John C. Breckinridge

John C. Breckinridge

Overview

John Cabell Breckinridge (January 16, 1821 – May 17, 1875) was an American lawyer and politician. He served as a U.S. Representative
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 and U.S. Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 from Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

 and was the 14th Vice President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 (1857–1861), to date the youngest vice president in U.S. history, inaugurated at age 36.

In the 1860 presidential election
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

, he ran as one of two candidates of the fractured Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

, representing Southern
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 Democrats.
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John Cabell Breckinridge (January 16, 1821 – May 17, 1875) was an American lawyer and politician. He served as a U.S. Representative
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 and U.S. Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 from Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

 and was the 14th Vice President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 (1857–1861), to date the youngest vice president in U.S. history, inaugurated at age 36.

In the 1860 presidential election
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

, he ran as one of two candidates of the fractured Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

, representing Southern
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 Democrats. Breckinridge came in third place in the popular vote, behind winner Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, a Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

, and Stephen Douglas, a Northern
Northern United States
Northern United States, also sometimes the North, may refer to:* A particular grouping of states or regions of the United States of America. The United States Census Bureau divides some of the northernmost United States into the Midwest Region and the Northeast Region...

 Democrat, but finished second in the Electoral College vote.

Following the outbreak of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, he served in the Confederate States Army
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 as a general and commander of Confederate forces prior to the 1863 Siege of Port Hudson
Siege of Port Hudson
The Siege of Port Hudson occurred from May 22 to July 9, 1863, when Union Army troops assaulted and then surrounded the Mississippi River town of Port Hudson, Louisiana, during the American Civil War....

, Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

, and of the young Virginia Military Institute
Virginia Military Institute
The Virginia Military Institute , located in Lexington, Virginia, is the oldest state-supported military college and one of six senior military colleges in the United States. Unlike any other military college in the United States—and in keeping with its founding principles—all VMI students are...

 cadet
Cadet
A cadet is a trainee to become an officer in the military, often a person who is a junior trainee. The term comes from the term "cadet" for younger sons of a noble family.- Military context :...

s, at the 1864 Battle of New Market
Battle of New Market
The Battle of New Market was a battle fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute fought alongside the Confederate Army and forced Union General Franz Sigel and his army out of the Shenandoah...

 in Lexington
Lexington, Virginia
Lexington is an independent city within the confines of Rockbridge County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The population was 7,042 in 2010. Lexington is about 55 minutes east of the West Virginia border and is about 50 miles north of Roanoke, Virginia. It was first settled in 1777.It is home to...

, Virginia. He also served as the fifth and final Confederate Secretary of War
Confederate States Secretary of War
The Confederate States Secretary of War was a member of the Confederate States President's Cabinet during the Civil War. The Secretary of War led the Confederate States Department of War. The position ended in May 1865 when the Confederacy crumbled during John C. Breckinridge's tenure of the...

.

A member of the prominent Breckinridge family
Breckinridge family
The Breckinridge family is a family of politicians and public figures from the United States. The family has included six members of the United States House of Representatives, two United States Senators, a cabinet member, two Ambassadors, a Vice President of United States and an unsuccessful...

 of Kentucky, John C. Breckinridge was the grandson of John Breckinridge (1760–1806), who served as a Senator and Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

. He was also the father of congressman and diplomat Clifton Rodes Breckinridge and the great-grandfather of actor John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge
Bunny Breckinridge
John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge was an American actor and drag queen, best known for his role as "The Ruler" in Ed Wood's film Plan 9 from Outer Space, his only film appearance.- Early life :...

.

Early life and education


Breckinridge was born at Cabell's Dale near Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 63rd largest in the US. Known as the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World", it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region...

, to Joseph Cabell Breckinridge and Mary Clay Smith (daughter of Samuel Stanhope Smith
Samuel Stanhope Smith
Samuel Stanhope Smith was a Presbyterian minister, founding president of Hampden-Sydney College and the seventh president of the College of New Jersey from 1795 to 1812. His stormy career ended in his enforced resignation...

