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King, Josias R. (1832–1916)

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Black and white photograph of Lieutenant Josias King, 1862.

Lieutenant Josias King, 1862.

With the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861, Minnesota became the first state to offer troops to fight the Confederacy. Josias Redgate King is credited with being the first man to volunteer for the Union in the Civil War.

King was born into wealth and died in poverty nearly eighty-four years later. In between, he lived a vigorous life full of adventure and service to his country.

King was born on February 21, 1832, in Washington, D.C. His father was a prominent lawyer with powerful government friends and clients. At fourteen, King went to Florida with a U.S. survey team, returning home in 1849. He entered Georgetown University, intending to go on to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a military career. After hearing news of gold strikes in California, he convinced his father to fund his expedition to the gold fields.

King supported himself prospecting but never found his “big strike.” He eventually joined a U.S. government survey party and helped hunt for the infamous California bandit “Joaquin” (likely Joaquin Murrieta).

Back home at the end of 1856, King was as restless as ever. His father secured him a position with the Surveyor General of Minnesota Territory. Arriving in St. Paul on April 19, 1857, he joined the local militia unit, the Pioneer Guards, and became friends with fellow “PG” member James J. Hill.

On Saturday, April 14, 1861, Fort Sumter fell to Confederate forces while Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey was in Washington. Ramsey was the first governor to offer troops to the U.S. government to suppress the rebellion. His telegraphed message back to Minnesota brought the Pioneer Guard to their St. Paul armory on the evening of Monday, April 15. King was the first to step forward and sign his name.

Thereafter, King was hailed as the first man to volunteer for the Union cause. Though some later claimed that the distinction actually belonged to Aaron Greenwald, a volunteer who purportedly signed his name in Anoka that morning, extant documents do not support that contention.

The state’s militia units, and new recruits, made up the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, which served its three-year enlistment in the Army of the Potomac. King served in all of the First’s engagements through July 1862, when he took on the rank of regimental adjutant.

The regiment’s colonel, Alfred Sully, was promoted to brigadier general in September 1862 and later requested King as his aide-de-camp. In May 1863, Sully was posted to the Northwest to lead punitive campaigns against the Dakota after the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862. King served in Sully’s 1863 campaign into Dakota Territory and returned to the First Minnesota in mid-September 1863.

The regiment suffered severe losses in July’s Battle of Gettysburg, and because of King’s proven leadership abilities, he was made First Lieutenant of Company A and a month later promoted to captain of Company G. He was mustered out with the rest of the regiment in early May 1864.

On Sully’s recommendation, King was commissioned lieutenant colonel in the short-lived Second Regiment, U.S. Infantry Volunteers, serving in Kansas. He went on to serve in the Second U.S. Infantry—a regular federal unit—in Kentucky. Posted to Atlanta in 1868, King resigned his commission in 1870 because of his wife’s ill health. The couple returned to the cooler climate of St. Paul, where he worked as a surveyor and then for an insurance company.

In 1885, King was appointed Inspector General of the Minnesota National Guard with the rank of brigadier general. He made significant reforms in the Guard and was thereafter referred to as the “Father of the Minnesota Guard.”

Given his “first man to enlist” credentials, King was asked to pose for the face of the bronze soldier atop the Civil War monument in St. Paul’s Summit Park, which was dedicated on November 20, 1903.

King worked into his eighties to supplement his small military pension. He received periodic financial help from his friends, including James J. Hill.

A 1915 streetcar accident left King bedridden for nearly a year, and he died of a heart attack on February 10, 1916. His funeral was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Archbishop John Ireland delivered the eulogy and James J. Hill served as honorary pallbearer.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Broden, Holly. “First Union Volunteer Soldier: A Matter of Hours.” History Center News: Newsletter of the Anoka County Historical Society 40, no. 3 (May–June 2010): 1, 5.

Hill, Patrick M. “‘I’m Going to Stick to Uncle Sam:’ The Mysterious Tale of the First Volunteer.” Ramsey County History 50, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 18–27.

