Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Joseph Cabell Breckinridge


Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell major-general United States army, has filled every grade in the service up to his present rank, and has served for forty-one years. In the Santiago campaign, July 2, 1898, his horse was shot from under him; he was in command of 45,000 men at Camp George H. Thomas, at Chicamauga Park, Georgia, August, 1898; and he was inspector-general for fifteen years. He is president-general of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. Descended from the best Virginia and Kentucky stock, he numbers among his ancestors, William Campbell, called the hero of King's Mountain, who married the sister of Patrick Henry; Colonel Wilham Preston, a distinguished Revolutionary soldier, who died from the effect of wounds received in that war; and Joseph Cabell, who served in the French and Indian wars. John Breckinridge, the reputed father of the Kentucky Resolutions, United States senator from Kentucky, and member of President Jefferson's cabinet, was his grandfather. His father, Reverend Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, moderator of the General Assembly, and United States senator from Kentucky, was a man of most marked intellectual characteristics, both in politics, before entering the ministry, and in theology afterward. His influence in holding back his state from secession, is well known. He was a leading mind in the Presbyterian church. While an opponent of slavery he wished to use only peaceful means in its removal.

His mother, Anne Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, died while Joseph C. Breckinridge was still in his early childhood. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, January 14, 1842. Not strong in his early life, his boyhood was passed in the country, at Breadalbane, and Cabell's Dale, country seats of his father and grandfather, in Kentucky, where he enjoyed the usual amusements and occupations of a boy with such surroundings. He studied in part at Centre college, Danville, Kentucky, and was graduated from the University of Virginia in 1860, and was already engaged in studying law, when the Civil war began. He entered the volunteer army as aide to General William Nelson at Camp Dick Robinson, Kentucky, in August, 1861. Becoming staff aide to General George H. Thomas, he served through the siege of Corinth, and became second lieutenant of Artillery, April, 1862. While at Pensacola and Fort Banancas, Florida, he performed the duties of aide on the staff and was put in command of several boat and scouting expeditions. Promoted first lieutenant, August 1, 1863, he was engaged in the Atlanta campaigns in 1864; was captured and imprisoned at Macon, Georgia, and later at Charleston, South Carolina. For service in this campaign, he was promoted to the brevet rank of captain. His exchange did not take place until September, 1864. In January, 1865, he was appointed mustering officer of the eastern district of Kentucky. Brevetted major in March, 1865, "for meritorious conduct," in September of that year, he was ordered with his regiment to California. Then followed some months when he served again as aide-de-camp on the staff of General H. W. Halleck. He was appointed to recruiting service and was later given leave of absence in 1868. From 1870-74, he was adjutant at the Artillery School at Fortress Monroe, Virginia; and during 1871 and 1872 he pursued a post-graduate course of study at the same institution. Promoted captain in June, 1874, he was stationed at Fort Foote in Maryland, for the next three years. In 1876 he was ordered to Petersburg, Virginia, from Fort Foote; and in 1877, with his company he was sent to assist in quelling the strikes and riots at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. From 1878-81, he was attached to the arsenal at Washington, District of Columbia. He was promoted to major in the regular army, and became assistant inspector-general, January 19, 1881; lieutenant-colonel and inspector-general, February 5, 1885; colonel, September 22, 1885; brigadier-general, January 30, 1889, and major-general of the United States army. May 4, 1898. In June, 1898, he was made inspector-general on the staff of General Miles. At his own request, he was retired with the rank of major-general, November 30, 1898.

General Breckinridge has held the office of elder in the Presbyterian church. He is a member of many patriotic societies; of the Sons of the American Revolution; of the Army of Santiago; of the Army of the Cumberland and Tennessee; of the Society of the American Wars; of the Loyal Legion, and of the Metropolitan club of Washington, District of Columbia. He has been commander of the Society of the American Wars, and junior vice-commander of the Loyal Legion. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Southeastern and Western Asia and in all parts of the United States. In sentiment he is a Republican, but like most of our army officers, he has not taken an active part in politics. His reading has been of the most varied nature, as might be expected from one of his antecedents and tastes. He has given attention to physical culture, chiefly as it affected the education and welfare of the enlisted men of the army; though personally he is fond of out-of-door exercise and of travel.

In his case, as in that of so many others who have been distinguished for their service to the country at that time, "the Civil war determined his choice of a profession." At the outbreak of the war, he was "merely a boy of nineteen, and he was eager to fight for the preservation of the Union." He says he "can hardly estimate the relative strength of the influences that surrounded him in youth; but every successful life is indebted, more than to anything else, to the influence of home and school, which helps to form habits of study; and also to the companionships formed at that early time."

General Breckinridge married, July 21, 1868, Louise Ludlow Dudley, of Lexington, Kentucky. They have had thirteen children, eight of whom are living in 1905.