General Scott To Retire Whether He Likes It Or Not

Friday, October 18, 1861

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, seventy-five years old, knew it was time to retire. The strain of commanding the entire Union army had become too much to bear. Much of that stress came from General George B. McClellan, called to Washington by Scott, himself, to aid the ailing General. It was clear that McClellan wanted to be more than Scott’s aide, however.

Scott’s “Anaconda Plan,” basically a strangulation of the South by closing their ports on the Atlantic, Gulf and Mississippi, followed by a thrust of infantry down into the heart of the South, was seen by many as needlessly drawn out. The war, thought Scott’s critics, could be ended quickly in Virginia. On the other hand, Scott believed that a slow strangulation would cause the Confederate military to become disorganized and useless for lack of supplies and objective.

Finding a replacement for Scott was no easy task. President Lincoln had been visiting with McClellan nearly every evening and thought that he might be a fine successor. If Scott had any say in it (which he didn’t), he would select General Henry Halleck, who was ten years older and wiser than McClellan. Halleck, however, was still on his way from California.

On this date, Lincoln and his Cabinet met to discuss Scott’s future. The General-in-Chief had submitted his resignation in early August in protest over McClellan’s behavior. Lincoln refused to accept it and Scott stayed on. By this time, however, it was becoming clear to all that Scott had to go.

During the Cabinet meeting, Lincoln argued that Scott should be placed on the retired list. One by one, the Cabinet members agreed, but they would hold off on publicizing their decision until the time was right.1

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Confederates Pulling Away from Washington?

Around Washington, the Confederates seemed to be pulling back. The previous day, both Generals Wadsworth (at Munson’s Hill) and Baldy Smith noted that the Rebels in their front were gone. On this date, General Charles Stone, whose small division was guarding the Potomac River north to Harpers Ferry, reported that most of the Confederate pickets had left their posts.

The Rebels in Stone’s front, however, were not actually gone. While many of the Confederates had moved to Fairfax Courthouse, those under General Nathan “Shanks” Evans, were holed up in Leesburg. Stone, who had sent a scout in that direction the day before, reported to McClellan that he would reconnoiter in more detail the following day.

Stone’s force along the Potomac was placed there by McClellan to observe the Confederates. They were not to bring on a battle, but, rather, to make small raids upon the enemy.2

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Grant Responds to Thompson’s Raid

Missouri State Guard General Jeff Thompson’s little foray towards St. Louis, with the hopes of threatening the city and relieving the pressure on General Sterling Price in the southwestern corner of the state, was quickly fizzling out. Thompson and his 3,000 men burned a railroad bridge, won a skirmish, but did little more. He had hoped that the Union would have to pull troops from the throng chasing after Price, but that wasn’t happening.

He, however, wasn’t being ignored. With General Fremont in the field, General Grant saw to Thompson. Grant ordered Col. J. B. Plummer and his 1,500 men to march on Fredericktown, where Thompson was idling. Grant also ordered 3,000 troops under Col. Carlin to move on the Rebel. “It is desirable,” wrote Grant to Plummer, “to drive out all armed bodies now threatening the Iron Mountain Railroad, and destroy them if possible.”

Plummer would leave immediately.3

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Officers and their Families Left Destitute?

The forced retirement of General-in-Chief Scott was not the only item of business discussed in the Cabinet meeting on this date. After discovering that General Fremont was handing out military commissions like candy to children, Lincoln ordered that any commissions from Fremont’s department had to first be approved by him (the President).

While it was ordered by Lincoln, the task of telling General Fremont “no,” fell upon the shoulders of the Deputy Paymaster-General, Lt. Col. I.P. Andrews. Apparently Andrews followed the President’s orders and Fremont, it appears, was not at all pleased.

On the 16th, Fremont had his Aide-de-Camp, Gustave Koerner, penned this letter to “His Excellency the President,” which was read at the Cabinet meeting:

Deputy Paymaster-General Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews refuses to honor General Fremonts commissions, which have heretofore invariably been accepted by him. Officers of the Army who have sacrificed their all to take up arms for their country are thus left destitute, and their families in want of the most urgent necessities of life. Very many of these officers are now in the field and in face of the enemy. Their efficiency and the spirits of many of the troops serving under them will be most seriously affected by this course. Unless you will provide a remedy to insure these men in their well-deserved remuneration a por- tion of the army will necessarily disband a serve without a valid commission, as no officers will or can serve without a valid commission.

Of course, no officers were “left destitute, and their families in want of the most urgent necessities of life.” There would still be commissions and promotions a plenty in the Army of the West, just not at Fremont’s hand.4



  1. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
  2. Ball’s Bluff; A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow by Byrom Farwell, EPM Publications, 1990. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p204; 206. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p538. []
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General Scott To Retire Whether He Likes It Or Not by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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