Confederate States Secretary of War
The Confederate States Secretary of War was a member of the Confederate States President's Cabinet during the American Civil War. The Secretary of War was head of the Confederate States Department of War. The position ended in May 1865 when the Confederacy crumbled during John C. Breckinridge's tenure of the office.
The Secretary of War, a Confederate cabinet position, was the chief officer of the Confederate War Department. Answerable to Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War controlled all matters regarding the army and Indian tribes, and had the right to appoint as many clerks as it found necessary. This designation allowed the Secretary of War to create what eventually became the biggest department in the Confederacy. Related to the war effort, the Secretary of War managed important aspects of the war effort like medical distribution, engineering devices (pontoon bridges), prisoners of war and fort cessions. During the war the Confederate Secretary of War’s report on the war effort became important information for the Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis. The President had the power to appoint and fire the Secretary of War for unnecessary, dishonest and inefficient work performance. The Secretary of War was also subject to impeachment proceedings from the Confederate Congress.
The Secretaries of War
Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Leroy Pope Walker as the first Confederate Secretary of War. Walker’s first major role involved the situation at Fort Sumter. Communicating often with P.G.T. Beauregard, he advocated for no direct clash with the Union. He also focused on the Border States, and was instrumental in ordering the muster, organization and supply of the upper states when they seceded. His stint as Secretary of War was marked by inefficiency and clashes with Jefferson Davis. His lack of experience in the military field hampered his ability to manage the war effort, and he received the blame for the early supply and organizational issues of the Confederacy. In the wake of the "failure" of the Confederate army to pursue fleeing troops after the First Battle of Bull Run, the Davis administration received lots of criticism, and Walker began to be criticized more. Walker resigned in September 1861 after a dispute with President Jefferson Davis and mounting Congressional criticism.
Davis named Judah P. Benjamin acting Secretary of War the same September, and he was confirmed in November 1861. Benjamin’s addition responded to the organizational shortcomings that the War Department office was criticized for most. However, Benjamin clashed repeatedly with Confederate generals, and the downturn and increasing casualties of the war opened Benjamin up to extensive criticism. Antisemitism became a strong part of this criticism, and intensified as the war effort further diminished in the eyes of the Confederate public. Davis responded to the criticism of his trusted adviser by naming him Acting Secretary of State in March 1862.
Next, Davis tapped Brigadier General George W. Randolph to succeed Benjamin, now Confederate Secretary of State. Randolph placed more emphasis on organization in the Western theater of the war, and his meticulous organization and strong work ethic increased the efficiency of the War Department. However, health problems and conflict with Davis resulted in the early resignation of G.W. Randolph in November 1862. By 1862 Jefferson Davis had to replace three Secretaries of War.
Davis appointed James Seddon to the position of Secretary of War next, and Seddon would be the Confederate official to hold the position for the longest. Seddon’s reportedly "malleable" nature as Secretary of War meshed perfectly with the micromanaging nature of Jefferson Davis’ interactions with the war effort. Seddon clashed repeatedly with Confederate governors, but Seddon's concurrence with Davis on the demotion of General Joseph E. Johnston caused the strongest backlash from Congress. Seddon resigned in January 1865.
With the war effort disintegrating, Davis appointed John C. Breckinridge in February 1865, three months before the surrender of the Confederate Army. Breckenridge’s strong leadership led to improvements in supply and strategy, but the dire situation that the Confederate army made most of his contributions minimal. His most important contribution was his opposition to pursuing a “guerrilla war” to prolong the Confederacy. With the surrender of the Confederacy, Breckinridge fled the country, abdicating his post, and was the last Confederate Secretary of War.
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