Winfield Scott (American National Biography)

Richard E. Beringer, "Scott, Winfield," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
Ever ambitious, eager to grasp another honor, and jealous of his rank and fame, Scott was vain and dogmatic. He was always ready to write a letter when he took offense at some fancied insult. According to one of his biographers, he was generous and outgoing and possessed a "constitutional inability to nurse a grudge" (Elliott, p. 648). He was also an extremely effective commander, most notably in the Mexican War. Timothy Dwight Johnson, however, believes that Scott had a deep "streak of meanness and selfishness" and that his "ambition fed his arrogance and, in turn, his arrogance fed his ambition" (Johnson, pp. 4-5). This judgment is probably too harsh, for there is evidence that Scott could be forgiving and merciful. His concern for his soldiers, as in the cholera epidemic of 1832 or his desire for an asylum, went far beyond the normal obligation of a commanding general.

Scott, an Episcopalian, read the Bible often. He was well read and had a library of books on military subjects that was always with him. His reading was a mark of Scott's professionalism, as were his efforts to institutionalize such military skills as tactical training, camp sanitation, organization, and regularized procedure. Scott was responsible for much of the professionalization of the army between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, but his professionalism was limited by his narrow perspectives. His ideas were European in origin and did not fit frontier realities.
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