During the final days of the war in Virginia, Maj. Horatio Collins King stepped away from his quartermaster duties to help his comrades on the front lines.
He did not have to put himself in harm’s way. But considering his pedigree, many would have expected nothing less.
A graduate of Dickinson College, his father and namesake had served as President James Buchanan’s postmaster general. Young King studied law under future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and became an attorney in 1861.
He set aside his legal career to fight for the Union. In 1862, King became a captain in the Quartermaster’s Department, and worked without fanfare behind the scenes to supply soldiers.
That changed on March 31, 1865. In the vicinity of Five Forks, Va., Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps scored a success after his troops enveloped two Confederate infantry divisions and another of cavalry. King, the chief quartermaster of Sheridan’s first division, observed the rising tide of battle and left his supply train in the hands of a subordinate. King volunteered his services as an aide to Maj. Gen. Thomas Devin, one of Sheridan’s top lieutenants.
Devin agreed and King rode off into action.
A biographer explained what happened next. “Owing to the wooded character of the country the cavalry fought dismounted. The ground was stubbornly contested until about four p.m., when a report was brought from the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry that the Federal line was driven back. At this time, Major King was the only staff officer remaining with General Devin, commanding the division, and he was requested to hunt up the reserve brigade under General [Alfred] Gibbs and hurry them to the aid of the Second Brigade. The reserve was somewhere on the extreme left of the line, so following the direction of the firing with all possible speed for about three-quarters of a mile, the major found General Gibbs, delivered his orders, and proceeded with him at once to the critical position where the brigade was deployed. They arrived just in time to repel a charge of the Confederate infantry and save the line from serious disaster, Major King accompanying General Gibbs and participating in the charge.”
King survived. “The fighting continued until dark, when, finding that the troops he had were unequal to the task of dislodging the Confederates from their strong works, General Devin withdrew his forces to the neighborhood of Dinwiddie Court House,” added the biographer. King returned to his regular duties the next day.
He received the Medal of Honor for his actions in 1897.
By this time, he had blossomed into a Renaissance man. King practiced law, served as a newspaper publisher, dabbled in politics and music, wrote books and articles, and participated in veteran’s affairs. He lived until 1918. He was survived by his second wife (his first died in 1864) and five daughters.