). He graduated from Centre College
Centre College
Centre College is a private liberal arts college in Danville, Kentucky, USA, a community of approximately 16,000 in Boyle County south of Lexington, KY. Centre is an exclusively undergraduate four-year institution. Centre was founded by Presbyterian leaders, with whom it maintains a loose...

 in Danville, Kentucky
Danville, Kentucky
Danville is a city in and the county seat of Boyle County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 16,218 at the 2010 census.Danville is the principal city of the Danville Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Boyle and Lincoln counties....

 in 1839 and later attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

). He then studied law at Transylvania University
Transylvania University
Transylvania University is a private, undergraduate liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky, United States, affiliated with the Christian Church . The school was founded in 1780. It offers 38 majors, and pre-professional degrees in engineering and accounting...

 in Lexington and was admitted to the bar
Admission to the bar in the United States
In the United States, admission to the bar is the granting of permission by a particular court system to a lawyer to practice law in that system. Each U.S. state and similar jurisdiction has its own court system and sets its own rules for bar admission , which can lead to different admission...

 in 1840.

Legal, military, and political career in the antebellum period


He moved to Burlington, Iowa
Burlington, Iowa
Burlington is a city in, and the county seat of Des Moines County, Iowa, United States. The population was 25,663 in the 2010 census, a decline from the 26,839 population in the 2000 census. Burlington is the center of a micropolitan area including West Burlington, Iowa and Middletown, Iowa and...

, but soon returned to Lexington and commenced the practice of law
Practice of law
In its most general sense, the practice of law involves giving legal advice to clients, drafting legal documents for clients, and representing clients in legal negotiations and court proceedings such as lawsuits, and is applied to the professional services of a lawyer or attorney at law, barrister,...

 there. He was married to Mary Cyrene Burch (1826-1907) on December 12, 1843, in Georgetown, Kentucky
Georgetown, Kentucky
Georgetown is a city in Scott County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 29,098 at the 2010 census. The original settlement of Lebanon, founded by Rev. Elijah Craig, was renamed in 1790 in honor of President George Washington. It is the home of Georgetown College, a private liberal arts...

. In 1847 and 1848, during the Mexican–American War
Mexican–American War
The Mexican–American War, also known as the First American Intervention, the Mexican War, or the U.S.–Mexican War, was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S...

, Breckinridge was a major
Major (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, major is a field grade military officer rank just above the rank of captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel...

 of the 3rd Kentucky Volunteers.

Breckinridge was a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
Kentucky House of Representatives
The Kentucky House of Representatives is the lower house of the Kentucky General Assembly. It is composed of 100 Representatives elected from single-member districts throughout the Commonwealth. Not more than two counties can be joined to form a House district, except when necessary to preserve...

 in 1849 as a Democrat
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

. He was then elected to the Thirty-second
32nd United States Congress
The Thirty-second United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1851 to March 3, 1853, during the third and...

 and Thirty-third Congresses
33rd United States Congress
The Thirty-third United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1853 to March 3, 1855, during the first two years...

 (March 4, 1851 – March 4, 1855). He did not run for reelection and, instead, was nominated as Minister to Spain
United States Ambassador to Spain
-Ambassadors:*John Jay**Appointed: September 29, 1779**Title: Minister Plenipotentiary**Presented credentials:**Terminated mission: ~May 20, 1782*William Carmichael**Appointed: April 20, 1790**Title: Chargé d'Affaires...

 by President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

 but declined. He was elected Vice President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 in 1856 on the Democratic ticket with James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 as president. He was the youngest Vice President in U.S. history, elected at the age 35, the minimum age required under the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

.

Breckinridge was an unsuccessful candidate for president in the 1860 election
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

. Nominated by the Southern
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 faction of the split Democratic Party, he was supported by incumbent Democratic president Buchanan and ran on a pro-slavery
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 platform. The race put Breckinridge at odds with his uncle, Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
Robert Jefferson Breckinridge was a politician and Presbyterian minister. He was a member of the Breckinridge family of Kentucky, the son of Senator John Breckinridge....

, who had supported Lincoln.

Far from expectant of victory, in a letter to Varina Davis, Breckinridge bemoaned "I trust I have the courage to lead a forlorn hope." In a four-way contest, he came in third in the popular vote, with 18.1%, but second in the Electoral College, winning the states of the Deep South
Deep South
The Deep South is a descriptive category of the cultural and geographic subregions in the American South. Historically, it is differentiated from the "Upper South" as being the states which were most dependent on plantation type agriculture during the pre-Civil War period...

 as well as the border states of Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 and Delaware
Delaware
Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, and to the north by Pennsylvania...

