Here’s a little trivia quiz for all you history buffs (and nonbuffs, too).
Q.: Which two members of the Confederate cabinet gained distinction as generals in the Confederate army?
A.: Robert Toombs was the first Secretary of State for the Confederacy. But he quickly became dissatisfied with his job at State. He resigned on July 24, 1861, after only five months in the office.
When Toombs got back home to Georgia, he had a spot reserved for him as brigadier general in the Georgia militia. His first combat was in the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) under generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston. His subsequent actions in the Seven Days’ Battle and Malvern Hill were undistinguished and even criticized. But he earned his keep, so to speak, at Sharpsburg (Antietam) when his men repelled five consecutive assaults on what later became known as Burnside’s Bridge over Antietam Creek. His last combat occurred during the siege of Savannah on December 20, 1864.
Robert Toombs might have been a more effective general than he was a Secretary of State.
Now for the second part of the answer. (The question did ask for the names of two men.)
John C. Breckinridge gained fame as a general before he joined the Confederate cabinet. The former Kentucky senator and U.S. presidential candidate (1860) was commissioned a brigadier general although he had little military experience and no combat experience. His command was the 1st Kentucky Brigade, also later known as the “Orphan Brigade.” The list of battles in which he saw action reads like a battle chronology of the Western Theater: Shiloh, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, Port Hudson, Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, New Market, Cold Harbor, and elsewhere.
When James Seddon resigned as Secretary of the War Department, President Jefferson Davis named Breckinridge to the post in January 1865. He had only about four months to serve, the Confederacy ceasing to exist in May of that year.
To learn more about the roles that these two men played in the history of the Confederacy, including their stints as cabinet secretaries, check out my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries. It is available in both paperback and e-book formats from the publisher, McFarland & Company, at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by phone at 1-800-253-2187. It is also available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other reputable book dealers.