort and reduced to the command—no small task—of the Army of the Potomac. Still, the need to prosecute an aggressive war was lost on McClellan.

McClellan’s failure to reinforce in a timely way the Union efforts at Second Bull Run in August 1862, and his failure to strike down Robert E. Lee’s staggering army after the bloody fighting at Antietam in September 1862, paved the way for his dismissal on November 5, 1862.

One year and four days elapsed between McClellan’s assumption of the entire command of the Union army and his complete dismissal. Stephen Sears notes, “Lincoln was straightforward and consistent in stating the military failings for which he dismissed George McClellan, and frequently considered dismissing him earlier: he was the general . . . who would not fight.”

McClellan, for all his education and experience and his efforts at assembling a war machine, would prove to be a nemesis to Abraham Lincoln, not just during the tenure of McClellan’s commands, but also as the opposing candidate for president of the United States in the 1864 election.

—Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery, Catalog of American Portraits

Edward H Bonekemper III, McClellan and Failure (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2007).

George B. McClellan, McClellan’s Own Story (New York: H. J. Hewitt, 1886).

Stephen W. Sears, George McClellan: The Young Napoleon (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1988).

The “Anaconda Plan”

George McClellan was an up-and-coming 34-year-old U.S. Army veteran who was held in high esteem by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. McClellan had served with gallantry in the Mexican War and observed the European armies in the Crimean War, leading to his development of what became known as the “McClellan saddle.” He had been the president of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad when the war began, and in late April he was appointed major general of Ohio volunteers.

McClellan had sent Scott a “plan of operations” that McClellan believed would “bring the war to a speedy close.” He proposed gathering 80,000 Federal troops in northwestern Virginia to move east while the Federals at Washington advanced into northern Virginia. The two armies would then join forces and move on Richmond. McClellan added: “The movement on Richmond should be conducted with the utmost promptness.”

McClellan offered a second plan that involved moving the 80,000 northwestern troops into Kentucky and Tennessee to capture Nashville. From there, they would continue south and capture the Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama. Meanwhile, the Federals in Washington would capture Richmond before continuing down the Atlantic coast, conquering Georgia and the Carolinas before joining McClellan’s army in Alabama. The final campaign would involve the combined armies capturing Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans on the Gulf coast.

Scott read and annotated McClellan’s paper before sharing it with President Abraham Lincoln. The general-in-chief thought some aspects of the strategy impractical, such as moving too quickly with 90-day volunteers rather than relying on a more long-term strategy using the three-year enlistments. McClellan’s plan involved “long, tedious and break down marches.” Scott sent a response to McClellan, writing in part:

“We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such a blockade, we propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points… the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.”

The “cordon of posts” on the Mississippi would involve 60,000 troops stationed at points from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. The blockade would be strengthened to cut the Confederacy completely off from the rest of the world. The raw volunteers would need several months of training before deployment, gunboats would need to be built for river warfare, and arms and equipment would need to be assembled. Consequently, Scott estimated that the great campaign could not begin until at least mid-November.

But Scott also warned: “A word now as to the greatest obstacle in the way of this plan—the great danger now pressing upon us—the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends. They will urge instant and vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of consequences…”

Lincoln’s cabinet was divided on this course of action. It made military sense, but it would take considerable time to execute, which would be hard for impatient northerners to accept. Most northerners favored a quick victory, and when this plan was divulged by the press, it was compared to the way in which an anaconda slowly strangles its victims and therefore derisively nicknamed the “Anaconda Plan.” However, as the war went on, many points of Scott’s plan would eventually be implemented.

This week in history: McClellan becomes the Army's commanding general

In the early stages of the Civil War, on Nov. 1 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to the position of commanding general of the United States Army. His appointment came on the heels of long-serving officer Winfield Scott's retirement.

McClellan had graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1846 and had gone on to serve with distinction during the Mexican-American War. During the mid-1850s, McClellan had been an observer during the Crimean War, in which he witnessed the aftermath of the French and British armies' siege of Sevastopol.

In the book, “George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon,” biographer Stephen W. Sears wrote: “In technical and administrative matters, George McClellan's military education was greatly advanced by his European experience. At installations all across Britain and the Continent he had witnessed how professional armies were trained and administered. … Although the Sevastopol siege was over by the time he reached the scene, the logistical framework that had supported it was still in place, as were the officers who had operated it.”

McClellan retired from the Army in 1857 and soon went to work as a railroad executive. Later that year, however, when the federal government sent a military expedition to Utah and it looked as though a shooting war might break out between the U.S. Army and the Mormons, McClellan attempted to gain a command. His efforts ultimately came to nothing and as the country drifted closer to Civil War, he became more and more interested in politics. A staunch Democrat, he had supported Stephen Douglas for president in the critical 1860 election that ended with Lincoln's victory.

When the Civil War began, McClellan's understanding of railroads and logistics earned him a promotion to general, and he was soon assigned to command the Department of the Ohio. Believed to be sympathetic to the South, he had been approached about joining the Confederate Army, but declined because of his opposition to secession. His army soon penetrated Western Virginia, that part of the state that remained largely pro-Union.