.

However, Breckinridge received almost no support in the most of the Northern states (which Lincoln swept except for split electoral votes from New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 going to Douglas and Lincoln) but, as the candidate of the Buchanan faction, did outpoll Douglas in Pennsylvania and won Delaware and received some support comparable to Douglas in Connecticut. Breckinridge lost to Douglas in Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 and lost to Constitutional Union Party
Constitutional Union Party (United States)
The Constitutional Union Party was a political party in the United States created in 1860. It was made up of conservative former Whigs who wanted to avoid disunion over the slavery issue...

 nominee John Bell
John Bell (Tennessee politician)
John Bell was a U.S. politician, attorney, and plantation owner. A wealthy slaveholder from Tennessee, Bell served in the United States Congress in both the House of Representatives and Senate. He began his career as a Democrat, he eventually fell out with Andrew Jackson and became a Whig...

 in Virginia, Bell's home state of Tennessee
Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

, and even Breckinridge's own home state of Kentucky.

Despite losing the presidency, he was elected the same year to the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 by the Kentucky Legislature. He served from March 4, 1861, and, as the outgoing vice president, swore in Lincoln's vice president, Hannibal Hamlin
Hannibal Hamlin
Hannibal Hamlin was the 15th Vice President of the United States , serving under President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War...

.

Despite the secession
Secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 of the Southern states and the formation of the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

, Breckinridge remained in the Senate until he was expelled
Expulsion from the United States Congress
Expulsion is the most serious form of disciplinary action that can be taken against a Member of Congress. Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution provides that "Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with...

 by resolution
Resolution (law)
A resolution is a written motion adopted by a deliberative body. The substance of the resolution can be anything that can normally be proposed as a motion. For long or important motions, though, it is often better to have them written out so that discussion is easier or so that it can be...

 on December 4, 1861, for supporting the South; ten Southern Senators had been expelled earlier the same year. Fearing arrest, he fled to the Confederacy. Unlike other Confederate leaders, such as Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

, who claimed obeisance to the will of their states, Breckinridge broke with his state after the Kentucky Legislature voted to remain in the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

.

Civil War


Breckinridge entered the Confederate States Army
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 as a brigadier general and soon became a major general, originally commanding the 1st Kentucky Brigade, nicknamed the Orphan Brigade
Orphan Brigade
The Orphan Brigade was the nickname of the First Kentucky Brigade, a group of military units recruited from the Commonwealth of Kentucky to fight for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. The brigade was the largest Confederate unit to be recruited from Kentucky during...

 because its men felt orphaned by Kentucky's state government, which remained loyal to the Union. He fought in many battles in the Western Theater
Western Theater of the American Civil War
This article presents an overview of major military and naval operations in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.-Theater of operations:...

, beginning with the Battle of Shiloh
Battle of Shiloh
The Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, was a major battle in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, fought April 6–7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. A Union army under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had moved via the Tennessee River deep into Tennessee and...

, in which he was wounded. He served as an independent commander in the lower Mississippi Valley, securing Confederate control of the area by taking Port Hudson
Port Hudson, Louisiana
Port Hudson is a small unincorporated community in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, United States. Located about northwest of Baton Rouge, it is most famous for an American Civil War battle known as the Siege of Port Hudson.-Geography:...

.

Breckinridge developed an intense personal dislike of General Braxton Bragg
Braxton Bragg
Braxton Bragg was a career United States Army officer, and then a general in the Confederate States Army—a principal commander in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and later the military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.Bragg, a native of North Carolina, was...

, the commander of the Army of Tennessee
Army of Tennessee
The Army of Tennessee was the principal Confederate army operating between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River during the American Civil War. It was formed in late 1862 and fought until the end of the war in 1865, participating in most of the significant battles in the Western Theater...

. He considered him incompetent, a point of view shared by many other Confederate officers. Furthermore, Breckinridge felt that Bragg was unfair in his treatment of Kentucky troops in Confederate service, such as the Orphan Brigade. Throughout the war, Breckinridge felt a strong personal need to see to the welfare of his fellow Kentuckians. For his part, Bragg despised Breckinridge and tried to undermine his career with accusations that he was a drunkard. At the Battle of Stones River
Battle of Stones River
The Battle of Stones River or Second Battle of Murfreesboro , was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, in Middle Tennessee, as the culmination of the Stones River Campaign in the Western Theater of the American Civil War...