Holcombe, Return I. History of the First Regiment Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, 1861–1864. Stillwater, MN: Easton & Masterson, 1916.

Jorgenson, Wayne D. Every Man Did His Duty: Pictures and Stories of the Men of the First Minnesota. Minneapolis: Tasora Books, 2012.

M582
Biographical data on Josias Redgate King, 1863–1916
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001717562
Description: Biographical sketches of King; letters and notes from King pertaining to the Sully expeditions against the Sioux; muster rolls; promotions, discharge papers, etc.; fourteen newspaper clippings of biographical information and obituaries.

Stumm, Robert J. “Josias King, First Volunteer for the Union.” Ramsey County History 27, no. 4 (Winter 1992–1993): 18–19.

Sully, Langdon. No Tears for the General: The Life of Alfred Sully, 1821–1879. Palo Alto, CA: American West Publishing, 1974.

Wendel, Vickie. “First of the First.” Civil War Times Illustrated, August 1996.

Winkel, Max. “Forgotten Pioneers...XII.” Ramsey County History 9, no. 1 (Spring 1972): 15–16.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Lieutenant Josias King, 1862.
Black and white photograph of Lieutenant Josias King, 1862.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, c.1850.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, c.1850.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, 1858.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, 1858.
Black and white photograph of Josias and Louisa King, c.1858.
Black and white photograph of Josias and Louisa King, c.1858.
Black and white photograph of the Old Pioneer Guard, 1859.
Black and white photograph of the Old Pioneer Guard, 1859.
Black and white photograph of General Alfred H. Sully (center) with (L to R) John H. Pell, Andrew J. Levering, and Josias R. King, c. 1862.
Black and white photograph of General Alfred H. Sully (center) with (L to R) John H. Pell, Andrew J. Levering, and Josias R. King, c. 1862.
Black and white photograph of the adjutant of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment Josias King, c.1863
Black and white photograph of the adjutant of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment Josias King, c.1863
Black and white photograph of Captain Josias King, c.1864.
Black and white photograph of Captain Josias King, c.1864.
Black and white photograph of Josias King standing in front of a bronze statue patterned after his likeness, 1903.
Black and white photograph of Josias King standing in front of a bronze statue patterned after his likeness, 1903.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of Josias King, c.1900.
Color image of a Colt Model 1862 police revolver owned by Josias R. King.
Color image of a Colt Model 1862 police revolver owned by Josias R. King.
Color image of a Grand Army of the Republic medal owned by Josias R. King.
Color image of a Grand Army of the Republic medal owned by Josias R. King.

Turning Point

On April 15, 1861, Josias R. King steps forward to volunteer for the Union cause two days after the fall of Fort Sumter. He becomes known as the first man to volunteer to put down the Southern rebellion in the Civil War.

Chronology

1832

King is born in Washington, D.C.

1861

Fort Sumter is captured by forces of the new Confederate States of America. Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey is the first to offer troops to suppress the rebellion. In St. Paul, King volunteers to fight for the Union.

1862

King is promoted to the rank of regimental adjutant.

1863

Colonel Alfred Sully of the First Minnesota is promoted to brigadier general and appoints King as his aide-de-camp. King participates in Sully’s punitive campaigns against the Dakota in Dakota Territory.

1864

King musters out with the First Minnesota regiment at Fort Snelling on May 5.

1865

King begins five years of service as an officer in a volunteer regiment and in a regular U.S. Army regiment. He is later posted to forts and other military facilities in Kansas, Kentucky, and Atlanta, Georgia.

1870

King resigns his commission and returns with his wife to St. Paul. He finds work as a surveyor and also works a desk job with an insurance company.

1885

King is appointed inspector general of the Minnesota National Guard by Governor Lucius Hubbard. Given the rank of brigadier general, King makes key improvements to the Guard and is thereafter known as “Father of the Minnesota Guard."

1915

King is involved in a streetcar accident on March 8 that leaves him bedridden for nearly a year.

1916

King dies of a heart attack on February 10. His funeral is held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, with Archbishop John Ireland delivering the eulogy and James J. Hill as an honorary pallbearer.