Winfield Scott

Black and white photograph of a man in military uniform with his hand to his chest.
General Winfield Scott at around the time of The Pig War

Quick Facts
New York City, NY
Home of General Winfield Scott
National Historic Landmark
General Winfield Scott, the dominant figure in the pre-Civil War US military, was born in present day Petersburg, VA. Scott held a general’s rank for more than 47 years of his life and was known equally for his facility as a strategist, diplomat, attorney, and administrator. Nicknamed “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his insistence on military protocol and order, Scott’s successful negotiations during The Pig War, led to a lasting peace between the US and British empires in the San Juan Islands. Scott lived in this home from 1852-1855, just before The Pig War.

Trained as an attorney, Scott joined the military soon after he first began practicing law. Scott first came to national prominence as a young hero of the War of 1812, when his success at the Battle of Chippewa inspired national hopes at a time when US forces had not fared well. After the war’s end, Scott helped organize the early US Army and design its tactics and training. Scott served in numerous Indian wars, including The Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and Creek War. Though he was appointed to oversee the removal of Cherokee people from the Southeastern United States known today as "The Trail of Tears" Scott was transferred shortly after it began and so his culpability for the human rights disaster that unfolded is inconclusive.

His greatest glory came during the Mexican-American War, when as the highest ranking general in the US Army, Scott created the tactics that would enable the United States military to defeat the Mexican forces and successfully conquer Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and part of Wyoming permanently. A successful amphibious invasion of the city of Vera Cruz, which Scott used as the staging area for an overland trek to Mexico City, during which numerous successful battles were fought, enabled US forces to rapidly conquer Mexico. With long supply lines, Scott’s forces often took food and material they needed from Mexican civilians; Scott himself forced the citizens of Mexico City to pay a large ransom to support his occupation forces while a final peace treaty was negotiated.

After the war, Scott was widely regarded as a national hero. Nominated for president in 1852 on the Whig Party ticket, Scott failed to reach the nation’s highest office, but demonstrated how central a figure he was to American life prior to the Civil War. His continued importance was demonstrated conclusively during The Pig War, when the aging and infirm Scott traveled from New York City to the San Juan Islands in just over a month’s time. Twenty years earlier Scott had negotiated a successful and peaceful end to a boundary conflict between the US and Britain in Maine known as “The Pork and Beans War.” In less than two weeks, Scott negotiated a peaceful settlement that ensured American and British forces would live in peace on San Juan Island for 12 years and that a tense military standoff on our island would end peacefully.

Though the Pig War demonstrated the agility of Scott’s mind and his forceful command, the Civil War ended his long military career. Initially the head of US forces during the Civil War, Scott lost Abraham Lincoln’s confidence early in the war for his seeming lack of energy and strategic blunders. Though Lincoln never officially relieved him of duty or demoted him in rank, after the battle of Bull Run Lincoln bypassed Scott and began treating General McClellan as the de facto head of the US Army. In October of 1861, Scott resigned from the US Army after 53 years of honorable service. Though Winfield Scott is not a major celebrity today, he was a pivotal historical figure who left as big of a mark on our nation and its military as he did on the San Juan Islands.

San Juan Island National Historical Park

Last updated: July 23, 2022