Book Review: Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott


by John S. D. Eisenhower

New York: The Free Press, 1997. xiv, 464 pp. Illus, maps, append., notes, bibliog., index. . ISBN:0-684-84451-6

John Eishenower has here given us a fresh look at the most important American soldier between Washington and George C. Marshall, if not the most important ever.

The book is not merely a military biography of Scott, who wore the uniform for over 50 years, most of them as a general, winning now all but forgotten laurels on many a field from Queenston Heights in 1812 through Mexico in 1847, but also fits his life and career into his times. So while the military aspects of Scott’s career are well told, though perhaps some more detail might have been helpful, the book is particularly valuable for its look at the less warlike aspects of Scott’s career. Thus we encounter Scott the bon vivant, and Scott the family man as well as Scott the soldier, and, perhaps most valuably, Scott the politician, a role in which he was a disastrous failure, and Scott the diplomat, a role in which he excelled.

Although one might quibble about the author’s occasional misunderstanding of certain terms in early 19th century military practice, Agent of Destiny has only a few flaws. The author omits some of Scott’s most famous lines, such his encomium to the Mounted Rifles after the fall of Mexico ("Brave Rifles, you have passed through fire and come out steel!"), and only aludes to the wonderfully vituperative correspondence between Scott and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. In addition, it is perhaps less critical than it might have been. But most important is that it called for one more chapter, which might be titled "Winfield Scott and the American Military Tradition," for it was Scott more than any other person who turned the U.S. Army into a professional force.

Worth reading. rc=

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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