Horatio Collins King's career as a veteran began the moment he was discharged from the Union Army, and from the beginning it was apparent that King had an agenda of his own to complete. His experiences in the Civil War resulted in his becoming an activist for veterans and their rights, as well as a committment to remembering his fallen comrades. Extremely popular and well respected among his peers, King was quickly able to rise to prominent positions within the various organizations he became involved with, and cemented genuine friendships with powerful people, giving him important connections through which he could complete his agenda. Through various outlets that included politics, public speaking, and writing, King put his efforts following the Civil War into remembering that conflict and helping to rebuild and memorialize a broken nation.
Almost immediately after the end of the war, in 1866, the nation's first veteran's organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was founded in Illinois. Its charter stated that the purpose of the organization was the "defense of the late soldiery of the United States, morally, socially, and politically"37, and it quickly became one of the most politically influential organizations in the United States. In some areas, it became nearly impossible for a man to be elected into public office if he was not a member of the GAR, and between its founding in 1866 and its closing in 1949, five of the nation's elected presidents were members. The organization was also instrumental in instituting Memorial Day and increasing pensions for veterans - which at one point took one-fifth of the national budget.38 Campaigns could be won and lost depending on how the members of the GAR voted, and politicians realized this and were quick to accomodate the veterans in any way that they could.
King was one of the first former Union soldiers to join this organization in 1866, becoming a member of the Charles R. Doane Post, 499, and aiding in the foundation of other posts around the state of New York.39 A member until his death in 1918, the respect that he gained within this organization from his fellow soldiers could not be argued, and everyone looked to King to be the voice of the veteran. His talent for public speaking was valuable, and he was often chosen to speak at GAR functions, political rally's and other events on behalf of the veteran's cause. Many of his speeches were centered around the Civil War, and the need for remembrance of the conflict. King served two terms as Post Commander in New York, refusing a nomination for a third term despite his popularity and the gaurantee of certain win. King later wrote about refusing to continue as Post Commander, saying he felt, "the boys were growing old, and the honors should go around."40 King also served one year as Department Judge Advocate General for the organization.41 King's sincere involvement in the GAR gave him an outlet with which to express his feelings that veterans should be valued by society, and not cast aside. He fought through the GAR for improved rights for veterans of the war.
Aside from his work in the Grand Army of the Republic, King also continued his career as a military man. He was a charter member of the New York Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, and was invited to join the New York National Guard in 1876. He was elected as Major of the Thirteenth Regiment, and was appointed by friend and New York governor Grover Cleveland to the position of Judge Advocate General of the National Gaurd. He became an active member of the Society of the Army of the Potomac which he had fought with in his early years in the war, serving as its Secretary from 1877-1904, and as its President for one year in 1904. In addition to these activities, King was also appointed to the New York Monuments Commission, which he was actively involved with for ten years.42 Through the Monuments Commission, King was able to work on memorializing those of his friends who had not returned from the war. Through this organization, he was instrumental in the construction of the New York State monument that now sits on the field at Gettysburg, and which King himself read the dedication for at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the battle in 1913.43 He acted as the presiding officer over the entire occasion, traveling to Gettysburg to make an address to the survivors of the Civil War that had come to be a part of the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
|When I look over this sea of aged men, I can hardly realize the lapse of time -- fifty years -- when you and I, my comrades, mere stripling boys, stood shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow in the greatest contest for the grandest purpose ever known in all the world...About this hour, half a century ago, the last despairing effort was made to carry Cemetery Ridge. No more splendid valor was shown on any battlefield than that which determined the fate of the Confederacy, and covered both armies with imperishable renown. Looking forward fifty years seems an interminable vista. Looking backward the incidents are as fresh as if they had occurred yesterday.44|
King went on later to introduce the young Governor of New York, William Sulzer, saying then:
|This comparatively young gentleman who sits upon the stage behind me had the misfortune to be born too late to enter into the great struggle celebrated here today..45|
One can infer by this comment..."the misfortune to be born too late to enter into the great struggle"...that King was proud of what he had accomplished in the Civil War, and of what his comrades had fought to accomplish. He was not ashamed of having fought for the cause that he believed in. It is readily apparent that King, under other circumstances, might not have been the type to join the army. He had a successful law practice for himself when the war broke out, and he had just been married. King did not want to fight in the war, rather he felt as though he had to, in order to preserve the Republic. These views were a result of how he had been raised, influenced by the patriotism and love for country that he observed within his father. He saw the Civil War as a task that had to be completed for the safety of the Union and the preservation of the United States, and believed that the surviving veterans, as well as the men who had died, should be properly remembered and taken care of. King had never had much animosity toward the Southern states, and his fight for veterans rights and memorialization included the soldiers on both sides of the conflict. This became the agenda that King worked toward completing during his life after the Civil War.
King's activities within these various highly respected organizations, and the leadership positions that he held allowed him to make connections that aided him in his involvement with politics. Although King had always claimed to be a staunch Democrat, stating at one point that, "where I live there is an awful Republican crowd, and I have often been taken for a Republican, whereas I have never been anything else than a Democrat..."46, it seems as though most times, the issues commanded his vote rather than the party. Especially in his later years, King often supported non-Democratic candidates. South by a Republican Congress during the Reconstruction period. He was of the opinion that although the southern states had indeed instituted a damaging rebellion against the North, they had been punished enough by the horrible consequences of the war, which created political, economic, and social chaos in that area. King advocated a policy of Southern assimilation back into a firm relationship with the Northern states, as it had been previous to the war years.
