Union and Confederate Cabinet Officers

During the early days of the Civil War, the Union and the Confederacy were governed by an intriguing collection of men.

Secretary of State William Henry Seward (Union)

Seward believed that the many compromises that had held the nation together would eventually fail, and in 1858 he warned that the bitter fighting over slavery would result in an “irrepressible conflict” between the North and the South.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (Union)

One of the most radical and controversial members of Lincoln's cabinet, Chase served three years before conflict with Lincoln forced his resignation. Chase came to prominence in Ohio as an abolitionist lawyer who specialized in defending runaway slaves and entered the Senate in 1848. He later served two terms as governor of Ohio and became a prominent member of the newly formed Republican Party. Like Seward, Chase hoped to be the Republican candidate in the 1860 presidential election but accepted Lincoln's invitation to join his cabinet. Though he had little experience in finance, Chase was able to contain a mounting budget deficit and effectively finance the Union's war effort.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (Union)

Welles, a noted Connecticut journalist and politician, was chosen by Lincoln as secretary of the Navy so that New England would have a voice in the cabinet. With no prior experience, he proved quite adept at the job, preparing the strategy for and overseeing the execution of the Union blockade of Southern ports and promoting the construction of ironclad ships.

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” — Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address, March 4, 1861

Secretary of War Simon Cameron (Union)

Cameron achieved his cabinet position as a result of a convention agreement that Lincoln knew nothing about and proved so corrupt and generally inept that Lincoln shipped him off to be minister to Russia within a year of his appointment. Cameron was replaced by Edwin M. Stanton, a vocal Unionist who had served as attorney general under James Buchanan.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (Union)

Blair was the only member of Lincoln's cabinet to advise sending provisions to Fort Sumter and threatened to resign, just two weeks after taking office, if Lincoln did not act on the issue.

Secretary of State Robert Toombs (Confederate)

A rich and powerful Georgia plantation owner, Toombs resigned his United States Senate seat following the election of Abraham Lincoln and returned to his home state to assist its secession. Toombs hoped to be the first president of the Confederacy and was disappointed when he was passed over in favor of Jefferson Davis. Davis offered Toombs the position of secretary of state, but Toombs quickly became bored. Since the Confederacy had not been recognized by any foreign powers, there was little for the secretary of state to do. He remained in the position only five months before resigning to become commander of a Georgia brigade on the Virginia front — despite the fact that he had no military training.

The delegates of the Confederate provisional congress constructed and ratified their new nation's constitution in a matter of weeks. It took the U.S. Continental Congress two years from draft to ratification (1787–89) to achieve a similar feat. Of course, the U.S. Continental Congress was starting from scratch, whereas the Confederate provisional congress at least had a template from which to work.

Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory (Confederate)

Prior to secession, Mallory was a senator from Florida and served as Naval Affairs Committee chairman. When he first took office, the Confederate navy consisted of just ten ships mounting fifteen guns and no organizational framework. But Mallory managed to create an imposing naval force despite limited resources and scant support from his government. Mallory encouraged innovation and strongly supported the development of ironclad ships, torpedoes, and even submarines.

Attorney General Judah P. Benjamin (Confederate)

Benjamin was one of the most prominent and influential Jewish-American statesmen of the nineteenth century. He was also a brilliant legal mind, attending Yale University at age fourteen. He became a successful attorney in New Orleans and owned a sizable plantation with several slaves. In 1852, Benjamin was elected to the U.S. Senate and remained in office until Louisiana seceded from the Union. He was appointed attorney general by Jefferson Davis, then secretary of war in 1861. Benjamin was transferred to the State Department a year later and was influential in securing some much-needed foreign loans for the Confederacy.

Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker (Confederate)

An Alabama native, Walker was offered the position of secretary of war primarily to give his home state a voice in the Confederate cabinet. However, he quickly proved himself inept and resigned after just seven months. Walker was replaced by Judah P. Benjamin, but four others would also hold the difficult post over the course of the Civil War.

Secretary of the Treasury C. G. Memminger (Confederate)

As the Confederacy's first secretary of the treasury, Memminger instituted a financial policy based on paper money that did little to help the new republic; Confederate money became nearly worthless.

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