"My Soldier Husband"
The Life and Death of Orderly Sergeant Baxter H. King by Elias Stewart, Graduate Student
Despite being a lesser-known engagement, the Battle of Lynchburg acts as a unique tapestry in which an array of notable people from across the East Coast convened in a seemingly insignificant town to fight in the Civil War. Many of these individuals went on to do prominent work after the war while others left a lasting impact before their deaths on the battlefield. This post will document a New England soldier, Baxter H. King.
Baxter, also sometimes called Harry, was born on November 17, 1839 in Athol, Massachusetts to parents Isaac and Polly King. At the age of 22, when he enrolled in the Union Army, he lived in the town of Barre, only miles from where he was born. Baxter served as a teacher and was noted as having a dark complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, and was five feet, six and a half inches tall. In the time between his enrollment on July 4 1862 and officially mustering in on July 31st, King married Lucy Freelove Stone on July 9th. They would have a little over a month together before his service began on August 15, 1862 when his unit, Company E of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry, left for Washington D.C.
Like many Union regiments, King and the 34th campaigned throughout Virginia and West Virginia. As his muster roll indicates, King was preset in every engagement of his infantry until his death in 1864. It is also noted that he received a promotion from 2nd Sergeant to 1st Sergeant while on duty in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, West Virginia during the months of September and October of 1863; speculatively due to a death or vacancy in that position, favor from superiors, or being voted up by his peers. Another personal account of King is from a journal entry of the Infantry’s Colonel, William S. Lincoln, who mentions King as having lost his voice while at camp in Martinsburg, West Virginia in April 15, 1864, saying that “Sergeant King, most unexpectedly and unaccountably recovered his voice today; returning to him as suddenly as it was lost, it caused him no little surprise.” Soon after, King and his company joined with Union forces led by Major General David Hunter in June and marched south through Virginia with orders to capture the city of Lynchburg, an operation that would be known as Hunter’s Raid.
Approaching Lynchburg’s city limits around 2 p.m. on June 17th, Colonel Lincoln recorded that the 34th Infantry “had a good deal of skirmishes all day, and, when within about four miles of Lynchburg, found the enemy in strong force.” However, before the night was up, Lincoln described how his troops succeeded in pushing back the enemy line, leaving both forces to be within a few hundred yards from each other. The following day led to a massive engagement in which the Union forces attempted to break through the enemy defenses. As a letter written by Major, Alonzo Pratt of the 34th Infantry recounted: “Before the desperate onset of the enemy, our lines seemed at first to recoil. After swaying back and forth, our entire line finally made a charge, and drove the enemy into and over their first line of work. For a moment, the stars and stripes bore by the color bearer of the 116th Ohio, were seen waving from the enemy’s breastworks; but the word was given to withdraw, and soon our troops occupied nearly their former lines.” Of those that joined this particular charge alongside of Baxter King was Captain Edwin Keyes of the 116th Ohio Infantry from our previous blogpost. Similar to Keyes, Baxter was also shot during this affair, and passed away on the field. As his muster roll explains, he was buried where he fell.
King’s body remained in Lynchburg until his was reinterred at the Glen Valley Cemetery in Barre, Massachusetts. Along with his grave, King is also immortalized in a monument for the 34th Infantry at the Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia. Written on the base of the monument is the inscription “Erected by Comrades. To those who fell in the Valley.”
Camp of 34th Massachusetts Infantry near Fort Lyon Virginia. 1861. Web. 20 Oct 2020. <https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/st74f108c>.
· Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 29 October 2020), memorial page for Harry Baxter King (17 Nov 1839–18 Jun 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 40678866, citing Glen Valley Cemetery, Barre, Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Douglas King (contributor 46620724) .
· Hawks, S. (n.d.). 34th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20170422122048/http://www.shenandoah.stonesentinels.com/Winchester_National_Cemetery/Massachusetts34.php
· Lincoln, W. S. (1991). Life with the Thirty-Fourth Mass. Infantry in the war of the rebellion. Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America.