Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Redfield Proctor (1889–1891): Secretary of War

Redfield Proctor was born in 1831 in Proctorsville, Vermont. He earned a B.A. in 1851 and a master’s in 1854, both from Dartmouth College, and a law degree from the Albany Law School in 1859 -- the same year he was admitted to both the Vermont and New York state bars.

Though Proctor began a law practice in Boston, he returned to Vermont upon the outbreak of the Civil War and joined the Third Vermont Regiment as a lieutenant. He was ultimately promoted to colonel in command of the Fifteenth Vermont Volunteers but contracted tuberculosis along the way. Though Proctor was sent home, he returned to the field of battle and fought for the remainder of the conflict as a sick man.

When the war ended, Proctor returned to Vermont and the practice of law. In 1866, he entered politics as a Republican, serving as city selectman, state legislator and senator, and then as lieutenant governor from 1876 to 1878. He ran for governor of Vermont in 1878 and served one two-year term before returning to his law practice in 1881.

Proctor backed Benjamin Harrison in the presidential election of 1888. When Harrison was elected, he rewarded Proctor by giving him the war portfolio. Proctor served as secretary of war from 1889 to 1891, resigning his cabinet post to become a member of the U.S. Senate. Redfield Proctor served in the Senate until his death in 1908.