In 1997, local school teacher Susan B. Dyer was out for a long Sunday afternoon drive when she spotted the Holt family mansion. Dyer decided that her mission was to bring awareness of the historical importance of Joseph Holt and the Holt home to people all across Breckinridge County, Kentucky, and all across the nation. As she tells all who will listen, her “heart was touched” by the sight of Holt’s boyhood home. For many years, the house had been vacant and had deteriorated badly.
Joseph Holt (1807-1894) was President Abraham Lincoln’s lawyer. President Lincoln chose Holt to be the Judge Advocate General (tJAG) of the Army during the Civil War. Even after the President was assassinated at Ford’s Theater on 14 April 1865, Brigadier General Holt continued to serve as the Army’s top lawyer. In fact, Holt did not retire as tJAG until 1875, which means that he is the longest-serving tJAG in history.1
Holt was born in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, and his family home is still standing. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, it is a magnificent structure. The three-story, brick building is located on State Highway 144, one mile west of Addison, Kentucky, and is situated in a grove of trees on a plain. The western two-thirds of the home date from 1850, but the east wing and trim seem more characteristic of the 1870s. The home has many features of an Italianate villa. The Holt family mansion is unique in that no other tJAG home has been restored and is open to the public.
Thanks to Ms. Dyer’s truly relentless efforts, the Holt mansion is undergoing a complete restoration. The Breckinridge County Fiscal Court purchased the structure in 2008 with funding secured from the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Since that time, Dyer and other restoration project volunteers have secured sixteen grants toward stabilization and restoration of the home for a total of $1.4 million. This amount includes a $150,000 Save America’s Treasures Grant and two $500,000 Transportation Enhancement Grants. The Friends of the Holt House, Inc., is now planning the final stages of the restoration of the interior of the home. For more information on this project, visit www.jholt-houseky.org/Events.
Over the years, many judge advocates have visited the Holt home in Kentucky, and all members of the Regiment are invited to see what Susan Dyer and other volunteers have accomplished. The Corps owes her a debt of gratitude for preserving this important part of our history.2 TAL
1. When first appointed as the Judge Advocate General in 1862, Joseph Holt held the rank of colonel. He was promoted to brigadier general in June 1864 and, some years after the Civil War had ended, was breveted a major general in recognition of his faithful, meritorious and distinguished services during the conflict. The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, The Army Lawyer 50, 53 (1975).
2. Susan B. Dyer, Joseph Holt: Lincoln’s Judge Advocate General, Lecture at the Fifth Annual George S. Prugh Lecture in Military History, in 211 MIL. L. REV. 299, 299-315 (2012).