When Winfield Scott left service in 1861, he had served in the Army for 53 years, including 47 as General. Scott was an active duty General longer than any other Soldier in American history. His legacy includes two Congressional Gold Medals—for leadership during the War of 1812 and the Mexican War—and numerous writings on military tactics. Upon its publication in 1840, his three-volume Infantry Tactics, Or Rules for the Exercise and Manoeuvre of the United States Infantry became the drill manual of record for the entire United States Army.
Winfield Scott secured a military commission in 1808 as a Second Lieutenant in the artillery. Only two years later he was suspended for insubordination. At 21 years of age, Scott seemed an unlikely candidate for success. Youthful brashness aside, Scott was a sharp-witted and natural tactician. He studied European military manuals and upon his return to duty was assigned to General Wade Hampton, who had served as Lieutenant Colonel in the Revolutionary War. By the time the War of 1812 erupted with Great Britain, Scott was himself promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
On the Northern frontier, American forces endured a string of defeats by stronger and better-trained British troops. Scott and his men were not immune. In October of 1812, having crossed into Canada on an American offensive, Scott’s detachment was captured and held prisoner for several months. This only fueled the young officer’s commitment to tactics and discipline. Upon his release, Scott organized a Camp of Instruction near Buffalo, New York, drilling his men relentlessly based on an early French war manual. When they returned to Canada in 1814, the rigorous training paid off. Scott’s men halted the British advance first at Chippewa, then at the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls. “Those are Regulars, by God!” the British commander reputedly exclaimed as he watched Scott’s army march unbroken across fields raked by cannon fire.
General Scott went on to become the General-in-Chief of the Army (later known as Commanding General). He wrote, adapted or translated numerous tactical treatises that promoted the development of a modern and professional Army. He led the final overland campaign during the Mexican War. When Scott retired in 1861, he was recognized as one of the greatest military thinkers of his time.
Today the Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to civilians from all walks of life who have profoundly impacted American society, but it was initially reserved for distinguished military officers. Scott’s original Medal will be displayed in the Defending the Nation gallery at the future National Museum of the United States Army.