Winfield Scott was born June 13, 1786, at the Laurel Branch plantation near Petersburg, Virginia, the son of William Scott (1747-1792) and Ann Mason (1747-1803). He was educated for two years at a Quaker school and in 1805 entered the College of William and Mary, where he studied for only a year; he then briefly studied law at the office of David Robinson in Petersburg. Scott joined the military in 1807 as a Virginia militia cavalry corporal, and the next year he was commissioned a captain in the artillery. During the War of 1812, he rose up the ranks, serving as lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier-general, and receiving a commission as major-general for his valorous service in 1814. At the Battle of Lundy's Lane, he was seriously wounded and left active duty for the remainder of the war. In 1815, he headed a board assembled to write the first standardized set of American drill regulations, Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manoeuvres of Infantry. Thereafter, Scott served in both the Black Hawk War and in the campaign against the Seminole and Creek Indians. He also worked as a peacemaker in the Anglo-American dispute over the Canadian border in 1838. He was appointed general-in-chief of the United States Army in 1841 and commanded the southern of the two U.S. Armies during the Mexican-American War.
The Whig party nominated Scott for the presidency, but Franklin Pierce defeated him in the 1852 election. He again served as negotiator between the United States and Great Britain in the 1859 dispute over San Juan Island in Puget Sound, Washington. Although a Virginian by birth, Scott remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War broke out. Despite his advanced years, he continued as commander of the army, making the initial preparations for the defense of Washington, D.C., and proposing the "Anaconda Plan" of isolating the Confederacy through blockading southern ports and gaining control of the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. He resigned in November 1861, and died five years later at West Point.
In 1812, Scott married Lucy Baker, with whom he had a son, John Baker Scott (b. 1816). After her death in 1816, he married Maria DeHart Mayo (1789-1862), the daughter of John Mayo and Abigail DeHart of Richmond, Virginia. The couple had seven children: Maria (1818-1833), John (1819-1820), Virginia (1821-1845), Edward (1823-1827), Cordelia (1825-1886), Marcella (1825-1886), and Adeline (1834-1882).