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Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott Paperback – March 15, 1999
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It's about time somebody wrote a biography of Winfield Scott, and reading this fascinating account by accomplished military historian John S. D. Eisenhower, you'll wonder why nobody did it sooner. Scott's career spanned an astonishing 54 years and he spent most of it as a general. He was one of the few American heroes to emerge from the War of 1812; he launched a daring and successful invasion of Mexico in 1847; and he defended a vulnerable Washington, D.C., during the first months of the Lincoln administration in 1861. Scott was a profoundly courageous man with a flair for the organizational side of military life. Yet an unseemly amount of ambition and vanity marred his character, even as these qualities help make him an interesting subject for Eisenhower (who is, you guessed it, the son of Ike). Agent of Destiny is a skilled portrait of a man who is often overshadowed by the generation of Civil War leaders following him. Eisenhower deserves our thanks for writing this magnificent book about a vital figure. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
A great but frequently overlooked figure in America during the early decades of the 19th century now gets his due. Military historian Eisenhower (son of the late president, and author of Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1993, etc.) describes a natural leader of imposing stature, overweening pride, exceptional courage, and wide learning, who possessed considerable organizational and diplomatic skills along with outstanding martial instincts. Descended from a Scottish warrior who followed ``Bonnie Prince Charlie'' and escaped from bloody Culloden Moor, Scott was educated at William and Mary College and trained as a lawyer. But he was a born soldier: He loved the glamour of the military life. He raised a ragtag national army to professional levels and boldly recruited social outcasts like Irish and German immigrants, offering advancement to ambitious ethnic men when other professions did not. As the nation's youngest general, Scott distinguished himself in the War of 1812, and he was a hero of the Mexican War in the 1840s. After a brilliant campaign fought entirely on foreign soil, he stormed and captured Mexico City despite considerable political maneuvering on the battlefield and the homefront by a variety of influential enemies. In peacetime, he served successfully as a diplomat to the Canadians, the British, the Seminoles, and the Cherokees. Eisenhower argues that the outspoken Scott's military exploits vastly overshadowed those of Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War--but Taylor, who became president in 1850, was an astute politician and Scott, who lost his bid for the presidency in 1852, was not. Scott served 15 presidents, from Jefferson to Andrew Johnson, retiring as general- in-chief. In an afflicted old age, he organized the defense of Washington and started to build the Union Army in 1861. While Eisenhower largely skirts Scott's personal life, he offers a vivid portrait of Scott's times and accomplishments, and of the violent young nation in which he came to prominence. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Most Americans remember Winfield Scott as the General who made an amphibious landing on the east coast of Mexico and marched to Mexico City. Since that is about the sum of what is taught in 11th Grade American History class, that is where most reasonably well read American's knowledge of Winfield Scott stops. Reading this book is a good first step in rediscovering the man who defined the culture and professional competency of the 19th Century American Army.
While this book has some glaring weaknesses, it does introduce the casual reader to some interesting ideas and arguments.
First, the near complete destruction of the U S Army under Gen "Mad" Anthony Wayne by Shawnee Indians in the early 1790's. While I knew that the nomative War Chief of the Shawnees - believe his name was Simon Gurdy, but my memory may be off - was a white man who held a reserve commission in the British Army, I did not realize that this was one of the incidents that led to the War of 1812. The idea that as recent as the 1790's some of the Indian tribes had enough firepower and resources to crush the bulk of the U S Army in a single battle both shows the relative strength of those particular Indian tribes and the grotesque incompetence of most American military leadership of the time.
Second, America is a country that is at its best when it is a country of second chances that believes in forgiveness as much as accountability. Winfield Scott started off his military career by being courts martialed for calling a senior general a traitor. Even though this was probably a true statement, this was not an auspicious beginning. Likewise, from the book it appears as if Winfield Scott actually led his brigade into a slaughter at the battle of Lundy Lane. Yet, he retained his rank as a Brigadier General. That combined with his youth almost ensured that at some point in the future he would become the commanding general of the
U S Army. That somewhat fortuitous set of facts turned out to be pretty beneficial for the United States in not only Winfield Scott's peacetime efforts, but also in his skillful handling of the Mexican American War. Clearly, the Winfield Scott who led his brigade to slaughter in 1812 was not the one who skillfully defeated an Army in a foreign land when outnumbered three to one.
Third, there are a series of important ideas and debates that have shaped and, to a certain extant, continue to shape the U S Army. All of these debates are touched upon - although Eisenhower does not elaborate - in this book. What sort of military does America need when all of its peer competitors are so distant in terms of space and time? What is the role of conventional forces and special forces, this question first comes to light in the various Indian campaigns in Florida and Georgia. What is the proper role of "regular" forces versus "reserve" or "volunteer" forces? Perhaps the last is an important question today in Iraq. Indeed, Eisenhower's discussions of "red legged" infantry in Florida made me think about modern day Iraq where Armor and Artillery soldiers are serving in counter-insurgency missions.
Fourth, Winfield Scott was a much better peacemaker than war maker. I lost count of the number of times that Winfield Scott negotiated away potential conflict between the United Kingdom and the U S. The last was after he had retired when RADM Wilkes - famous from the U S Exploring Expedition - had initiated an international incident by seizing two British diplomats from a Confederate ship. Moreover, Winfield Scott's role in diffusing the "Nullification Crises", perhaps, shaped the nature of American history forever. If South Carolina had left the Union in the 1820s, it is possible that the Civil War might have happened three decades earlier. It is likely that without those thirty years of industrial development and the various crises in 1840s Europe to feed Northern population growth, the South just might have won that hypothetical Civil War.
None of these topics are really expanded upon. However, this is a good book for a basic introduction to Winfield Scott and 19th Century U S Army. I highly recommend it as a primer to begin to learn more.