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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
provided by Old Valley Pike Country Store and History Center-Your History Connection

John Cabell Breckinridge(1821-1875)

American lawyer, soldier, and statesman, the 14th vice president of the United States.

Breckinridge was born near Lexington, Kentucky. Trained in the law, he served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, after which he was elected to the Kentucky legislature. From 1851 to 1855 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Breckinridge was elected vice president of the U.S. in 1856 on the Democratic ticket with James Buchanan. A leading spokesman of the proslavery faction of the Democratic Party, he was nominated for the presidency by that faction in 1860, but lost the election to the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. Shortly after the opening of hostilities between the Confederacy and the Union government, Breckinridge helped to organize the Confederate government of Kentucky, joined the Confederate army, and was made a brigadier general in 1862.

In the Civil War, as a Confederate general, John Breckinridge saw action at Shiloh, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge.

Breckinridge’s military career was tainted from time to time by his fondness for the bottle. General Bragg, not the most competent of authorities, blamed part of his defeat at Missionary Ridge on the supposed fact that General Breckinridge was so drunk he could not stand.

Breckinridge is best known for his tremendous victory over superior forces at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. Quickly putting together a rag tag force from several different locations including about 250 cadets from the Virginia Military Academy, Breckinridge marched north and met General Franz Sigel’s forces at New Market, soundly routing them in a rain storm.

After serving in the Shenandoah Valley, he commanded his division at Cold Harbor and fought with CSA Gen. Early at Monocacy in Maryland. He was named the Confederate secretary of war just two months before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in 1865.

At the close of the conflict he fled to Europe. Returning to the U.S. in 1869, he thereafter devoted himself to the practice of law.

Today, a visitor to Lexington's Cheapside, a grassy area criss-crossed with walks and dotted with streetlamps, fountains, and historical markers adjacent to the Fayette County, Kentucky, courthouse, cannot help but notice the impressive statue of John C. Breckinridge, erected by "The Commonwealth of Kentucky, A.D. 1887." The site of public slave auctions before the Civil War and of County Court Days after the war, until that public nuisance was abolished in 1921, the Cheapside area is now set aside for remembering the heroes and events of the city's past.


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