This coming Saturday – May 28 – will mark the 184th birthday of one of Evergreen’s most colorful residents, William Hugh Means King.
King was born in the town of Madison in Morgan County, Ga. on May 28, 1832. He went on to graduate from Emory University in Druid Hills, Ga. and later graduated first in his class from the University of Georgia (then called the State University of Georgia) in Athens in 1853. Prior to the Civil War, he worked as a lawyer and planter in Columbus, Hamilton and Bainbridge, Ga. and even served as mayor of Bainbridge from 1860 to 1861.
At the beginning of the Civil War, King joined the Confederate Army on May 11, 1861 and served as a captain in Co. H of the 5th Georgia Infantry Regiment, a unit also known as the Hardee Rifles. He served as an aide to General Richard Anderson at Pensacola, Fla. in 1861 and was promoted to the rank of major and brigade quartermaster on April 24, 1862. During this time, he was cited for gallantry at Santa Rosa Island, Fla.
Interestingly, he resigned that position on Nov. 7, 1862 only to be appointed to the position of colonel of cavalry in February 1863 by General Braxton Bragg.
Bragg ordered King to collect unattached cavalry companies and form them into a regiment under King’s command. However, King was unable to form a regiment and went on to serve on General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler’s staff for the rest of the war. He was wounded in action on Feb. 26, 1864.
After the war, King bounced around until he settled in Conecuh County. Not long after the war, he moved to Muscogee County, Ga., then to Tuskegee and finally to Evergreen. Described as a “elegant-looking man, tall and always well dressed,” King wore a number of hats during his time in Evergreen. In addition to working as a lawyer, he also served as the principal of the Evergreen Academy and as Mayor of Evergreen.
He passed away in Evergreen at the age of 82 on June 5, 1914, and news of his death was widely reported. Courant editor George W. Salter Jr. reported in the June 10, 1914 edition of The Courant that King’s funeral was held at King’s family home on Main Street in Evergreen on the afternoon on Sat., June 6. Salter reported that “the obsequies” were performed by members of the local Masonic lodge “of which deceased was a devoted and consistent member.”
Salter also noted that King gave up teaching around 1889, about 25 years before his death, and “thereafter devoted his talents to the practice of law and to literary pursuits for which latter especially he was peculiarly fitted by learning and inclination.”
King was buried in the Old Evergreen Cemetery, and those of you who have been to his grave will know that his grave is marked by an impressive white marker that indicates that he was also a prominent Freemason. His grave marker also bears the inscription, “He never turned his back on friend or foe.”
King appears to have been married twice, once to a Jane Varner and later to an Elizabeth Gordon. Elizabeth Gordon King outlived her husband by eight years, passing away at the age of 84 on Oct. 1922. She is also buried in the Old Evergreen Cemetery. I was unable to find any information about Jane Varner King, but I presume she passed away at some point before King’s marriage to Elizabeth Gordon King.
In the end, if you’re interested in reading more about King, I recommend that you check out “Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register” by Bruce S. Allardice and “Staff Officers in Grey” by Robert E.L. Krick. Also, if anyone out there in the reading audience has any additional information about King’s life, please let me know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.