Sunday, October 30

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Oct. 30

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

A hero of the Mexican War of 1846-48, Winfield Scott departs at the end of October 1861 as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army. He had served for more than half a century under 14 presidents, but now age and infirmity force him to retire as he makes way for a young and up-and-coming rival, George B. McClellan. In his 70s when the Civil War began, 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 still credit his so-called Anaconda Plan for blockading Southern seaports and inland rivers as a key peg in an eventual Union victory in 1865. News dispatches report on Oct. 28, 1861, that Scott is bowing out because of 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 reports. The same dispatch notes several voices in Congress are calling on his rising 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, in a pitched battle, and as near Bull Run as is possible, and from thence roll the tide of war steadily Southward." Far from major battle, there is barely even skirmishing. The Associated Press reports 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 are occasionally engaged and a rebel battery is shelled though "the enemy did not reply" with any large guns.

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