John C. Breckinridge was an American statesman and the 14th and youngest Vice President of the United States, serving in James Buchanan’s administration from 1857 to 1861. He was also a military figure who served as a Confederate general between 1861 and 1865 during the Civil War. Breckinridge was born into a Kentucky family with a long history in law and politics. Before volunteering for the Mexican–American War, he became an attorney and practiced law. Following his non-combat duty, Breckinridge entered politics and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives as a Democrat. He was then elected to the United States Congress, serving from 1851 to 1855 before being nominated for Vice President. Following that, he was elected the 14th Vice President of the United States, at the age of 36, and then ran for President of the United States unsuccessfully in 1860. After joining the Confederate Army at the commencement of the Civil War and serving as a brigade commander in the Battle of Shiloh, he was expelled from the United States Senate. He was promoted to major general and fought at the Battles of Stones River and Chickamauga later in his career. He was appointed Confederate Secretary during the closing months of the war after serving at the Battles of New Market and Cold Harbor. He escaped after the war and lived in exile for a few years before returning to Kentucky in 1869 and dying SIX years later.
Childhood and Adolescence
Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, and his wife, Mary Clay Smith, gave birth to John Cabell Breckinridge on January 16, 1821, in Thorn Hill, Lexington, Kentucky. He was the sole son of his parents and the fourth of six children.
Following his father’s death in 1823 due to illness, the family relocated to Lexington, where he attended the Pisgah Academy in Woodford County.
John began attending Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in 1834 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1838. He then went on to Princeton University to study law.
John returned to Kentucky in 1839 and enrolled in the second year of law school at Transylvania University in Lexington the following year. He graduated from law school in 1841 and practiced for a while in Iowa and Kentucky.
Career of John C. Breckinridge
Breckinridge volunteered for the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848, but did not participate in any action.
Breckinridge started his political career in 1849, when he was elected to the Kentucky state assembly. He was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in 1851, where he served until 1855.
Breckinridge established himself as one of the major Democrats in the South during this time, and the party nominated him for vice president in 1856, with James Buchanan running for president.
Breckinridge was appointed as the 14th vice president of the United States to balance the ticket between the North and the South. In 1856, at the age of 36, Breckinridge became the youngest Vice President in American history.
Following the completion of his tenure in 1860, Breckinridge ran for President of the United States as a member of the Democratic Party’s Southern faction, but was unsuccessful. Breckinridge was elected to the United States Senate by the Kentucky legislature in March 1861, but he was expelled from the Senate later that year when he joined the Confederate army at the commencement of the Civil War.
Breckinridge was subsequently promoted to brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He commanded the Reserve Corps at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, and was elevated to major general shortly afterward.
Breckinridge fought at the Battle of Stones River in January 1863, where his unit suffered terrible losses. He took part in the defense of Vicksburg in June 1863, and later in the Confederate triumph at the Battle of Chickamauga. Following that, in the fall of 1863, he took part in the Battle of Chattanooga.
Breckinridge beat General Franz Sigel’s forces at the Battle of New Market in May 1864, and subsequently fought in the Battle of Cold Harbor, where his men repulsed a major Union attack.
Breckinridge went on to fight in the Shenandoah Valley and in subsequent campaigns such as the Battle of Monocacy and the Second Battle of Kernstown. He led an invasion into eastern Tennessee in November 1864 and was later named Confederate Secretary of War in 1865.
Breckinridge and his family went to Cuba when the Civil War ended, and subsequently to Europe. He spent the following three years in self-imposed exile before returning to the United States in 1869 and resuming his legal business in Lexington, Kentucky.
Major Projects of John C. Breckinridge
Breckinridge urged compromise and understanding between North and South at the start of his career as a rising Democrat and a superb orator. Later, after joining the Confederacy, he distinguished himself throughout the Civil War, fighting heroically in some of the war’s toughest battles. Breckinridge was a brilliant and passionate Confederate leader who instilled great loyalty in his troops.
Personal History and Legacy
He married Mary Cyrene Burch, a cousin of his law partner Thomas Bullock, in December 1843. Following that, the couple relocated to Georgetown, Kentucky, and had six children.
Breckinridge’s health began to deteriorate in 1873 as a result of his military injuries, and after many operations, he died on May 17, 1875, in Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of 54. He was laid to rest in Lexington, Kentucky, United States.
Estimated net worth
The estimated net worth of John C. Breckinridge is unknown.