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Ashe, Thomas Samuel (19 July 1812–04 February 1887), jurist and congressman, was born at “the Hawfields,” Orange County, North Carolina, the home of his maternal grandfather, where his parents regularly spent the summer. He was the son of Pasquale Paoli Ashe, the owner of a plantation in coastal New Hanover County, North Carolina, and a coal mine in Alabama, and Elizabeth Jane Strudwick. His father lost his entire fortune about 1829 as surety for the debts of a friend....

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Judah P. Benjamin. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109992).

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Benjamin, Judah Philip (06 August 1811–06 May 1884), Confederate cabinet member, U.S. senator, and lawyer, was born at Christiansted, St. Croix, West Indies, the son of Philip Benjamin, a shopkeeper, and Rebecca de Mendes. St. Croix was under British rule at the time of Benjamin’s birth. He grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. Though his father’s circumstances were always modest, wealthy relatives and other benefactors helped him attend Yale (1825–1827), but he left as a junior under circumstances that remain unclear....

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Maxwell, Augustus Emmet (21 September 1820–05 May 1903), jurist and legislator, was born in Elberton, Georgia, the son of Simeon Maxwell, a planter, and Elizabeth Fortson. When he was two years old, the family moved to Green County, Alabama. After attending country schools, in 1836 Maxwell began study at the University of Virginia; he left school briefly because of vision problems but he graduated from the university in 1841....

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Slidell, John (1793–29 July 1871), U.S. senator and Confederate diplomat, was born in New York City, the son of John Slidell, a merchant and banker, and Margery Mackenzie. Slidell grew up amid the affluence of New York’s thriving mercantile community. After graduating from Columbia College in 1810, he spent several years in Europe working for a New York mercantile firm. He returned to New York, passed the bar examination, and pursued a bachelor’s carefree existence that involved him in a duel with an outraged husband. Sobered by this scandal, he sought his future in New Orleans....

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Wigfall, Louis Trezevant (21 April 1816–18 February 1874), U.S. and Confederate senator, was born Lewis Wigfall near Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of Levi Durand Wigfall and Eliza Thompson, planters. Both of Wigfall’s parents had died by his thirteenth year, when he was left to the care of a guardian. He received private tutoring, then attended Rice Creek Springs School, a military academy near Columbia, South Carolina. In 1834 he enrolled at the University of Virginia and, after almost challenging a fellow student to a duel over a misunderstanding at a school dance, decided to return to South Carolina. He completed his education at South Carolina College in 1837. He found oration in the school’s Euphradian Society more alluring than his regular classes, which he often skipped. A frequent visitor to off-campus taverns, Wigfall and several friends further defied the regimen of college life by spending three months in Florida in 1836 fighting in the Seminole Indian war. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, but years later he boldly called himself “colonel.”...

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William Lowndes Yancey. Salted paper print, c. 1858. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Yancey, William Lowndes (10 August 1814–27 July 1863), U.S. congressman, secessionist, and Confederate senator, was born at the shoals of the Ogeechee River, on the boundary between Warren and Hancock counties, Georgia, the son of Benjamin Cudworth Yancey, an attorney and South Carolina state legislator, and Caroline Bird. Benjamin Yancey died in 1817, and in 1821 Caroline married ...