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John C. Breckinridge Biography

John C. Breckinridge biography online

John C. Breckinridge was an American statesman and who served as the 14th and youngest-ever Vice President of the United States; he served from 1857 to 1861, in the administration of James Buchanan. Also a military man, he served as a Confederate general during the Civil War, between 1861 and 1865. Born into an old Kentucky family well-known in law and politics, Breckinridge became an attorney and practiced law before volunteering in the Mexican–American War. After this non-combat service, Breckinridge gravitated into politics and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Then, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served from 1851 to 1855, before being nominated for vice presidency. Subsequently, he was elected the 14th vice president of the United States, youngest-ever at the age of 36, and later mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1860. Serving in the U.S. Senate, he was expelled after joining the Confederate Army at the start of the Civil War and served as a brigade commander at the Battle of Shiloh. Later, he was promoted to the rank of major general and fought at the Battles of Stones River and Chickamauga. After serving at the Battles of New Market and Cold Harbor, he was appointed the Confederate Secretary during the final months of the war. After the war ended, he fled and remained in exile for few years,returning to Kentucky in 1869 where he died SIX years later.

Childhood & Early Life

  • John Cabell Breckinridge was born on January 16, 1821, at Thorn Hill, Lexington, Kentucky, to Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, Kentucky's Secretary of State, and his wife, Mary Clay Smith. He was the fourth of six children and the only son of his parents.
  • After his father’s death due to an illness in 1823, the family moved to Lexington, where he studied at the Pisgah Academy in Woodford County.
  • In 1834, John was enrolled at the Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky and completed his graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1838. Subsequently, he studied law at the Princeton University.
  • In 1839, John returned to Kentucky and the following year, he was enrolled in the second year of the law course at Transylvania University in Lexington. In 1841, he obtained a law degree and then practiced in Iowa and Kentucky for a while.

Career

  • Between 1846 and 1848, Breckinridge served as a volunteer in the Mexican-American War, without getting involved in any combat service.
  • In 1849, Breckinridge began his political career and became a member of the Kentucky state legislature. In 1851, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, a capacity in which he served until 1855.
  • During this time, Breckinridge established himself as one of the leading Democrats in the South and therefore in 1856, the party nominated Breckinridge for vice presidency with James Buchanan as the presidential candidate.
  • Breckinridge was chosen to balance the ticket between North and South and was elected the 14th vice president of the United States. At the age of 36, Breckinridge was inaugurated as the youngest Vice President in American history, in 1856.
  • After completing his term in 1860, Breckinridge ran for the office of the President of the United States as part of the Southern faction of the Democratic Party but was unsuccessful in his attempt. Subsequently, the Kentucky legislature appointed him as the U.S. Senator in March 1861but Breckinridge was expelled from the Senate later that year when he joined the Confederate service at the outbreak of the Civil War.
  • Subsequently, Breckinridge was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. In April 1862, he commanded the Reserve Corps at the Battle of Shiloh and shortly afterwards, he was promoted to the rank of major general.
  • In January 1863, Breckinridge fought at the Battle of Stones River, in which his unit suffered heavy casualties. In June 1863, he served in the defense of Vicksburg and later took part at the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga. Thereafter, he participated in the Battle of Chattanooga in the fall of 1863.
  • In May 1864, Breckinridge defeated the forces of General Franz Sigel at the Battle of New Market, and then served in the Battle of Cold Harbor, where his men resisted a heavy attack by Union troops.
  • Subsequently, Breckinridge operated in the Shenandoah Valley and took part in several other campaigns such as the Battle of Monocacy and Second Battle of Kernstown. In November 1864, he undertook an expedition into eastern Tennessee and was later appointed the Confederate Secretary of War in 1865.
  • At the end of the Civil War, Breckinridge escaped to Cuba, and then fled to Europe with his family. He remained in a self-imposed exile for the next three years and returned to the United States in 1869, resuming his legal practice at Lexington, Kentucky.

Major Works

  • As a rising Democrat and a remarkable orator, Breckinridge encouraged compromise and understanding between North and South at the start of his career. Later, upon joining the Confederacy, he served with distinction in the Civil War and fought bravely in some of the bloodiest conflicts in the war. As a Confederate general, Breckinridge proved to be ingenious and spirited, stirring much loyalty in his troops.

Personal Life & Legacy

  • In December 1843, he married Mary Cyrene Burch ,a cousin of his law partner, Thomas Bullock. The couple subsequently settled in Georgetown, Kentucky, and was blessed with six children.
  • By 1873, due to his war injuries, Breckinridge’s health began to decline and after several operations, he died on May 17, 1875, in Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of 54. He was buried at the Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.

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