Winning a series of small battles, he soon gained quite a reputation as a military commander. Sears wrote: “The Louisville Journal termed his campaign 'a piece of finished military workmanship by a master hand.' The New York Times announced, 'We feel very proud of our wise and brave young Major-General. There is a future before him ….' The New York Herald headed a column of fulsome praise 'Gen. McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War.’ ”

Further east, the Union Army commanded by Irwin McDowell suffered a major defeat at the battle of First Bull Run on July 21, 1861. It had been the first major battle of the Civil War, and many in the north feared the consequences of such a catastrophic failure. Eager to find an officer as competent in military affairs as he was able to restore northern confidence in victory, Lincoln turned McClellan, who many now began referring to as “The Young Napoleon.” McClellan was not yet 35 years old.

Lincoln ordered McClellan to take command of the Army of the Potomac, made up of the forces located around the capital and the defenses of Washington itself. McClellan soon found what amounted to an armed rabble rather than a true military force. As Socrates supposedly said, “a disorderly mob is no more an army than a heap of building materials is a house,” and McClellan set about training this mob and preparing it for battle. Drawing upon those lessons learned in the Mexican and Crimean Wars, McClellan succeeded in turning the Army of the Potomac into a first-rate fighting force.

For McClellan, however, that was not enough. As soon as he arrived in Washington, he began to butt heads with the commanding general of the Army, Winfield Scott. Scott, who had held a general's rank since the War of 1812, had been appointed commanding general in 1841. In 1847, he had captured Mexico City in the face of superior numbers and little in the way of supply and reinforcement. Capitalizing on his success as a war hero, Scott had run for president in 1852 as a Whig, though he lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, the commanding general was 74 years old. Overweight and plagued by gout, he could no longer ride a horse. Despite his infirmities, he soon drew up an operational war plan to crush the Confederacy. The Anaconda Plan called for a blockade of Southern ports and the conquest of the length of the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy into two. Because of its great size and the vast reserves of manpower it had to draw from, Scott understood the war would not be won in a few weeks or months. His plan, which called for a slow strangulation of the South, was projected to take two or three years.

When Republican Sens. Benjamin Wade and Zachariah Chandler began to express frustration that McClellan had not advanced into Virginia, McClellan met with them. Assuring the senators that he wanted to invade Virginia as soon as possible, he stated that Scott's devotion to the Anaconda Plan, with its more leisurely pace, prevented him from doing so. The senators in turn met with Lincoln, and implored him to relieve Scott of his command. Scott, whose health was failing, had already written a letter of resignation that Lincoln had not yet accepted.

In his book, “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief,” historian James B. McPherson wrote: “McClellan was pulling every string he could find to get himself appointed Scott's successor. But the old general wanted that job to go to Henry W. Halleck, author and translator of books on military strategy, who had resigned from the army in the 1850s … Scott hoped that Halleck could get to Washington from California in time for Lincoln to appoint him rather than McClellan as Scott's successor.”

Meeting with his Cabinet, Lincoln made the decision to relieve Scott. A few days later, on Nov. 1, Scott retired and the president asked McClellan to take up his post. The youngest commanding general in America's history, McClellan still maintained operational command of the Army of the Potomac around Washington. When Lincoln expressed his concern that his new post would “entail a vast labor” for McClellan, the young general replied with his typical bravado, “I can do it all.”

The relationship between Lincoln and McClellan soon proved extremely rocky. When among friends, the general took to using the common derisive moniker for Lincoln, “the original gorilla.” Also, only a few weeks after his appointment as commanding general, McClellan famously kept Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward waiting in his parlor for several hours while he took a nap. Lincoln, who felt he needed the general's expertise to win the war, ignored the slight.

McClellan, however, proved to be anything but the “the young Napoleon” that Northerners had hoped for. A first-rate military organizer, he proved a barely adequate field commander and strategist. His spring 1862 Peninsula campaign failed to take Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and ended in retreat. The battle of Antietam, the culmination of Robert E. Lee's summer 1862 invasion of Maryland, saw the Army of the Potomac victorious, though McClellan had failed to crush the Confederate army, even though he had had the means to do so.

In fact, in every engagement in which the Army of the Potomac went up against Confederate forces, McClellan always believed he was outnumbered, when the reverse was always true. Disgusted with McClellan's performance at Antietam, Lincoln fired him not long after. For his timidity and over-cautious nature, many historians rank McClellan as one of the worst generals of the Civil War.

The general still enjoyed popularity within the Army that he had largely created. So much so that in 1864 he ran as the Democratic candidate for president against Lincoln. He gained only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln's 212, however.

In those dark days following the loss at Bull Run in summer 1861, however, the country may well have accepted McClellan as a dictator who could solve the national emergency with absolute power. To his credit, he remained committed to constitutional government, however much he detested Lincoln. That, and his abilities as a military organizer, must be remembered when weighed against his battlefield failures. After all, it was the Army that McClellan had created that Ulysses S. Grant used to defeat Lee in 1865.

