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Collection Joseph Holt Papers


A chronology of key events in the life of Joseph Holt (1807-1894), commissioner of patents, United States postmaster general, secretary of war, and judge advocate general of the United States Army.

  • 1807, Jan. 6

    Born in Breckinridge County, Ky., to John W. Holt (1772-1838) and Eleanor Jennings Stephens Holt (1783- 1871)

  • 1822 -1823

    Attended St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Ky.

  • 1824

    Attended Centre College, Danville, Ky.

  • 1825-1828

    Studied law under Robert Wickliffe of Lexington, Ky.

  • 1828-1832

    Practiced law, Elizabethtown, Ky.; established law partnership with Benjamin Hardin

  • 1832, Jan.

    Moved to Louisville, Ky.

  • 1832

    Assistant editor, Louisville Advertiser

  • 1833-1834

    Commonwealth's attorney, Louisville District, Ky.

  • 1835

    Member, board of visitors, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

  • 1835-1842

    Practiced law in Mississippi, first in Port Gibson and then in Vicksburg, where he established law partnership with James O. Harrison

  • 1839, Apr. 24

    Married Mary Louisa Harrison (1811-1846), daughter of Burr Harrison, in Bardstown, Ky.

  • 1842

    Returned to Louisville, Ky.

  • 1843

    Traveled to Cuba with wife

  • 1846

    First wife, Mary Louisa Harrison Holt, died

  • 1848-1851

    Trips to Europe and other international destinations

  • 1850, Apr. 2

    Married Margaret "Maggie" Wickliffe (ca. 1821- Aug. 14, 1860), daughter of Charles Anderson Wickliffe, in Bardstown, Ky. Margaret Wickliffe Holt was the niece of Holt's former mentor Robert Wickliffe. Holt became the brother-in-law of Senator David Levy Yulee of Florida, who was married to Margaret Wickliffe's sister Nannie. Holt and Yulee took opposing sides during the Civil War.

  • 1852

    Supported Democrat Franklin Pierce for president

  • 1856

    Supported Democrat James Buchanan for president

  • 1857

    Moved to Washington, D.C.

  • 1857-1859

    Commissioner of Patents

  • 1859, Mar.-1861, Jan.

    Postmaster general

  • 1861, Jan.-Mar.

    Secretary of war

  • 1861, Oct.-1862, Mar.

    Member, with David Davis and Hugh Campbell, of a War Department commission to investigate monetary claims against General John C. Frémont's Military Department of the West.

  • 1862, Mar.

    Appointed Commissioner of Ordnance Claims, War Department

  • 1862-1875

    Judge advocate general of the United States Army

  • 1862, Nov.-1863, Jan.

    Lead prosecutor in court martial trial of General Fitz-John Porter, charged with disobeying a lawful order and misconduct in the face of the enemy at the second Battle of Bull Run/Manassas in August 1862. Former Attorney General Reverdy Johnson represented Porter. Porter was found guilty of both charges, and dismissed from the army.

  • 1864-1875

    Head of the Bureau of Military Justice, War Department

  • 1864, June

    Appointed brigadier general

  • 1864, Oct.

    Oversaw trial of Lambdin P. Milligan, a states' rights Democrat from Indiana found guilty of treason for conspiracy against and disloyalty to the U.S. government. U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ex parte Milligan (1866) subsequently declared the military trial unconstitutional.

  • 1864, Nov.

    Declined appointment as Attorney General

  • 1865, May-July

    Presided over military commission prosecuting the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspirators

  • 1866

    Published "Vindication of Judge Advocate General Holt," Washington Chronicle

  • 1875

    Retired from the U.S. Army as both judge advocate general and head of Bureau of Military Justice

  • 1888

    Published article on trial of Mary Surratt, North American Review

  • 1894, Aug. 1

    Died, Washington, D.C. Interred in Holt family cemetery, Stephensport, Ky.

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