 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Murfreesboro is a city in and the county seat of Rutherford County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 108,755 according to the United States Census Bureau's 2010 U.S. Census, up from 68,816 residents certified during the 2000 census. The center of population of Tennessee is located in...

, Bragg ordered Breckinridge's division to launch a near-suicidal attack on the Union lines on January 2, 1863. Breckinridge survived the attack, but his division suffered heavy casualties. Breckinridge was devastated by the disaster; he lost nearly one-third of his Kentucky troops, primarily the Orphan Brigade. As he rode among the survivors, he cried out repeatedly, "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans."

Breckinridge continued to fight with Bragg's army, figuring prominently in the Confederate assaults on the second day, September 20, 1863, of the Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga
The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign...

, and in the unsuccessful defense of Missionary Ridge
Battle of Missionary Ridge
The Battle of Missionary Ridge was fought November 25, 1863, as part of the Chattanooga Campaign of the American Civil War. Following the Union victory in the Battle of Lookout Mountain on November 24, Union forces under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Missionary Ridge and defeated the...

 in Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in the US state of Tennessee , with a population of 169,887. It is the seat of Hamilton County...

, November 25, 1863.


In early 1864, Breckinridge was brought to the Eastern Theater
Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina...

 and put in charge of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley is both a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians , to the north by the Potomac River...

. He defeated a superior Union force at the Battle of New Market
Battle of New Market
The Battle of New Market was a battle fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute fought alongside the Confederate Army and forced Union General Franz Sigel and his army out of the Shenandoah...

, which included the famous charge of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute
Virginia Military Institute
The Virginia Military Institute , located in Lexington, Virginia, is the oldest state-supported military college and one of six senior military colleges in the United States. Unlike any other military college in the United States—and in keeping with its founding principles—all VMI students are...

. Shortly thereafter, Breckinridge reinforced Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 and played an important role in the Battle of Cold Harbor
Battle of Cold Harbor
The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought from May 31 to June 12, 1864 . It was one of the final battles of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign during the American Civil War, and is remembered as one of American history's bloodiest, most lopsided battles...

, where his troops repulsed a powerful Union attack.

In the summer, Breckinridge participated in Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's Raid on Washington
Valley Campaigns of 1864
The Valley Campaigns of 1864 were American Civil War operations and battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from May to October 1864. Military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, but it is useful to consider the three together and how they...

, moving north through the Shenandoah Valley and crossing into Maryland. He fought at the Battle of Monocacy
Battle of Monocacy
The Battle of Monocacy was fought on July 9, 1864, just outside Frederick, Maryland, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864, in the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early defeated Union forces under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace...

 in early July and was with Early when the Confederate force probed the defenses of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

. Since Lincoln was watching the fight from the ramparts of Fort Stevens
Battle of Fort Stevens
The Battle of Fort Stevens was an American Civil War battle fought July 11–12, 1864, in Northwest Washington, D.C., as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 between forces under Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early and Union Maj. Gen. Alexander McD. McCook. Although Early caused consternation...

, this was only time in American history when two former opponents in a presidential election faced one another across battle lines.
Following his service with Early's command, Breckinridge took command of Confederate forces in southwestern Virginia in September, where Confederate forces were in great disarray. He reorganized the department and led a raid into northeastern Tennessee. Following a victory outside of Saltville
Battle of Saltville I
The Battle of Saltville , was fought near the town of Saltville, Virginia, during the American Civil War. The battle was fought by both regular and homeguard Confederate units against regular Union troops, including one of the few black cavalry units, over an important saltworks in the town. The...

, Breckinridge discovered that some Confederate troops had killed scores of black Union soldiers of the 5th United States Colored Cavalry
5th United States Colored Cavalry
The 5th United States Colored Cavalry was a regiment of the United States Army organized as one of many "Colored" units during the American Civil War. The 5th USCC was one of the more notable "black" fighting units and it was officially organized, after its first two battles, in Kentucky in October...

 the morning after the battle, an incident that shocked and angered him. He attempted to have the commander responsible, Felix Huston Robertson
Felix Huston Robertson
Felix Huston Robertson was the only native-born Texan to serve as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving general of the Confederacy...

