Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866) was the longest serving United States Army general, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and retired under President Abraham Lincoln, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852.
Known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” and the “Grand Old Man of the Army,” he served on active duty as a general longer than any other man in American history and many historians rate him the best American commander of his time. Over the course of his forty-seven-year career, he commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and, briefly, the American Civil War, conceiving the Union strategy known as the Anaconda Plan that would be used to defeat the Confederacy. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army for twenty years, longer than any other holder of the office.
A national hero after the Mexican-American War, he served as military governor of Mexico City. Such was his stature that, in 1852, the United States Whig Party passed over its own incumbent President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, to nominate Scott in the election. Scott lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce in the general election, but remained a popular national figure, receiving a brevet promotion in 1856 to the rank of lieutenant general, becoming the first American since George Washington, to hold that rank. Scott took great interest in the professional development of the cadets of United States Military Academy. When the Civil War began in the spring of 1861, Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight and unable to mount a horse or review troops. As he could not lead troops into battle, he offered the command of the Federal army to Colonel Robert E. Lee on April 17, 1861 (Scott referred to Lee as “the very finest soldier I’ve ever seen”). However, when Virginia left the Union on that same day, Lee resigned and the command of the Federal field forces defending Washington, D.C. passed to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, Scott remained loyal to the nation that he had served for most of his life and refused to resign his commission upon his home state’s secession.
When Lincoln received news that the Union Army had been defeated at Manassas on July 21, 1861 he went to Scott’s residence. Scott assumed responsibility for the Union defeat. Lincoln was seeking Scott’s advice on whether to draw troops away from Washington to reinforce McClellan. In little time George McClellan was appointed head of the Army.
The administration and public opinion were clamoring for a quick victory, but Scott knew that this was impossible. He drew up a complicated plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and then sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to outflank the Confederacy. This Anaconda Plan was derided in the press; however, in its broad outlines, it was the strategy the Union actually used, particularly in the Western Theater and in the somewhat successful naval blockade of Confederate ports. Though the blockade did prevent most sea-going vessels from leaving or arriving to points along the Confederate coast line, a fair number of blockade runners made their way through that typically carried cargoes of basic supplies, arms, and mail. However, Lincoln gave in to public pressure for a victory within 90 days and rejected the Anaconda Plan, but the eventual strategy used by the Union in 1864–65 was largely based on Scott’s original plan. Scott’s physical infirmities cast doubt on his stamina; he suffered from gout and rheumatism and his weight had ballooned to over 370 lbs, prompting some to use a play on his nickname of “Old Fuss and Feathers,” instead calling him “Old Fat and Feeble.” Maj. Gen.McClellan, the field commander, was anxious for Scott to be pushed aside; political pressure from McClellan’s supporters in Congress led to Scott’s resignation on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief. Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war. General Scott lived to see the Union victory in the Civil War. He died at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery
Legacy: Scott served under every president from Jefferson to Lincoln, a total of fourteen administrations, and was an active-duty general for thirteen of them; a total of 63 years of service as an officer including 47 years of service as a general. Historians rank Scott highly both as a strategist and as a battlefield commander.
Winfield Scott in the 21st Century
John M. Hart Jr., a longtime resident of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was born and raised in the city of Carbondale. A product of Carbondale’s public school system, he was graduated in 1971 from the Benjamin Franklin High School of Carbondale and pursued further studies at the University of Scranton, being awarded degrees in history and English from that institution in 1975-76. An avid historian, Hart joined the Confederation of Union Generals in 2007 and took on the persona of Lieut. Gen. Winfield Scott in 2011.
In 1973 and while in college, he accepted a position with the former Scrantonian-Tribune as a neighborhood reporter. Hart remained at the newspapers for some 13 years, serving in almost every editorial post with the publications, including night city editor. Early in 1983 Hart become involved in a community effort to create the world’s largest steam railroading museum in Scranton – Steamtown. After chairing a $2 million public fund drive, he was first named to the board of trustees of the museum and later became its executive director and chief operating officer. During this time, in 1986, Hart made the initial contact with elected officials in Washington and Harrisburg with his plans to develop the museum into a national park. Late in 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Steamtown National Historic Park Act, designating $88 million dollars to make Steamtown the newest national historic site in the nation. Hart was honored by the National Park Service which proclaimed he was the key connection in the establishment of the historic site. During this same time, he was selected by the Lackawanna County Commissioners to serve on a task force to save freight railroad service in the county and later helped establish and served as the first chairman of the Lackawanna County Railroad Authority. The Authority today oversees freight service in Lackawanna, Wayne and Monroe Counties, providing a freight rail link helping to protect hundreds of area jobs.
Following his work at Steamtown, Hart entered the private sector establishing a commercial printing business in the city. Shortly after buying out one of his competitors, he turned his efforts back to journalism, establishing several community newspapers, including The Dunmorean, the publication serving the borough of Dunmore today.
His first wife of 26 years, Meg, died in 2005 after bearing him two children; Elizabeth Mary McDonald, a dietitian with Geisinger Health Services and John M Hart III, the Assistant District Attorney of Lakawanna County, PA. His second wife, Maureen, also serves as editor of The Dunmorean. Hart met his second wife while both were cub reporters in 1973. Maureen’s husband of 32 years, died six months before Hart’s first wife. They were married in 2007. Mrs. Hart today takes on the persona of Maria DeHart Mayo Scott, the general’s wife. and her daughter, Rebecca, assumes the role of the general’s youngest daughter, Adeline.
In addition to his business interests, Hart is the founder of and was commander of GAR Post II, Camp 299, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) of the Union League of Philadelphia, is a past commander of Griffin Camp 8 of Scranton, and is the founder of and was commander of the Delaney DeLacy Guard, Sons of Veterans Reserve, also in Scranton. The general has twice been honored with the Distinguished Service Medal of the Sons of Veterans Reserve as well as a Unit Citation Medal for community service. He is twice the recipient of the SUVCW Benjamin Stephenson Award.
He is a member and past president of The Scranton Club and the Union League and served on the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) finance committee for the development of this country’s national antique automobile museum which opened in 2003 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He also served as president of the Scranton Region of the Antique Automobile Club. In addition to his membership in the SUCVW, the national and local AACA, he is also a member of COUG’s Board of Directors, The Newspaper Guild, The International Federation of Journalists, and the Columbia Hose Co. of his native Carbondale.
John Hart can be contacted at [email protected].