Kurt's Historic Sites

Breckinridge plot

John C. Breckinridge

Interment LocationVisitedSequence in Graves I Have Visited
Lexington, KYApril 21, 201022nd Vice President visited

Photographed April 21, 2010.

Situated almost literally in the shadow of Henry Clay’s towering tomb, the weathered grave of John C. Breckinridge telegraphs its comparative neglect. Like Clay, Breckinridge served in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. They each ran for president, losing a combined four times. There are differences in their résumés, too. Though he never worked in a presidential cabinet as Clay did, Breckinridge bested his forebear by being elected on a national ticket as vice president. Perhaps most contrastingly, Clay’s service to the United States concluded with his death in 1852, whereas Breckinridge’s service was terminated by betrayal — he was one of 14 members of Congress expelled in 1861 for supporting the rebellious Confederacy.

Breckinridge served as a general in the Confederate Army. He participated in clashes such as the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, and the Battle of New Market in 1864. In early 1865, his capacity within the Confederacy changed when its president, Jefferson Davis, appointed him to fill the vacancy at the secretary of war position. Breckinridge soon assessed that the conflict would come to a swift end in the Union’s favor. In early April, as Davis and members of the cabinet retreated to Danville, Virginia, Breckinridge remained in Richmond to oversee the destruction of Confederate property so as to prevent its usage by oncoming Union forces.

Photographed April 21, 2010.
Photographed April 21, 2010.

The inscription on the VP’s tombstone — shaped like an unfurled scroll — is not exceedingly legible. The rather plain Breckinridge burial plot was augmented in July 2018 with a statue of the former vice president. From 1887 to 2017, the sculpture stood downtown in front of the Lexington courthouse. It was removed during a period in which commemorative statues, particularly those of enslavers and CSA members, came under enhanced scrutiny.

In a stark departure from the content of the previous captions, here I will note that one of the former vice president’s great-grandchildren was performer Bunny Breckinridge, best known for appearing in the 1957 low-budget film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Breckinridge played the alien ruler in the Ed Wood production, which belatedly acquired a cult following and is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

Photographed April 21, 2010.

Fast Facts

Born: January 16, 1821 in Lexington, Kentucky

Spouse: Mary Cyrene Burch Breckinridge (m. 1843-1875)

Military Rank: Major — U.S. Army; Major General — Confederate Army

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

House Tenure: 1851-1855

Vice Presidential Tenure: 1857-1861 under James Buchanan

Senate Tenure: 1861

Died: May 17, 1875 in Lexington, Kentucky

Cause of Death: Pulmonary Abscess

Age: 54

Interment: Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky

"Sir, I would prefer to see these States all reunited upon true constitutional principles to any other object that could be offered me in life; and to restore, upon the principles of our fathers, the union of these States, to me the sacrifice of one unimportant life would be nothing, nothing, sir. But I infinitely prefer to see a peaceful separation of these States, than to see endless, aimless, devastating war, at the end of which I see the grave of public liberty and of personal freedom."
- John C. Breckinridge

August 1, 1861 addressing Senator Edward Baker of Oregon during a debate in the U.S. Senate on a bill for the suppression of insurrection

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Miller, Marion Mills, ed. Great Debates in American History. Vol. 6, The Civil War. New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1913. https://archive.org/details/greatdebatesinam06unit/page/116/mode/2up.

Vandiver, Bailey. “Confederate statues now in permanent location at Lexington Cemetery” kentuckykernel. Updated July 29, 2018. http://www.kykernel.com/news/confederate-statues-now-in-permanent-location-at-lexington-cemetery/article_1074cc82-9002-11e8-8c23-a32d5207d077.html.

Welsh, Jack D., M.D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995. https://books.google.com/books?id=1X1evZu45RcC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.


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