After McClellan's removal from the post, the position of commanding general of the United States Army was subsequently held by Halleck, Grant and William T. Sherman. The last man to hold the position was Nelson Appleton Miles, who served from 1895 to 1903. Thereafter, the Army was reorganized and the title “chief of staff” became the new designation for the nation's highest Army officer.

The War Hero New York Forgot

W infield Scott was one of America’s greatest generals—a war hero many times over and a man whose struggle to professionalize the United States Army shaped much of the nation’s early history. His achievements were considerable and his tenure long: he served 14 presidents. But he had the misfortune to serve in two conflicts—the War of 1812 and the controversial Mexican-American War—bracketed by the far more significant American Revolution and Civil War. Since his death, Scott has faded into the background of American history.

Even more obscure is Scott’s long association with New York City, where he lived and worked for much of his adult life. Though born in Virginia, Scott died an urbanite, marked indelibly by Gotham. He was an immediately recognizable figure on Manhattan’s streets, at home in the salons and dining rooms of Knickerbocker New York’s finest society and referred to frequently in the diaries and memoirs of the era’s prominent citizens. Leading New York Whigs supported Scott’s presidential bid. He even directed the United States Army from the city. His time in New York influenced one of the most significant decisions of his life: to remain with the army instead of joining the Confederacy at the outbreak of the Civil War. His native Virginians burned him in effigy for that choice, and he remains a controversial figure in the South. New Yorkers, by contrast, simply forgot him.

S cott was born in June 1786 at his family’s farm near Dinwiddie Courthouse, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia. His grandfather was a Scotsman who had supported Bonnie Prince Charlie in his doomed effort to win the English crown. After the prince’s defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Scott’s grandfather fled to America, “smuggled on board a ship bound for Virginia,” as Scott wrote in his memoirs. There, he prospered as a lawyer and bore a son, William, who served as an officer in the Revolutionary War and became a prominent Petersburg citizen. William married Ann Mason, the daughter of a prosperous local family, and the pair left their son, Winfield, the means to enjoy the life of a well-to-do Virginia landowner.

But Winfield Scott was eager for adventure. When British sailors aggressively boarded an American ship in 1807, hunting deserters, Virginia’s governor called for volunteers to join the state militia and counter the threat. Scott raced to enlist. Given command of a squad stationed near Lynnhaven Bay, he nearly set off an international incident when he and his men captured eight British sailors trying to steal ashore. President Thomas Jefferson, fearing an escalation, ordered him to free the men. Still, Scott recalled in his memoirs, Lynnhaven Bay was where he first heard the “bugle and drum” of military service. “It was the music that awoke ambition,” he observed. Through friends, he gained a commission in the regular army from Jefferson ordered himself an elaborate, custom-tailored officer’s uniform and was posted to New Orleans. The young soldier discovered an early American army governed by officers “sunk into either sloth, ignorance or habits of intemperate drinking.” After bad-mouthing his superiors, he was court-martialed and suspended from the army for a year.

Only the prospect of war with Britain saved his career. Reinstated in late 1811, Scott was sent north to the border between New York and Canada, where his uniform and six-foot-five-inch frame led one observer to describe him as the “beau ideal of a gallant soldier.” Scott received orders to assist local militia in an assault on positions across the Niagara River from Buffalo. Crossing the Niagara, he boldly took command of the small American force, which had captured Queenstown Heights and was preparing for a British counterattack. With Scott racing up and down the lines, the force repulsed several waves of British regulars, Canadian militia, and Mohawk braves. But Scott’s requests for reinforcements went unheeded. “Not a regiment, not a company is willing to join you. Save yourself by retreat,” the commanding general of the militia wrote Scott. He undertook instead to defend the Heights. Eventually, the British drove most of his men off their positions and captured the rest, including Scott.

The battle of Queenstown Heights may have been a strike against an early American military system that relied heavily on local militia, but it was a triumph for the young commander. After the British released Scott, President James Madison promoted him to colonel and sent him back to the conflict-ridden border. In the summer of 1814, Scott, commanding a brigade, entered Canada and led his soldiers into battle at Lundy’s Lane, near Niagara Falls. Cornered by a much larger British force, Scott engaged in a vicious two-day battle. The two sides lost more than 850 men. Wounded several times, Scott was ultimately carried to safety before both sides left the field, exhausted by the long battle.

For the first time in the War of 1812, United States regulars had proved that they could match the best fighting soldiers in Europe. Scott’s injuries ended his role in direct combat in the war, but he won a promotion to major general, and Congress ordered a gold medal struck in his name. Many years later, that medal was one of the few items left untouched when thieves cleaned out the vault of City Bank of New York, where Scott had stored it. One robber, later captured, said that he “was not such a villain as to rob a gallant soldier.”

A fter the war, a group of congressmen lobbied to get Scott appointed secretary of war. Just 29, Scott wisely turned them down, but he accepted a commission to travel to Europe and study professional soldiering there. Then, in May 1816, Madison gave Scott command of the country’s Northern Military District, headquartered in New York City.

