Confederate President Jefferson Davis declares the new secretary of war is Judah Benjamin on November 21st, 1861. Born in the West Indies in 1811, Judah was Jewish and an exception of what a Protestant Southern should be. Growing up mostly in South Carolina, Benjamin decided to go to Yale Law School and eventually ended up near New Orleans where he owned a slave plantation as well as practicing law.
Although he married a rich Catholic couple’s daughter, the marriage was not a conventional one but distant as Natalie Benjamin relocated to Paris shortly after her daughter was born while the couple was mostly distant and during their roughly 50 years of marriage spent little time together.
Benjamin was elected to the Louisiana state legislature in 1842 as a representative and in 1852 was voted in to the U.S. senate. While serving, he became a trusted friend with a Mississippi senator at this time named Jefferson Davis. Before Louisiana had left the Union officially, Judah resigned when the secession crisis of 1860 and 1861 was happening. Benjamin would immediately become the President’s dependable advisor as Davis appointed him as the first attorney general of the Confederacy. Secretary of War Leroy Walker quit in July of 181 at the conclusion of the Battle of First Bull run in Virginia. His resignation was based on his criticism that the Yankees were not pursued by the Confederate army after their defeat; therefore, Benjamin was appointed to the position by Davis.
Despite having no experience in the military, his new role enabled Davis to control military affairs of the Confederacy. Davis knew there would be no one to challenge his vital military decisions since his trusted friend was the secretary of war. The daily work of the war department was managed efficiently by Benjamin; however, he found himself arguing with some of the high ranking generals who disliked being ordered by a non-military bureaucrat. Another criticism he was faced with had to do with his religion as his Jewish faith made some publicly question his loyalty.
Criticism of Judah reached its highest in March of 1862 when the Yankees captured Roanoke Island. Many blamed him for not allowing supplies and men to the island’s garrison. Adding to this was the war in the West for the Confederates was going badly. Realizing the surge of complaints was hindering Judah from fulfilling his obligations, Davis appointed him as the new secretary of state after the resignation of Robert M. Hunter. Benjamin suggested that the only way the South could be taken was the promise of emancipation after the realization in 1863 and 1864 of the Confederacy was going to lose the war. Unfortunately, this radical idea would not be considered until the final weeks of the war.
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