Winfield Scott attended the College of William and Mary and practiced law for a time before turning to military service. He joined the army in 1808. At the beginning of the War of 1812 , Scott was made a lieu¬ tenant colonel.
Given the task of turning raw recruits into true soldiers, Scott marched and drilled his troops under tried and true European meth¬ ods of discipline. His reward came at the bat¬ tles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane (1814), where his men held their own against the best British regulars, some of whom had served under Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington in Spain (see no. 68). Scott ended the war as a brevet major general.
Scott wrote the first set of American army drill regulations, published in 1815. Well- versed in European history, he sought to cre¬ ate an aristocratic officer corps that would be the equal of England’s. Scott was made gener¬ al in chief of the army in 1841 and was pro¬ moted to lieutenant general in 1844.
In 1846, Scott received word from President James Polk that he would lead the proposed invasion of central Mexico and, if necessary, would prosecute the war all the way to the Mexican capital. Scott took 12,000 troops by ship to Mexico, landed, and besieged the key port city of Veracruz.
After capturing the city, he made a dangerous deci¬ sion to advance inland, following almost exactly the invasion route Hernan Cortez had taken in 1521 (see no. 43). Scott’s choice to invade quickly was necessitated by the fact that the deadly disease yellow fever would soon hit the coastal lowlands, which hap¬ pened every summer.
The American army marched into Mexico and won important battles at Cerro Gordo on its way to Mexico City. Scott and his troops arrived outside the Mexican capital and mar¬ veled at both the city and the defenses set up by Mexican general Santa Anna. Never daunted, Scott maneuvered to the south and west of the city and won key battles at Contreras, Churubusco and Molino del Reyo. By September 12, the Americans con¬ trolled all the outlying areas, but the fortified citadel of Chapultepec remained.
Scott’s troops captured Chapultepec (Hill of the Grasshoppers) and entered Mexico City itself on September 13; the war was effectively over. Scott served as a model of efficiency in his role as conqueror and administrator; some Mexicans reportedly begged him to serve as their national leader.
He returned to the United States (1848) and ran for president on the Whig party ticket in 1852, but was defeated by one of his former military subor¬ dinates, Franklin Pierce. Prior to his retire¬ ment in 1861, Scott devised the Anaconda Plan for strangling the Confederacy through a naval blockade.