, arrested and put on trial, but was unable to achieve this before the Confederacy disintegrated.

In early 1865, Breckinridge was made Confederate States Secretary of War
Confederate States Secretary of War
The Confederate States Secretary of War was a member of the Confederate States President's Cabinet during the Civil War. The Secretary of War led the Confederate States Department of War. The position ended in May 1865 when the Confederacy crumbled during John C. Breckinridge's tenure of the...

, a post he would hold until the end of the war. Breckinridge saw that further resistance on the part of the Confederacy was useless and worked to lay the groundwork for an honorable surrender, even while President Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis , also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane Davis...

 fiercely desired to continue the fight.

During the chaos of the fall of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 in early April 1865, Breckinridge saw to it that the Confederate archives, both government and military, were not destroyed but rather captured intact by the Union forces. By so doing, he ensured that a full account of the Confederate war effort would be preserved for history. Breckinridge went with Davis during the flight from Virginia as the Confederacy collapsed, while also assisting General Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was a career U.S. Army officer, serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars, and was also one of the most senior general officers in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

 in his surrender negotiations with William T. Sherman at Bennett Place
Bennett Place
Bennett Place, sometimes known as Bennett Farm, in Durham, North Carolina was the site of the largest surrender of Confederate soldiers ending the American Civil War, on April 26, 1865.-History:...

. Breckinridge continued to try to persuade Davis that further resistance would only lead to greater loss of life, but he also felt honor bound to protect the President from harm. Eventually, the two became separated in the confusion of the journey.

Postbellum career and legacy




Breckinridge feared that he would be put on trial for treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 by the United States government and resolved to flee the country. He and a small band sailed from Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 in a tiny boat to reach safety in Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. He continued to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, and the United Kingdom again. He returned to Lexington, Kentucky, in March 1869 after being granted amnesty, and resumed the practice of law. While turning down suggestions that he become active in politics again, he spoke out strongly against the Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as the Klan, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically...

. He became vice president of the Elizabethtown, Lexington, and Big Sandy Railroad Company. He died in Lexington of complications from cirrhosis
Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a consequence of chronic liver disease characterized by replacement of liver tissue by fibrosis, scar tissue and regenerative nodules , leading to loss of liver function...

 and was interred in Lexington Cemetery.

Breckinridge had ample reason to fear charges of treason; in 1863, premature rumors of his death prompted the New York Times to print a quite vituperative obituary arguing that Kentucky's decision to stay in the Union denied Breckinridge the notion of states' rights to justify his siding with the Confederacy.

The towns of Breckenridge, Colorado
Breckenridge, Colorado
Established in 1859, the historic town of Breckenridge is a home rule municipality that is the county seat of Summit County, Colorado, United States. As of the 2010 Census, the town had a population of 4,540. The town also has many part-time residents, as many people have vacation homes in the area...

; Breckenridge, Minnesota
Breckenridge, Minnesota
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,559 people, 1,438 households, and 911 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,516.4 people per square mile . There were 1,582 housing units at an average density of 674.0 per square mile...

; Breckenridge, Missouri
Breckenridge, Missouri
Breckenridge is a city in Caldwell County, Missouri, United States. The population was 454 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Breckenridge is located at an altitude of ....

; and Breckenridge, Texas
Breckenridge, Texas
Breckenridge is a city in Stephens County, Texas, United States. The population was 5,868 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Stephens County...

, were named in honor of the Vice President (despite the different spelling). The Colorado town deliberately changed the spelling of its name when its namesake joined the Confederacy.

Breckinridge was the first Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in Kentucky.

A memorial to Breckinridge
John C. Breckinridge Memorial
John C. Breckinridge Memorial, on the courthouse lawn of Lexington, Kentucky, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 17, 1997, as part of the Civil War Monuments of Kentucky MPS. It commemorates John C. Breckinridge, who had been born and died in Lexington...

 was placed on the Fayette County Courthouse lawn (now known as Cheapside Park) in Lexington in 1887. In 2009, the monument was relocated closer to Main Street as part of a reworking of Cheapside Park.

See also


  • List of American Civil War generals

External links



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