It proved a historic posting. Hard as it is to imagine today, New York was a major military outpost, essential to the young nation’s defense. Just before the War of 1812, city and state officials, remembering the British occupation of New York during the Revolution, had embarked on a building program to strengthen the city’s defenses. They enlarged batteries in lower Manhattan into a fort (later called Castle Clinton), built more forts and gun emplacements on the beaches of Staten Island, added garrisons along the East River to repel invasion via Brooklyn, and heavily fortified the Harlem Heights along the East River. By the end of the war, nearly 600 artillery pieces guarded the city, and four arsenals were in place around town, including a huge federal depot in what’s now Madison Square. About 25,000 men were in uniform in a city of just 100,000 inhabitants. New York was perhaps the most heavily armed city in the country.

The city hadn’t lost its martial atmosphere by the time Scott assumed command. Thousands of New Yorkers were militia veterans, and many top political leaders had served as officers. The city ardently celebrated patriotic holidays like Independence Day with parades and cannon salutes. It even observed an anniversary, long since forgotten, known as Evacuation Day, which commemorated, every November 25, the British withdrawal from the city at the end of the Revolutionary War. This military New York welcomed the young war hero. On Scott’s first Evacuation Day celebration, in 1816, New York honored him for his bravery along the Canadian border. Governor Daniel Tompkins presented him with a sword struck in his honor “by the people of this state, as a pledge of their affection and gratitude for your distinguished services.”

One of only five generals in the nation’s regular army—and the youngest—Scott was determined to make a spectacular career. Soon after coming to New York, he secured Congress’s permission to develop a code of conduct, regulations, and organization for the army, based on his study of European techniques. His work, General Regulations for the United States Army, appeared in 1821 and anticipated the much larger army that would emerge in the Civil War and after. It earned Scott the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his insistence on discipline and proper procedure. Scott also saw the significance of nearby West Point, which President Jefferson, fearing the establishment of a permanent American officer class, had created only reluctantly in 1802. Scott worked to improve training at the school and frequently made the journey north from Manhattan to lecture and to tutor students there.

Scott swiftly took his place within flourishing postwar New York. After the British lifted their blockade at the end of the war in 1815, European goods had begun flooding into New York Harbor, boosting the city’s economy. Then, in 1825, the Erie Canal opened, unleashing new waves of commerce and wealth. Construction pushed New York City’s limits up Broadway past today’s Canal Street. A swamp to the west of Canal Street known as Lespinard Meadows was drained and transformed into an elegant residential and commercial district, where Scott briefly kept his army offices. Further north, building commenced in the mid-1820s around what became Washington Square. In 1824 alone, records show, more than 1,600 brick houses rose in the city. The next year, the city’s population climbed to about 166,000, up from 100,000 during the war.

Not long after arriving in New York, Scott wooed and won a wealthy Southern beauty, Maria Mayo. Her family boasted an estate in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, at the mouth of the Raritan River, which they gave to Scott and his bride. The young couple became a glamorous addition to the city’s social scene. Scott often appeared at prominent Knickerbocker social functions in full dress uniform any given night could find him, say, at a dinner at the City Hotel on lower Broadway honoring Washington Irving, or dining with Daniel Webster at the Union Club. Among Scott’s friends and confidants was Philip Hone, a successful auctioneer who served as mayor in 1826 and 1827 and left us a detailed portrait of Old New York in a two-volume diary sprinkled with references to the general. Some of Scott’s favorite haunts opened during this period, including Astor House—the city’s first luxury hotel, where he sometimes stayed when it was too late to make the two-hour trip back to Elizabethtown—and the famous restaurant Delmonico’s.

Unlike many generals of his era, who projected the image of rough-and-ready frontiersmen, Scott saw himself as a gentleman with cultivated and urbane interests. For example, Erasmus Keyes, his aide, wrote that the general considered “knowledge of the culinary processes a necessary accomplishment of a gentleman and a soldier.” On a visit to France, Scott learned the proper art of baking bread. Returning to New York, Keyes reported, the general informed William Cozzens, the proprietor of the American Hotel on lower Broadway, that his bread wasn’t worth serving at a kennel—and barged into the kitchen to show the staff how to do it right.

New York’s salons taught Scott some valuable, if painful, lessons in diplomacy. A voluble, frequently indiscreet man, Scott nearly ruined his career at a dinner party shortly after arriving in the city. In April 1817, Andrew Jackson, whose victory at New Orleans in the War of 1812 had eclipsed Scott’s own exploits, sparked a controversy by countermanding an order from Washington. Jackson, the epitome of the American hero as frontiersman, showed little patience for directives from central command—directives that Scott was helping fashion. At the dinner, as Scott and New York governor-elect DeWitt Clinton animatedly discussed the incident, the general suggested that Jackson’s actions amounted to mutiny. One of those present wrote an anonymous letter about the exchange, which the Columbian newspaper published. An enraged Jackson challenged Scott to a duel, which he turned down. But Jackson’s enmity would threaten Scott’s career, especially after Jackson was elected president 11 years later. Only Scott’s valuable experience and talents as a soldier, which Jackson recognized and needed, saved him.

