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Letter from J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War Richmond, Virginia, September 26, 1861
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Letter from J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War
Richmond, Virginia, September 26, 1861
to Judge E. Ward, Charleston, Kanawha Co., Virginia
Paper and ink
American Jewish Historical Society

As first attorney general of the Confederate States of America, Judah P. Benjamin quickly won the confidence of Jeff Davis, who recognized a capacity for hard work, efficiency, and personal loyalty lacking in other subordinates. In September 1861, when Leroy P. Walker resigned as secretary of war, Davis named Benjamin as acting secretary of war, and two months later, the Confederate Senate confirmed his appointment.

The new secretary of war confronted serious deficiencies in supplies, arms and ammunition, transportation, personnel, and organization, and did his best to remedy them. Benjamin was nevertheless held accountable for military reversals at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Nashville, Tennessee, and a no-confidence resolution introduced in the Confederate Congress in March 1862 sparked an outburst of anti-Benjamin, anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Rather than seek Benjamin’s confirmation as secretary of war under the new, permanent constitution, Davis appointed him secretary of state, a promotion, as one onlooker wrote, in “the very teeth of criticism.” After six long months as secretary of war, Benjamin became one of the South’s highest ranking officers, a position he held until the last days of the Confederacy in April 1865.

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Last updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2006