A Civil War Biography
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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