A few weeks back I linked to an article I wrote for Roads to the Great War about the resignation of Secretary of War Lindley Garrison. For most of February into March 1916 President Wilson was without a civilian leader of the U.S. Armed Forces. Filling in as interim Secretary of War was the Chief of Staff, Major General Hugh L. Scott. General Scott was the archetype of a U.S. military officer who came of age in the aftermath of the Civil War. He graduated from West Point in 1876, within weeks of Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. It was also America’s Centennial. As a young officer Scott went on to serve in the Indian Wars, in Cuba, and the Philippines. In 1911 he was planning to come to Governors Island for social reasons when he was suddenly sent off to Arizona to settle a dispute with the Hopi Indians, one of the last campaigns between the Army and the Native Americans. It is not surprising the powers-that-be sent Scott. He had long ago acquired a reputation for solving problems through mediation, even becoming an honorary member of several Native American tribes. Scott came of age as a military officer in the age of Secretary of War Elihu Root’s reforms at the turn of the century. Theodore Roosevelt admired him greatly and appointed him Superintendent of West Point in 1906.
Scott was born in Kentucky but grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. That is probably where he came to the attention of Woodrow Wilson, another Southerner who came to make his home in the Garden State. General Scott had replaced William Wallace Wotherspoon as Chief of Staff in November 1914. (Wotherspoon seems to have been an interim choice as Army Chief of Staff while the Wilson Administration decided what to do in the aftermath of Leonard Wood leaving that position seven months earlier and returning to the Department of the East. Scott and Wood got along well.) When Lindley Garrison resigned in February 1916 Hugh Scott filled the breach for several weeks. Wilson liked Scott a great deal but the general’s best attribute at that moment was that he would do what the president wanted. How could he not as a military man serving his commander-in-chief. Still, Scott pushed for better preparedness and made clear that the Army was unprepared for involvement overseas.
When Newton Baker came in as the Secretary of War the second week of March 1916, Scott was left to focus on his military duties. In 1917 he reached mandatory retirement age and was replaced by Tasker Bliss. Still the Army had a place General Scott. He took command at Fort Dix in New Jersey and helped train men to go to France. After the war he accompanied Elihu Root to Russia to inspect conditions during the civil war there.
(image/The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Maj.-Gen. Hugh L. Scott, 1853-.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-11cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)