S cott’s military feats were indeed prodigious. During the more than 30 years between the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, he left New York to undertake a series of difficult military tasks, including presiding as commander during the Black Hawk Wars in the Illinois Territories and defusing a confrontation between secessionists in South Carolina and the federal government in the 1830s.

These exploits made Scott a force in local and national politics. He was instrumental in founding the New York wing of the Whig party, which coalesced around opposition to Jackson’s political agenda and included such prominent figures as Horace Greeley (founder and editor of the country’s most influential newspaper of the time, the New York Tribune) and William Seward, who served as New York’s governor and later as Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state. Scott might have become a willing Whig simply because of his old enmity toward Jackson. But he also fiercely opposed Jackson’s destruction of the Second Bank of the United States, the nation’s central bank during the early nineteenth century, whose charter the president refused to renew in 1832. Scott believed that a central bank was essential to the country’s well-being, since it could help regulate government credit and ensure a stable currency. He also feared that Jackson’s ideal of the military man as frontiersman threatened West Point and might ultimately defeat his own ongoing efforts to give the country a professional officer corps.

In 1839, Scott received his first serious consideration for the presidency, emerging as a dark-horse candidate for the Whig nomination at the party’s December convention in Harrisburg. He had just returned from a successful effort to settle a border dispute between Maine and Canada that had almost brought a sequel to the War of 1812, and his stock was high, especially in the Northeast. Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison were the two leading Whig candidates, but New York Whigs floated Scott’s name as a compromise in case of a convention deadlock. Scott remained in the running for several ballots, though the convention eventually nominated Harrison.

T wo years later, the army’s commanding general, Alexander Macomb, died. Scott, the nation’s best-known soldier after Jackson took to politics, was the natural choice to replace him.

Scott’s demanding new job didn’t remove him from the battlefield. Tensions began to mount between Mexico and the United States over the disputed border of Texas, and Congress declared war on May 13, 1846. United States forces, led by Zachary Taylor, achieved several significant victories in Texas. Yet to win the war, President James Polk realized, America would have to bring the fight to Mexico itself. So Polk, a Southern Democrat, deployed Scott to launch an unprecedented amphibian invasion. Scott assembled 70 vessels and 12,000 troops on Lobos Island, off the Mexican coast, and landed them in specially designed surfboats. The troops then laid siege to the heavily fortified coastal city of Veracruz. After three weeks, the fortress city fell.

The United States and the world greeted Scott’s landing and victory with awe, but the general was just getting started. After securing Veracruz, Scott marched with his army across Mexico, following the route that Cortés had taken more than 300 years earlier. As he moved inland, Scott’s lines of communication with his coastal headquarters were stretched so thin that he decided to cut ties with his base, leaving his army few options if it went down to defeat. In London, hearing of the risky move, the Duke of Wellington declared: “Scott is lost.” But Scott’s army, though reduced by sickness and casualties, scored a series of victories against the Mexican general Santa Anna, eventually capturing the fortress of Chapultepec outside Mexico City and then storming the gates of the capital itself. In the New York Times, Wellington called Scott “the greatest living soldier.” A deputation of Mexican ministers visited Scott in his camp and asked him to serve as Mexico’s dictator until the country’s political situation stabilized. Scott turned them down, perhaps figuring that his political fortunes back home were about to soar.

They didn’t. President Polk, fearing that the general’s popularity might make him a formidable rival in the upcoming presidential election, relieved him of his Mexican command and summoned him to Washington to defend disciplinary actions that he had taken against some politically connected officers during the campaign. While he was engaged with a court of inquiry about the affair, the Whig Party nominated the conflict’s earlier hero, Zachary Taylor, for president. The affair rankled Scott’s supporters. “The Duke of Wellington, with no better claim upon his country’s liberality than our Scott, bends under the weight of merited rewards,” Philip Hone wrote in his diary, “whilst our ripe and accomplished soldier . . . is recalled to be laid upon the shelf.”

New Yorkers tried to assuage some of the indignity that Scott had suffered with a huge celebration in his honor on May 25, 1848. At 11 AM , a steamer left Battery Park with a host of dignitaries to pick Scott up at Elizabethtown. After embarking with the general, the steamer plied its way across New York Harbor, where a battery of 13 guns on Governors Island blasted a salute. The dignitaries then alighted at Castle Garden—the old Castle Clinton, transformed into an auditorium and entertainment complex—where the day’s festivities began. (In 1975, the federal government restored the landmark to its original design as a fort.)

Accompanied by four brigades of New York militia, Scott paraded up Broadway in a route that took him across lower Manhattan and ended at City Hall. Then he proceeded to Astor House for a dinner in his honor. Describing the scene at Astor House, the New York Herald wrote: “An immense crowd filled the street, the place, and every avenue, and the General, to reach the steps of the hotel, passed through a dense lane of living beings, forming one compact solid mass. Loud cheers resounded on all sides.” Scott announced to the crowd that he was “happy to be in the hands of my fellow-citizens of New York, a city . . . in which my lot has been cast for a portion of 30 years of my life.” And he paid tribute to the army that had fought under him in Mexico, observing that “a very large portion of the rank and file of that army, regulars and volunteers, went forth from the City of New York, to conquer or to die.”

