U.S. Army's general-in-chief Winfield Scott retires

Gen. Winfield Scott

A hero of the Mexican War of 1846-48, Winfield Scott departed at the end of October 1861 as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army.

Scott had served more than half a century under 14 presidents, but age and infirmity force him to make way for a young and up-and-coming rival, George B. McClellan.

In his 70s when the Civil War opened, Scott weighed more than 300 pounds and could no longer ride a horse.

Federal forces did not fare well at the war's outset and that took a political toll on Scott. But many credit his so-called Anaconda Plan for blockading Southern seaports and inland rivers as a key to the eventual Union victory in 1865.

News dispatches report on Oct. 28, 1861, that Scott was bowing out for health reasons. "The scarred and worn out veteran Gen. Scott will voluntarily retire from his rank and duties ... solely on account of his physical infirmities," the New York Tribune reported.


The same dispatch noted voices in Congress were calling on his successor, McClellan, to immediately rout the Confederates in battle: "The popular demand of their constituents is that Gen. McClellan, or some one else, shall right off whip the Rebels on the south side of the Potomac ... as near Bull Run as is possible, and from thence roll the tide of war steadily Southward."

Far from major battle, there was barely even skirmishing. The Associated Press reported on Oct. 25, 1861, that federal scouts crossed the Potomac River near Edwards Ferry but "not a sign of a man or horse was heard, except the splash of the oars of a boat some distance up the river."

Nonetheless, rebel pickets were occasionally engaged and a rebel battery is shelled, though "the enemy did not reply" with any large guns.

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