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Secretary of War, U.S. Senator
Redfield Proctor was born on June 1, 1831, in Proctorsville, Vermont, a town founded by his grandfather. His father, a farmer, died early, and Redfield was raised by his mother. He received his Bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1851, his advanced degree from Dartmouth in 1854, and his law degree from Albany Law School in 1859. Admitted to the bar in 1860, he practiced in Boston until outbreak of the Civil War.
In 1861, Proctor enlisted in the 3rd Vermont Regiment as a Lieutenant and served as quartermaster. He was subsequently promoted to Major in the 5th Vermont Regiment, but contracted tuberculosis and was ordered home in 1862. After a period of rest he returned to command the 15th Vermont Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg, but his regiment remained in reserve and never made it to the battlefield. He was mustered out as a Colonel in 1863.
After leaving the army Proctor returned to Vermont and established a new law practice. In 1869 he was appointed receiver of a small marble company at Sutherland Falls. He proved to be a very able businessman, as he not only saved the company from bankruptcy but also greatly expanded the state's marble industry. He became president of the Vermont Marble Company in 1880.
Proctor's political career began in 1867, when he was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives; he served in that body until 1868. In 1874 he was elected to the Vermont Senate, where he served until 1875. He subsequently served as Lieutenant Governor of Vermont from 1876 to 1878, as Governor of Vermont from 1878 to 1880, and again in the Vermont House of Representatives in 1888.
In 1888, Proctor headed the Vermont delegation to the Republican National Convention, and President Benjamin Harrison subsequently named him Secretary of War. During his tenure in this position, Proctor revised the military justice code, instituted a system of efficiency records and promotion examinations for officers, and established a single record and pension division. He resigned the office in 1891 to take a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Proctor was initially appointed to fill the Senate vacancy caused by the resignation of George F. Edmunds, and was then elected in his own right; he ultimately served from 1891 until his death. While in the Senate, Proctor served as chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, as well as a member of the Committee on Military Affairs. His most memorable moment in the Senate came after he made a personal visit to Cuba to investigate conditions there during the Cuban insurrection. His report to the Senate aroused the country and helped propel the United States into the Spanish-American War.
Senator Redfield Proctor died in his Washington, D.C., home on March 4, 1908, and was interred at City Cemetery, Proctor, Vermont.
This page was last updated on March 03, 2017.