B y 1850, Scott’s supporters were talking again about a presidential run. But when his turn on the national political stage came in 1852, it was perhaps the worst possible moment for a Whig candidate. The party that had formed in opposition to Jackson fractured after Old Hickory’s death in 1845. Northern Whigs increasingly supported the abolition of slavery, while the party’s Southern elements backed a package of compromise bills in 1850 that banned slavery in some western territories but also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their owners. At the party’s nominating convention in Baltimore, the Whigs crafted a platform that some Northern Whigs refused to endorse, since it continued to compromise on slavery. After 53 ballots, the party decided on another compromise: when the incumbent president, Millard Fillmore, failed to attract enough votes to win renomination as the Whig standard-bearer in a three-way race with Daniel Webster and Scott, key delegates from Virginia swung toward their native son, giving Scott the nomination.

But the Whigs melted away around him. Some members broke off to join the newly created Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery to new American territories. Others, from the South, were unenthusiastic about Scott’s association with the New York wing of the party and sat out the campaign. Scott didn’t help himself, either: unlike his old nemesis Jackson, he lacked the common touch, tending to talk over the heads of average citizens during campaign appearances. And he found himself the subject of bitter personal attacks. Democrats used the fact that Scott’s daughter had converted to Catholicism and joined a convent to alarm the country’s overwhelmingly Protestant electorate by charging that the candidate was a Romish sympathizer. The Democrats also produced a pamphlet, based on internal government documents, that highlighted the extra pay that Scott had received for special assignments, including drafting those new army regulations. The publication implied that Scott had abused his army position for financial gain.

Scott lost in a landslide, capturing only four states and just 42 electoral votes out of 296. In his memoirs, Scott devotes just a few paragraphs to the election, calling it his greatest humiliation and largely blaming it on Whig divisions. The election was devastating to the party, which never nominated another presidential candidate. Several years later, former Whigs, including Greeley, Seward, and Abraham Lincoln, formed the Republican Party.

After the election, Scott’s New York friends again rallied around him. A group led by Senator Hamilton Fish bought the general a brownstone on 12th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Scott, who had resided in Washington during the campaign, once more retreated to New York, fed up with politics and desperate to avoid daily commerce with the new administration of Democrat Franklin Pierce.

H istory had one more role for Scott to play. In November 1860, a divided country elected Lincoln president, and talk of secession among Southern states intensified. On December 12, the commanding general boarded a train for the capital so that he could oversee security at the presidential inauguration in March, and he took with him the headquarters of the United States Army. Seven states seceded from the Union over the next two and a half months, while an increasingly worried Scott got word of plots against Lincoln and threats against himself. “The inauguration of President Lincoln was, perhaps, the most critical and hazardous event with which I have ever been connected,” Scott observed. “In the preceding two months I had received more than fifty letters, many from points distant from each other—some earnestly dissuading me from being present at the event, and others distinctly threatening assassination if I dared to protect the ceremony by a military force.”

On Inauguration Day, rather than sit among the notables on the dais, Scott remained planted in his coach on the northern side of the Capitol, ready at a moment’s notice to command the federal forces on duty. Keyes, his aide, wandered the crowds in plainclothes. “The election having been entirely regular, I resolved that the Constitution should not be overturned by violence if I could possibly prevent it,” wrote Scott.

As the country careened toward war, Scott suffered one of the greatest disappointments of his life. He immensely admired Robert E. Lee, whom he had watched grow into an exemplar of the West Point spirit. Scott recommended to Lincoln that, if war broke out, Lee should assume field command of the army. But just days after Virginia seceded, Lee sent Scott a letter in which he resigned from the army. “Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword,” wrote Lee. The same day, a delegation of Virginians visited Scott, urging him to join their cause Scott turned them down.

As many of its top officers followed Lee’s example, the federal army was ill-prepared to bring the rebel states to heel. In July 1861, two Confederate armies crushed federal forces at Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia, provoking panic in Washington. Though Scott wasn’t in the field, he took responsibility for the defeat. Lincoln then appointed a personal favorite, George McClellan, to take command of the Army of the Potomac, the main federal force around the capital. On October 31, Scott, recognizing at 75 that he was no longer capable of leading the army, resigned as commanding general, allowing Lincoln to give McClellan command of the entire federal force. A few days later, the old general boarded a train to return to New York City.

Scott lived long enough to see a succession of Union commanders fall before Mexican-American War campaigners such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and James Longstreet, until a little-known lieutenant from the same campaign, Ulysses S. Grant, arose to lead the Union to victory. Grant’s victory gave Scott a last triumph. Scott had devised a plan to defeat the South dubbed “Anaconda,” which proposed blockading the Mississippi River and encir- cling the South so as to squeeze it into submission. Though McClellan ignored Anaconda, Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman employed a version of the strategy to overcome the South at last.

