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Barnwell, Robert Woodward (10 August 1801–25 November 1882), educator, congressman, and U.S. and Confederate senator, was born at Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of Robert Gibbes Barnwell, a prosperous planter and Federalist member of Congress, and Elizabeth Wigg Hayne. In 1817 he entered Harvard College, where he became friendly with ...

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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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Clement Claiborne Clay. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110033).

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Clay, Clement Claiborne (13 December 1816–03 January 1882), U.S. and Confederate senator, was born near Huntsville, Alabama, the son of Clement Comer Clay, a lawyer and later governor and U.S. senator, and Susanna Claiborne Withers. He used the designation C. C. Clay, Jr., to distinguish himself from his father. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 1834 and studied law under John B. Minor at the University of Virginia, receiving his degree in 1839. During his father’s tenure as governor of Alabama, 1835–1837, Clay was his father’s secretary. He practiced law with him from 1839 to 1846, after which he became Madison County judge. He resigned in 1848 for financial reasons. Debt was a lifelong problem, along with chronic bad health, particularly asthma. Clay was associated with the ...

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Graham, William Alexander (05 September 1804–11 August 1875), governor of North Carolina, secretary of the navy, and U.S. and Confederate senator, was born in Lincoln County, North Carolina, the son of Joseph Graham, a revolutionary war soldier, iron entrepreneur, and major general of a North and South Carolina brigade in the War of 1812, and Isabella Davidson. After attending preparatory academies in Lincolnton, Statesville, and Hillsborough, Graham graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1824, sharing first honors in a distinguished class. He read law with the eminent jurist ...

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Hill, Benjamin Harvey (14 September 1823–16 August 1882), Confederate senator and U.S. senator, was born in Jasper County, Georgia, the son of John Hill and Sarah Parham, farmers. When he was ten, the family moved to Troup County in western Georgia, where he worked on the family farm and attended school intermittently. He entered the University of Georgia at seventeen, graduating with honors in 1843. He was admitted to the bar the next year and soon developed a prosperous practice in La Grange. In 1845 he married Caroline Holt. They had six children....

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Robert M. T. Hunter, early 1860s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1740).

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Hunter, Robert M. T. (21 April 1809–18 July 1887), congressman and statesman, was born Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter at “Mount Pleasant,” his father's estate in Essex County, Virginia, the son of James Hunter, a planter, and Maria Garnett Hunter. Born into a family that had achieved local prominence, he grew up in comfortable surroundings. After receiving his early education through home tutoring, he entered the University of Virginia and graduated in July 1828. Interested in government and history, he decided to become a lawyer and studied under Judge ...

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Johnson, Herschel Vespasian (18 September 1812–16 August 1880), Georgia governor, U.S. and Confederate senator, and vice presidential candidate, was born in Burke County, Georgia, the son of Moses Johnson, a planter, and Nancy Palmer. He studied at local schools before entering Monaghan Academy near Warrenton at fourteen. Attending the University of Georgia, he became a friend of ...

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Stephen Russell Mallory. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1743).

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Mallory, Stephen Russell (1811–09 November 1873), U.S. senator and Confederate secretary of the navy, was born in Trinidad, the son of John Mallory, an engineer, and Ellen Russell. Shortly after his birth, Mallory’s parents moved to Key West. After his father died in 1822, Mallory helped his mother operate a boardinghouse there. From 1826 to 1829 Mallory received his only formal education when he attended a Moravian-run school at Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He returned to Key West, where he studied law and served as inspector of customs (1830), town marshal (1832), fire department director (1835), and collector of customs (1845). He also served in the Florida militia during the Seminole War (1836–1838)....

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Reagan, John Henninger (08 October 1818–06 March 1905), U.S. congressman, U.S. senator, and postmaster general of the Confederacy, was born in Sevierville, Tennessee, the son of Timothy Richard Reagan and Elizabeth Lusk, farmers. His early life was not unlike that of many young men in early nineteenth-century frontier America, hunting, fishing, and helping with farm chores. However, in 1834, Reagan decided to follow his own ambitions. After a year of “hiring out” to a local planter, he attended Boyd’s Creek Academy for fifteen months. When funds ran low, he worked so that in 1837 he could study for a year at Southwestern Seminary in Maryville....

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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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Toombs, Robert Augustus (02 July 1810–15 December 1885), U.S. senator, Confederate cabinet member, and Confederate general, was born near Washington in Wilkes County, Georgia, the son of Robert Toombs, a successful planter who had served in the American Revolution, and Catharine Huling. In 1824 “Bob” Toombs entered Franklin College in Athens (now the University of Georgia) but in January 1828 was dismissed by the faculty for unspecified reasons after various incidents. He enrolled at Union College, Schenectady, New York, graduating that summer, and spent a year at the University of Virginia Law School, where he tied for bottom place in his class of fourteen. Despite his lack of academic distinction, his social connections enabled Toombs to establish himself quickly. In 1829 the Georgia legislature passed a bill allowing him to practice law while still a minor. In 1830 he married Julia Ann DuBose, the daughter of a wealthy planter and sister of his half-brother Lawrence’s wife. They had three children, two of whom survived infancy. The couple were lavish hosts in the nation’s capital and at home, and Toombs enjoyed all the luxuries of one of the elite of the Old South....

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Vest, George Graham (06 December 1830–09 August 1904), Confederate representative, Confederate senator, and U.S. senator, was born at Frankfort, Kentucky, the son of John Jay Vest, a carpenter and builder, and Harriet Graham. He was educated in a local academy and graduated from Centre College in 1848. He studied law under Kentucky’s attorney general, ...

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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.”...