Rufus King was born on January 26, 1814 in New York City, the son of the president of Columbia College and the grandson and namesake of a delegate to the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention.
King graduated from Columba College and went on to the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1833. He was appointed to the Engineers.
He resigned from the army in 1836 to become assistant engineer of the New York and Erie Railroad, going on to serve from 1839 to 1843 as adjutant-general of the State of New York. In 1841 he became associate editor of the Albany Evening Journal and the Albany Advertiser. In 1845 he moved to Wisconsin, becoming a partner in and editor of theMilwaukee Sentinel and Gazette. King also was a delegate to the Wisconsin constitutional convention and served as a regent of the University of Wisconsin and Superintendant of Schools in Milwaukee. He also found the time to organize and participate in the first baseball games in Wiscons in 1859.
In 1861 Lincoln appointed King as Minister to the Papal States. He was on his way to Europe when the war broke out, and took a leave of absence to become a brigadier general of Wisconsin militia. On May 17 he was given a commission as brigadier general in the U.S. Volunteers, and went on to raise the first regiments of what later became known the Iron Brigade.
In the spring of 1862 King took command of McDowell’s Division in the advance to Fredericksburg and Pope’s campaign, although King missed Second Bull Run due to an episode of epilepsy. He returned to command the division at South Mountain, but his episodes became more frequent and led to questions about his performance, and he was relieved of command on September 14. He went on to serve in garrison duty at Fortress Monroe and as military governnor of Norfolk, and in December of 1862 served on the court-martial of General Fitz John Porter. He resigned his commission on October 20, 1863, and resumed his interrupted Ministerial post to the Papal States.
In 1867 King returned to New York to serve as deputy comptroller of customs for the Port of New York. His health continued to deteriorate, and in 1869 he retired. He died on October 13,1876 and is buried in Grace Churchyard, Jamaica, New York.
King’s son, Rufus, Jr., also served in the Civil War. He received the Medal of Honor when he took over command of Consolidated Batteries A&C, 4th United States Artillery from his wounded captain at the Battle of White Oak Swamp, and commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery in the Overland Campaign.
King’s son Charles followed his father’s footsteps in graduating from Columbia and the United States Military Academy. Serving under General Crook in a campaign where he became good friends with “Buffalo Bill” Cody, he was badly wounded in 1874 at Sunset Pass, Arizona. The wound eventually forced his retirement from military service, and he went on to became a successful author of over sixty novels as well as screenplays for Cody’s silent movie series on the Indian Wars. While commandant of the Michigan Military Academy, King’s military and literary accomplishments inspired young cadet Edgar Rice Burroughs, who remained a lifelong friend. King returned to the army as a brigadier general in the Spanish-American War and the Phillipines Insurrection, and was active in training recruits in World War I.
Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001
Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964