After the war, Grant visited Scott, paying one more tribute to the old soldier. About a year later, on May 29, 1866, Scott died at West Point, where he is buried next to his wife. Grant and a host of other generals journeyed to his funeral. Around the country, flags flew at half-mast. In Manhattan, the New York Stock Exchange closed for the day.

Y et Scott has wound up “on the shelf” of American history. Today, few discuss the campaign that he fought so expertly in Mexico—part of an unpopular war dismissed by some critics as little more than a United States land grab. A generation of officers whom Scott helped train are now better remembered for the war that they fought against one another than for the battles that they undertook alongside him. Even in the city that once worshiped him, few signs of Scott’s long residence remain. A small plaque remembering him adorns the brownstone on West 12th Street, which New York University now owns. A portrait of Scott by Miner Kilbourne Kellogg hangs in City Hall the New-York Historical Society owns a copy. Otherwise, the city that Scott knew so well has abandoned him.

Writing of Scott’s political difficulties, Hone observed that “republics are ungrateful.” He might have added that their great cities are forgetful.

Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.

Birth of General Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott was born on June 13, 1786, in Dinwiddie County, Virginia.

Born to an American Revolution veteran, Scott attended the College of William and Mary before studying law. He was admitted to the bar and briefly attempted to practice. But around the same time he had his first taste of military experience. He served as a corporal of the cavalry with the Virginia militia near Petersburg in 1807 as part of the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair.

The following year, Scott met the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, and President Thomas Jefferson. After this meeting he was commissioned a captain in the Light Artillery just before he turned 22. It was during this time that he earned the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” because of the discipline of his troops and his elaborate uniforms.

U.S. #786 – Scott and fellow War of 1812 veteran Andrew Jackson are featured on this Army-Navy issue as well as Jackson’s home, the Hermitage.

Scott was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served in the Niagara campaign during the War of 1812. He led the unsuccessful landing during the Battle of Queenston Heights and was held prisoner by the British. Scott was released a year later in a prisoner exchange.

After being promoted to colonel in 1813, Scott commanded the Americans in the capture of Fort George in Ontario, Canada. He was wounded during the battle, but his men were still able to overpower the British. This is considered one of the best-planned and executed battles of the War of 1812.

U.S. #O8 – Scott portrait on the 1874 Department of Agriculture Official stamp.

Scott attained the rank of brigadier general in March 1814. He led his men to victory in the Battle of Chippawa, and they fought courageously at the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Brigadier General Scott was severely wounded and spent the rest of the war recovering.

After the War, Scott prepared the first standard drill regulations of the U.S. Army. He visited Europe to learn French military tactics and translated French military manuals into English.

In 1832, Scott was put in command of American troops in the Cherokee Nation. The Supreme Court had ruled the Cherokees had the right to self-rule, but President Andrew Jackson ignored the decision. The Treaty of New Echota was signed by a small group from the tribe but was never approved by the Cherokee National Council. It gave all territory to the federal government and ordered all residents to move to land west of the Mississippi.

U.S. #O32 – Scott on the 1873 Department of Justice Official stamp.

Scott supervised the removal under orders from President Martin Van Buren. He began on May 26, 1838, with the Cherokees in Georgia. Scott tried to treat the people humanely, saying acts of cruelty were “abhorrent to the generous sympathies of the whole American people.” The Cherokees were put in stockades, where over 4,000 died. The first group headed west in the middle of the summer, and many perished in the heat. Scott accompanied the next group in the autumn until he was called back to Washington from Nashville. This tragic part of American history is known as the Trail of Tears.

Winfield Scott was once again promoted, this time to major general and became commanding general of the U.S. Army on July 5, 1841. In the Mexican-American War, Scott proved himself worthy of his rank when he commanded his troops in an attack on Mexico City. On September 13, 1847, the city surrendered and Scott became military commander. He was well respected because of his fair treatment of the Mexicans.

Scott was a celebrated war hero when he returned to the United States. During the 1852 presidential election, the Whig Party nominated him over President Millard Fillmore. The party was divided over the slavery issue, and Democrat Franklin Pierce won the election. In 1855, Congress voted to give Scott the rank of lieutenant general, only the second man in U.S. history up to that time to receive this honor, the first being George Washington.

Item #20004 – Commemorative cover marking Scott’s 198th birthday.

Commander Scott was 74 years old and in poor health when the Civil War began in 1861. Though his mind was still sharp, he could no longer lead his troops into battle. He asked Colonel Robert E. Lee, who Scott once called “the very finest soldier I’ve ever seen,” to take charge of the Army. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Lee resigned to fight for his home state. In the twilight of his career, the aging General Scott devised a plan that helped the North win the Civil War.

Item #47047A – Commemorative Proof Card marking Scott’s 206th birthday.

Many in the North, including the press, believed the war would be quickly won, but Scott knew it would be a long campaign. His plan was to cut off Southern supply routes by blockading ports and controlling the Mississippi River. The press named it the Anaconda Plan, and President Lincoln rejected it. Scott was forced to resign and was replaced by George McClellan. As the war continued longer than most had predicted, Scott’s Anaconda Plan was implemented and helped restore the Union.

