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WINFIELD SCOTT, THE VICTOR AT
NIAGARA AND IN MEXICO
THROUGH two of our country's wars, those with Great Britain in 1812-15 and with Mexico in 1847, Winfield Scott proved himself one of the ablest of soldiers, and his name stands high in the annals of military fame, as being for many years the most distinguished of American generals. He was a native of the Old Dominion, being born near Petersburg, Virginia, June 13, 1786. Of Scotch descent, he came from a family of soldiers, his grandfather being one of that brave band of Highlanders who sought to place Prince Charles, the grandson of James II., on the English throne. After the disastrous defeat of the Highlanders at Culloden, in which his elder brother was killed, he made his way to the safer land of America, becoming a lawyer in Virginia. His son William married Ann Mason, a lady of good Virginia family, Winfield Scott being the younger of their two
William Scott died when his son was five years old and the mother when he was seventeen. The boy meanwhile was sent to school in Richmond and afterwards entered William and Mary College, Virginia's oldest institute of education. Here he studied the law, and at twenty was admitted to the bar, but his early efforts at practice were not profitable and he soon left the law for the army.
Those were the days when English war vessels were seizing seamen on American merchant ships, on the pretence of their being British subjects, an injustice that roused much warlike feeling in this country. In 1807, after the attack on the frigate “Chesapeake," President Jefferson issued a proclamation closing the ports of the United States against British warships, and young Scott volunteered in a troop of horse called out under this proclamation.
In the following year the army was increased and Scott was appointed a captain in the artillery service. As such he was ordered in 1809 to New Orleans to join the division under General Wilkinson, whose duty it was to protect the frontiers of the new territory of Louisiana from British aggression. Here the youthful captain, who had not yet reached years of discretion, got himself into trouble through lack of wisdom. Wilkinson had commanded in the Southwest at the time of the treasonable acts of Aaron Burr, and Scott openly gave vent to his opinion that Wilkinson had been connected with Burr in his conspiracy.
For this indiscreet freedom of speech Scott was arrested, tried by court-martial for disrespect to his superior officer and punished by being suspended from the army for
one year. It was a well-deserved punishment and taught him a useful lesson in military discipline. But as for his year of disgrace, he made excellent use of it, entering earnestly upon the study of military art and laying the foundation of that thorough knowledge of his profession for which he afterwards became distinguished.
The war which had been long foreseen broke out in 1812, and the young soldier, then twenty-six years of age, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and stationed upon the Canada frontier. Here began the long record of his military service.
In October, 1812, an attack on the British forces at Queenstown Heights was planned and while the battle was in progress Scott crossed over from Lewistown to the field. Soon after Colonel Van Rensselaer, the American commander, was severely wounded and Scott succeeded him in command. By earnest exhortations and daring leadership he gave his men such spirit that they drove back the enemy with heavy loss, and even after the British had been strongly reinforced the Americans held their ground.
But at this critical juncture the main body of the Americans, who had not yet crossed the river, were seized with a panic and no persuasion could induce them to enter the boats. In consequence Scott, left unsupported, and outnumbered more than three to one, was obliged to surrender with the men under his immediate command, doing so with the honors of war. Thus his first military enterprise ended in failure, but through no fault of his.
He was exchanged in the early part of 1813 and, with the rank of colonel, joined General Dearborn's army, of which he was made adjutant-general. In May, after a desperate fight, in which he had braved the utmost perils, he stormed and captured Fort George. A piece of timber flung by an exploding magazine hurled him from his horse, but in an instant he was on his feet and leading his men in the charge, being the first to enter the fort, the flag of which he pulled down with his own hands.
The anecdote is told that while he was a prisoner a British officer asked him if he had ever seen the Falls of Niagara. “Yes, from the American side,” he replied. The officer rejoined, “ You must have a successful fight before you can see them in all their
grandeur "-the finest view being from the Canadian side. Scott, incensed by this slur, replied, “Sir, if it be your intention to insult me, honor should have prompted you first to return me my sword.”
This officer was among the prisoners taken at Fort George, and Scott treated him with marked attention and kindness, obtaining permission for him to return to England on parole. This generosity quite disarmed the man, who humbly said to Scott: "Sir, I have owed you an apology. You have overwhelmed me with kindness. You can now at your leisure view the Falls in all their glory."
Scott was made a brigadier-general in 1814 and placed in charge of a “camp of instruction " at Buffalo, where he thoroughly drilled three brigades of troops in the French system of tactics, then first introduced into America. His lessons proved of the highest value in the campaign that followed. Hitherto our troops had been little better than militia. Those under Scott now first gained a thorough military training.
The advance was made early in July, the American army crossing the Niagara on the 3d and capturing Fort Erie. On the 5th took place the battle of Chippewa, which ended in General Riall and the British forces under him being driven across the Chippewa River. But the most important battle in which Scott was engaged in that war took place on the 25th at Lundy's Lane, the engagement known as the Battle of Niagara.
Scott was the hero of this battle, one of the most stirring and hard-fought engagements of the war. He led his men in almost every charge, with ardent daring and unflinching courage, the men catching his spirit and fighting with the utmost bravery. Though he lost a quarter of his brigade, he would not yield an inch of ground. Two horses were killed under him and he was twice wounded, the second time severely by a musket ball through his shoulder.
The ish were not lacking in courage, renewing the attack again and again, thinking every time that the broken Americans must give way. But the only response of the latter was the repeated, “Charge again!" and as Scott, bleeding from his wound, was carried to the rear, and every regimental officer was killed or wounded, he vigorously shouted, “Charge again!"
The persistence of the Americans told. When the firing ceased, at eleven o'clock at night, they held the field, though the lack of water obliged them to abandon it the next morning. Scott's wound prevented him from rejoining the army for several months, but the President rewarded him with the rank of majorgeneral and Congress gave him a vote of thanks, requesting the President to bestow on him a gold medal for his “uniform gallantry and good conduct in sustaining the reputation of the arms of the United States."
A treaty of peace was soon after made, Scott's wound preventing him from taking any further part in that war. After the treaty was ratified by the Senate he was offered the cabinet position of Secretary of War, but he declined on the plea of being too young. When asked to take it temporarily, he again declined, saying that the greater age and longer service of General Brown and General Jackson made them more deserving of the post.
Many years passed before Scott had any more important military service to perform. He was sent to