a North Georgia Notable
Born June 13, 1786, Petersburg, Virginia
Died May 19, 1866, West Point, New York
Federal officer in charge of Cherokee Removal
No one person would have more influence on the United States Army during its first 100 years of existence than General Winfield Scott. Known as Old Fuss and Feathers because of his attention to detail and a penchant for gaudy uniforms, Winfield Scott fought in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Seminole Wars, the Mexican-American War, and the War for Southern Independence (American Civil War). A Civilian Conservation Corps park and lake bear the name of the man who oversaw the removal of the Cherokee from the state of Georgia.
Born in 1786 near Petersburg, Virginia, both his parents were wealthy and famous (his father was a successful farmer who had served in the Revolutionary War and his mother came from a wealthy Virginia family). Though both his parents died when he was young, Scott's inheritance was modest. He studied for a short time at William and Mary College before undertaking the study of law in Petersburg. The evolving upheaval in relations between the United States and Britain at the start of the 19th century ended an uninspired legal career for the six foot, five inch Scott. He had served in the army in the period prior to the War of 1812. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Scott recruited a regiment and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
During the War of 1812 Lt. Colonel Scott led a series of attacks against combined British and Canadian forces between Fort George and Fort Erie, on the Canadian side of the border west of Buffalo, New York. He was captured on October 11, 1812, in the rout of American forces during the Battle of Queenston Heights (near Niagra-on-the-Lake) and served time as a prisoner-of-war on the Canadian frontier. Scott and his longtime friend Captain John Wool fought throughout the region.
At the Battle of Lundy's Lane, Scott was ambushed by a force of British regulars. Rather than retreat, Scott ordered an advance, which convinced the British commander that Scott's detachment was part of a larger army. The arrival of additional British troop halted their orderly retreat and the engagement continued. For more than two hours the 1300 men in Scott's command were under withering fire from the British. Less than 400 men were still fighting when American re-enforcements arrived. Scott withdrew and reorganized his men, but while looking for a place to attack was hit with a bullet, shattering a bone. On July 25, 1814 the war ended for Winfield Scott. The Battle of Lundy's Lane ended a draw.
After the war, Scott married, studied European military methods, wrote on military and other subjects, and took up headquarters in New York City, hobnobbing with New York society. Over the next 15 years the flamboyant Scott angered many of his peers, including future president Andrew Jackson.
Scott returned to active military duty in 1832 to fight in various "Indian Wars" and was called upon to replace John Wool as commander of Federal troops in the Cherokee Nation just prior to the Trail of Tears. Spreading from the Blue Ridge Mountains west to the Cumberland Plateau, the Cherokee had sworn in 1819 to give no more land to encroaching settlers. The United States Supreme Court agreed with the Cherokee's right to self-rule, but Andrew Jackson did not and in 1835 he convinced a small group of these American Indians to sign the Treaty of New Echota. General Wool had become disenchanted with the idea of forcing the Cherokee from their "Enchanted Land."
Receiving orders on April 6, 1838, Scott arrived at New Echota, Cherokee Nation that May and immediately began with his plans for removal. He divided the Nation into three military districts and the Cherokee were rounded up and herded into unsanitary "forts," one of which was named for the general. Nearly one-third of all the Cherokee deaths attributed to the Trail of Tears would come as a result of this confinement.
The first parties to leave Georgia suffered huge losses in both people and livestock, attempting to travel west in the scorching heat of summer. The Cherokee clearly viewed Scott as their "warden" when they appealed directly to him to postpone the removal until cooler months. "We, your prisoners, wish to speak to you...We have been made prisoners by your men but do not fight you..."
The appeal worked. Scott not only agreed to postpone the removal, he backed a proposal for the departing parties to be led by Cherokee chiefs rather than the U. S. Army. For this Winfield Scott expected, and got, an incredible backlash from the pro-removal forces. Even former President Andrew Jackson wrote to protest Scott's decision.
The general, in spite of serious personal problems, was determined to accompany a group of Cherokee west. He left Athens, Tennessee, on October 1, 1838, and continued with the Cherokee to Nashville, where he received orders to return to Washington.
It was the Mexican War that brought Winfield Scott lasting renown. He was ordered to Mexico in November 1846. Obstructed by poorly equipped troops, limited reinforcements and supplies, desertions, and disease, Scott nevertheless undertook a successful five-month campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. But feuds generated by ambitious subordinate officers and, especially, the hostility of the Polk administration to further honoring a Whig general, led to Scott's recall and replacement. In addition, a court of inquiry was established to investigate Scott's actions in disciplining those disloyal officers. The charges against Scott were eventually dropped, and Congress voted him its thanks and a gold medal. In 1852, Congress passed a measure offering Scott the pay, rank, and emoluments of a lieutenant general, the first person to hold that office since George Washington. That same year, he was the Whig party's unsuccessful candidate for President, losing in the general election to Franklin Pierce.
Even though the Civil War broke out after his 75th birthday the corpulent commander continued to lead his men. Too large to mount a horse, Scott formulated a detailed plan for the defeat of the Confederacy that included a blockade of southern ports. Some thought he was senile because the common belief on both sides was it would be a quick war. Now seventy-five years old, Scott requested retirement and in November 1861, he was retired. However, almost all of the elements of his "Anaconda Plan" would later be used by a desperate Lincoln in an attempt to win the war.
When the original Medal of Honor was proposed in 1862 Scott came close to killing the idea. He was strongly against the European custom of awarding medals for heroism.
Four years later, Scott died at West Point and was buried in the national cemetery there.
A large and imposing figure, Scott as a young man stood six feet, five inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. His career was extraordinarily long, some fifty years, and he was the associate of every President from Thomas Jefferson to Lincoln. Called "Fuss and Feather" because of his punctiliousness in dress and decorum, his reputation for patriotism and generosity generally won him the trust and loyalty of his troops.