King became extremely involved in the campaigns for various presidents that he felt strongly about, in both the Democratic and Republican parties. He was at different times an active and quite effective speaker for both parties. New York Governor Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was supported by King in both of his successful quests for the presidency. King traveled around the country, speaking out for Cleveland at various conferences and events and writing articles attesting to his abilities as a politician. There is no question that the support of a man with such respect and admiration as King commanded was a great help in any man's campaign for a public office. King attended Grover Cleveland's inaugural ball in 1885.47 On the other hand, King joined that "awful Republican crowd" in campaigning for former New York governor Theodore Roosevelt on his way to the presidency as well. When Roosevelt did not receive his party's nomination for the presidency in the 1916 election, King conveyed his disappointment in a newspaper interview, stating his belief that Roosevelt was the best candidate for the job that year.48 He once wrote in one of his poems:
So God bless Roosevelt! say we all, And honor crown his name, And may it shine eternally, Upon the walls of fame. Its Comrade Roosevelt now, you know, Whose heart beats firm and true, For us old boys who saved the flag, Our loved Red, White, and Blue.49
King himself toyed with the idea of becoming a politician, and in 1895 ran on the Democratic ticket for the position of Secretary of State of New York. King lost the election, but carried his staunchly Republican town of Brooklyn by over 7,000 votes, demonstrating his popularity there.50 King also left aside both major parties in 1896 to join the Sound Money party as their candidate for Congress, and in 1912 to run under the Progressive Party's ticket for the position of State Controller, but lost both elections.51 King also served ten years on the Brooklyn Board of Education.52 It was said in an article upon his death that,
|the fact that he was never elected to any office or even to the more profitable of our local positions was explained not by any lack of popularity, but by the facility of mind which prevented him from becoming sufficiently identified with either party to make him available as a nominee. The very qualities which went so far toward making him acceptable in all sorts of good company operated to prevent him from becoming the representative of any hard and fast political association...Happily, it made no difference to the General how he was regarded in these respects, for the whole tendency of his character was rather toward the spread of friendly feeling than the gratification of any ambition...53|
Horatio Collins King continued his personal remembrance of the Civil War throughout his writings as well. Whether it was a newspaper account of a battle he was in, or a poem or a song, King wrote about his experiences as a way of therapy for himself and to give all veterans a way to reminisce and remember their service in the Civil War. Some examples of pieces of his poetry and songs follow:
In thought a new born nation rose to sight, with 'stars and bars' unfurled in glorious light, on, on they came, nor faltered in their tread, eac man a hero - giants at their head. We stood amazed at courage so sublime, no braver record on the page of time...and God to freedom gives the victory.54 - "Gettysburg", by Horatio C. King
"And then, alas! the morning roll, along the shortened line -- the voices now that answer not, until a power divine shall rouse them from their shallow trench, to hear the approving Lord, 'These for their God and Country died! And great is their reward.'55 - "Retrospect", given at 50th Anniversary Celebration at Gettysburg, by Horatio C. KingKing used his writing to remember various events during the course of the war, as seen in the pieces above, however he also used his poetry and songs in a poltical way to further influence the nation's support and recognition of the veteran, as seen in the examples below:
|A Nation greets thee, veteran, No harm shall come to thee, For
thou didst bring us glorious peace from hard won victory, And now the Nation's
emblem stands, for sacred liberty.56
- "Come Rest You Weary Veteran", by Horatio C. King
Sometimes I've thought that people now, have clean forgot the men, Who put this great Republic dear square on its feet again. 'Twas noble work we had to do, To march and fight and die; Four hundred thousand gave their lives to save our liberty; We don't regret those weary years; And all we ask is this, That no man will forget the men Who made this nation his.57 - "The Veterans Friend", by Horatio C. King
Furthermore, his poetry was used to make political statements about the plight of the veteran as interest in the soldiers declined with the passing of years since the end of the Civil War. This can be seen in his poem, "The Veteran's Lament".
I wore my medal on my breast,
That Congress gave to me, you know,
When I plunged in that fire of hell
Near fifty years ago:
The General said I saved the day,
For we were near beat out;
The reinforcements turned their flank
And drove them in a rout.
The Government, I've tried that too,
But though it resolutes,
To give the Vet'ran preference,
It does it when it suits,
The district leaders' surly views
That's mighty seldom, for
Its easier to throw us down
With civil service law.
So Mary Ann, just pack our things,
It ain't no use to try;
There's scarce a morsel in the house,
If we stay here we'll die;
Perhaps the Soldiers Home ain't full,
Maybe they'll take us in,
and then good-bye to home and friends,
To country and kin.58
Horatio Collins King was instrumental in aiding the cause of the veteran, and the remembrance of his fallen comrades. He delighted in discussing his efforts and his service in the war, and even after he was partially paralyzed by a stroke in 191459, he gave interviews from his bed until his death in 1918. It was important for him to speak out about his experiences, in hope that the nation would not forget the men who fought in the war. One interviewer of King in 1917 wrote that, "The General was transformed when I referred to the Civil War. It was plainly evident that this is his hobby, as it should be, seeing the part he took in it. His wife had to interpose several times, lest the excitement might over-stimulate him."60 Another reporter commented in an article that King was "every inch the soldier. One accustomed to discrimination in men would never mistake him for anything else; he has the martial profession hall-marked on his personality and his every gesture and tone to proclaim it."61 King became an activist who fought for the rights and remembrance of his fellow soldiers.
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