A Civil War Biography

Joseph Holt

Holt was born 6 January 1807 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. He was educated at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Kentucky then Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and studied the law. He was admitted to the bar and established a practice in Elizabethtown, Kentucky in 1828.

He moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1832 where he was assistant editor of the "Louisville Advertiser". He served as attorney for the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 1833 until 1835 when he moved to Port Gibson, Mississippi to practice law. He returned to Louisville in 1842 to recuperate from tuberculosis, the disease having taken his wife, and reestablished his law practice.

He supported the ticket of James Buchanan and John C. Breckenridge in the presidential election of 1856. Buchanan appointed Holt Commissioner of Patents and Holt served from 1857 until 1859 when he was appointed Postmaster General. He served it that post until 18 January 1861 when he was named Secretary of War. He held that position until 5 March 1861 when the new Lincoln administration took over the White House.

He is often credited with keeping Kentucky in the Union. Abraham Lincoln appointed Holt the first Judge Advocate General of the US Army on 3 September 1862 with the rank of colonel. Holt was promoted to brigadier general in 1864 and named to head the new Bureau of Military Justice. He was brevetted major general on 13 March 1865.

Holt prosecuted the Lincoln assassination conspirators and was accused of suppressing evidence. He issued a pamphlet, Vindication of Judge Advocate General Holt From the Foul Slanders of Traitors, Confessed Perjurers and Suborners, Acting in the Interest of Jefferson Davis, in 1866. Although many called for his removal, Holt did not resign as Judge Advocate General until 1875. He died in Washington, D.C., on 1 August 1894.

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