It is essential, when attempting to understand why Horatio Collins King led his life in the way that he did, to first explore the background of his father, Horatio King, who had an enormous impact on the life of his son. Horatio King was born in Maine on June 21, 1811, and gained national prominence as a politician after moving his family, which included wife Anne Collins and his eldest son, Horatio, to Washington D.C., where he quickly became a successful politician. He rose to prominent positions in the White House quite quickly, becoming the Postmaster General under President James Buchanan for a short period of time in 1861, previous to the outbreak of the Civil War.2 King's father was a Democrat, although he supported the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, himself being of the opinion that the Republic should be saved at all costs. Through his correspondence from 1860-61 with his political contemporaries, published by him in the Century Journal in 1880, it can be inferred that while King was not an abolitionist, he believed in the strength of the Union, and was not going to stand aside while the nation fell apart over the slavery issue.3 He remarked upon his feelings on the issue in a letter to the editor of the Boston Post in October, 1861:
How strange to us, who feel in every pulse and nerve, in our very souls, that we are citizens, not merely of this or that State, but American Citizens! State Sovereignty, as understood and proclaimed by Southern radicals, is a fallacy.4
Due to his position in the government, King's father was in a position to observe many of the events that led to the outbreak of the Civil War as they unfolded. Being very close to both President Buchanan in the years leading to the war, and to President Lincoln, he observed their efforts to avoid a civil war between the North and the South, and aided the helpless men in any way that he could. He attempted to rally Union supporters from the North around a weary Lincoln, who in his first months in office was already exhausted from pressure in the South and from Congress.5 King's father had a particular devotion to the fate of the nation, as his grandfather and three uncles had fought for its freedom from England in the Revolutionary War – one of his uncles being killed that war.6 It was this sense of patriotism that he had instilled in his son throughout his childhood. King's father did not wish to see the nation that he and his ancestors had fought for broken apart, however it appeared that the slavery issue had become too ingrained to solve with compromise by the time Lincoln was elected to office. In the letter written to the Boston Post, King's father wrote:
...nor have I any doubt that these men, who have conspired to destroy the Government, will ere long be brought to [?] punishment. It cannot be otherwise. Unless all history is false, they are certain, sooner or later to meet the traitor's doom...they [the South] finally became so lost to all sense of honor as to plunge the country from the height of prosperity and happiness into a cruel civil war. Who, one year ago, would have believed such a spectacle possible as that which we behold today? -- more than two hundred thousand men in arms against our Government, a Government the most eneficient the world ever saw -- and all this primarily through the influence and combined action of probably less than one hundred individuals!7
Frustrated by the fact that he could not physically fight for the Union, Horatio King looked to his oldest son to carry the views and morals that he had instilled in him to the front, which King did with great honor and success. When young Horatio was born on December 22, 1837 in Portland, Maine, Horatio King and Anne Collins King could not possibly have foreseen the successful future that their son would have as a respected veteran, politician, speaker, and writer.
While he was still quite young, King's parents moved their family to Washington D.C., where he attended the Rittenhouse Academy before entering at the Emory and Henry College Preparatory Department. In 1854, he matriculated at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where his uncle Charles Collins was serving as president. He quickly became popular at the College, as evidenced throughout the fast-paced social life that he discusses in his student diaries. A member of Phi Kappa Sigma and the Union Philosophical Society while on campus, Horatio would later also be awarded Phi Beta Kappa honors when the College established its chapter in the 1880s. He graduated from Dickinson with a bachelor's degree in 1858 and began to study law under the direction of Edwin M. Stanton, a friend of his father's who had been the Attorney General under President Buchanan and would serve as Secretary of War under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. It was Stanton that Horatio would eventually return to, asking for commission into the Union Army when the Civil War broke out. In March of 1861, Horatio moved to New York City and was admitted to the New York State Bar soon after in that same year.8 He practiced law in New York until he could no longer bear to stay away from the fighting, and joined the Union Army the next year. His father, although he feared for the safety of his son, was especially proud of King for having the courage to volunteer, and years later at the close of the war King wrote:
Father gave me a handsome letter accompanied by a [?] bond for $500 -- as a token of his appreciation of the performance of my duty. It was of all things, most gratifying.9
In 1862, with the support of his family, King left his blossoming law practice and returned to his former mentor, Edwin Stanton, now Secretary of War under Lincoln, to ask for a position in a group then forming in New York for service in the Civil War. While the places for this group had all been filled, King was persistant and traveled back to Washington D.C., there securing from Stanton the position of Assistant Quartermaster of Volunteers under General Casey in the famed Army of the Potomac.10 Thus, King commenced his service with the Union Army.
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