A Case of ''the Slows'

GEORGE B. McCLELLAN The Young Napoleon. By Stephen W. Sears. Illustrated. 482 pp. New York: Ticknor & Fields. $24.95.

Between July 1861 and September 1862, two moments of supreme opportunity presented themselves to Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan. He wasted both, and consequently his chance to gain for himself the place in history that Ulysses S. Grant now occupies.

Stephen W. Sears already has given us ''Landscape Turned Red,'' the best account of the Battle of Antietam, one of McClellan's conspicuous failures. Now Mr. Sears provides a detailed, scrupulously fair account of the general's entire career - particularly his unparalleled war opportunities and his persistent efforts to blame others for his inability to master them.

The first opportunity came when McClellan was 34 years old. After a minor victory in West Virginia that made him the first Union military hero - ''The Young Napoleon'' - he was summoned to Washington to take command of the Army of the Potomac. So great was public acclaim and Presidential deference that McClellan wrote his wife, Ellen, 'ɻy some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land.'' But he modestly assured her that he did not intend to become 'ɽictator.''

Six months passed mostly in organizing and drilling the army, reviewing it with much glitter and spectacle and winning supreme command away from his mentor, Gen. Winfield Scott. In December 1861, McClellan was told by Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase that after mid-February 1862 he could raise no more money for the war. McClellan told him not to worry he aimed to take Richmond before then.

But by Feb. 15, despite pressure from all sides, McClellan and his grand army had not even left Washington. He did not open his ambitious Peninsula campaign until late March by June 25, despite odds greatly in his favor, he still had not captured Richmond. Robert E. Lee, newly in command of a smaller Confederate Army, attacked McClellan that day in the ensuing Seven Days battles, Lee wrecked the Peninsula campaign.

The second great moment came on Sept. 13, 1862. That morning, a Union corporal discovered lying in the grass near Frederick, Md., an envelope containing three cigars wrapped in a paper covered with writing. When the document reached McClellan, he recognized it instantly as a copy of orders by which Lee had dispersed the Confederate Army, then staging its first invasion of the North, into several columns.

''Here is a paper,'' the Young Napoleon exulted to an old West Point friend, ''with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.''

Two months later, that's where President Lincoln sent him. Despite the ''Lost Order'' that gave him detailed knowledge of Lee's movements, despite having superior force again, McClellan on Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest day of the war, managed no more than a stalemate at the Battle of Antietam. He feared to attack again on the 18th, though Lee's army was reeling and exhausted. On Sept. 19, to Lincoln's despair, McClellan let the Confederates slip virtually unmolested across the Potomac to Virginia.

Owing not least to these failures, the war dragged on into the spring of 1865 and George McClellan is known to history primarily as Lincoln tagged him: a general with a bad case of ''the slows,'' who excelled mostly ''in making others ready to fight,'' but who was ''good for nothing'' on the battlefield.

McClellan's great fault - other than an overweening vanity that precluded his working in harmony with any superior ('ɺgain I have been called upon to save the country,'' he wrote Ellen just before Antietam) - was his invariable, sometimes dishonest overestimation of the Confederate forces he faced. He claimed that about 50,000 rebels were deployed behind Antietam Creek on Sept. 15 in fact, after having divided his army, Lee was bluffing McClellan with only about 15,000 troops. McClellan dawdled away another day before commencing battle on Sept. 17 by then he faced the reunited Army of Northern Virginia.

Mr. Sears, making good use of unpublished manuscript materials, attributes this trait to an inherent caution that seized McClellan whenever the moment demanded action. His overblown estimates of enemy forces and his constant calls for re-enforcements sometimes may have been excuses for inaction, Mr. Sears suggests and when battle was forced upon him, McClellan came unstrung.

At Antietam, in Mr. Sears' judgment, ''many of his battlefield decisions were, for a trained soldier, simply irrational.'' Yet McClellan wrote Ellen on Sept. 18 the fatuous boast that ''those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly & that it was a masterpiece of art.'' For whatever failures he admitted on the Virginia Peninsula and at Antietam - not many - he sought repeatedly to place the blame on others (including ''the Gorilla,'' as he liked to call Lincoln).

The Young Napoleon did excel at ''making others ready to fight.'' He took better care of his troops than probably any other Civil War general. He knew how to build morale about his own glamorous figure, and the Army of the Potomac loved him as no other of its many commanders. In a miserably managed war, he stood out as an administrator. Using hundreds of ships, in just 20 days he moved 121,500 men, 44 artillery batteries, 1,150 wagons, more than 15,000 horses and mules and a mountain of equipment from Washington to Hampton Roads, Va.

But he couldn't and wouldn't fight, and he compounded this worst of military failings by becoming a political opponent of the Lincoln Administration. While still drawing a general's pay, he was the losing Democratic nominee against Lincoln in 1864, running on a platform that for a generation identified his party as one willing to compromise on slavery and union.

Time and again, McClellan overestimated himself and his service as much as he inflated the numbers of his battlefield opponents. History, as Stephen Sears confirms, has made neither mistake.

Watch the video: The 4 Commanding Generals of the Union Army in the Civil War