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Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875



  • Existence: 1821 - 1875

Biographical Note

John Cabell Breckinridge was born in Cabell's Dale, near Lexington, Kentucky, on January 16, 1821. After attending school in Kentucky and New Jersey, he was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1840. He married Mary Cyrene Burch in 1843. He served as a major in the 3rd Kentucky Volunteers during the Mexican War from 1847-1848. He came from family with a history of political involvement and following the Mexican War, launched a political career of his own. In 1849 he was elected to the State Senate in Kentucky and quickly moved up to the national level.

Breckinridge served as a Representative in the 32nd and 33rd United States Congresses from 1851-1855. Under President James Buchanan, he served as the youngest Vice President (36 at the time he took office), and ran an unsuccessful Presidential campaign of his own in 1860 against his friends Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. He returned to the United States Senate in March of 1861. He tried to maintain and promote neutrality, but when Kentucky sided with the Union, Breckinridge, too, was forced to choose a side. In doing so, he became the only Vice President to take up arms against the United States government. He was expelled from the Senate in December of the same year for his Confederate sympathies.

Early in 1862 Breckinridge joined the Confederate army as a Brigadier General. He was soon promoted to Major General. His first command was the 1st Kentucky Brigade ("Orphan Brigade"). He fought in a number of significant battles, including Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. In 1864, Breckinridge helped lead the charge into Washington DC, which was eventually driven back. Jefferson Davis appointed him to the post of Confederate Secretary of War in January 1865, but by then it was too late for Breckinridge to do much for the Confederate cause.

At the end of the Civil War, he fled to Cuba, Europe, and then to Canada to avoid prosecution. Following a blanket pardon in late 1868, Breckinridge and his family returned to Kentucky in February 1869 after an eight year absence. Breckinridge retired from politics and public life in general, going back to law, instead. He also served at the president of the Elizabethtown, Lexington, Big Sandy Railroad Company. He died May 17, 1875 at age 54, and is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

"John Cabell Breckinridge, 14th Vice President (1857-1861)." United States Senate. Breckinridge Biography.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Note to General John C. Breckinridge

Identifier: Ms-2009-062

This collection consists of a note written in 1864 to Confederate General John C. Breckinridge asking for permission to ship a carriage to prevent its theft during the American Civil War.

Dates: 1864

General John C. Breckinridge Note (Distilling)

Identifier: Ms-2010-082

The collection consists of a note to General John C. Breckinridge for permission to distill rye whiskey for medicinal and pharmaceutical purposes.

Dates: 1864

E. H. Murrell Note to General John C. Breckinridge

Identifier: Ms-2010-083

The collection contains a single note from E. H. Murrell, MD, of Lynchburg, Virginia, addressed to General John C. Breckinridge, inquiring about the 150 bushels of corn from Montgomery County, Virginia, that he had ordered and instead requesting 200 bushels be delivered.

Dates: 1864