Joseph Holt



After President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Fordís Theater in Washington, D. C., on April 14, 1865, a Kentuckian was at the center of the investigation and prosecution of the assassination conspirators.


Joseph Holt, born in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, on January 6, 1807, attended Centre College and read law in Lexington.He practiced law in Elizabethtown and Louisville before moving to Mississippi.There, he and his wife both caught tuberculosis.After his wifeís death from the illness, Holt, who had amassed a great fortune from his law practice, retired early and returned to Kentucky.


Federal service soon called, and Holt served as U. S. postmaster and secretary of war in President James Buchananís administration.Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of the Civil War, Holt vigorously supported the Union cause, and, through speeches, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, he played an important role in keeping Kentucky in the Union.During the war, he supported many of Lincolnís policies that were controversial in Kentucky, including the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of African American soldiers.


In 1862, he became judge advocate general, and, by 1865, he was a major general in charge of the Bureau of Military Justice.Holt participated in several high-profile military court-martials and investigated Northerners accused of disloyalty.After Lincolnís assassination, Holt was the chief prosecutor against those who conspired to kill the president. Holt was judge advocate general until 1875.


Joseph Holt

Kentucky Historical Society Collections