Americans understood the significance of the Civil War even as it was unfolding and were anxious to record it for posterity. This was the most literate generation of Americans up until this time; during the war they had read newspapers such as the New York Herald and periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News voraciously. They also had written reams of letters to and from the front. Now they turned their attention to the second draft of history. Seemingly every regiment had to publish its official history of where it was and what it did during the War of the Rebellion. McKenzie’s 13th New York published two monographs, its official history and an account of its 1879 trip to Canada in honor of Queen Victoria’s 60th birthday. In the 1880s The Century Magazine published nearly one hundred battlefield accounts written by Union and Confederate officers that proved wildly popular with Northerners and Southerners alike. Inevitably the magazine published a multi volume hardcover edition with expanded content which sold over 75,000 copies. The most successful publishing endeavor was Grant’s Memoirs, published in 1885 by Mark Twain. Justifiably considered a masterpiece of American letters, Grant’s biography captivated Americans and restored the general’s family fortune.
At the time of Grant’s death in 1885 interest in the Civil War was never higher. Tensions between the sections were starting to cool. The war had been over twenty years and the veterans, now in full middle age, were increasingly aware of their own mortality and their place in history. Civil War veterans, especially Union veterans, were an exceptionally powerful block. Organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) were part fraternal club, part political action group protecting veterans’ interests, especially pension benefits. The GAR, however, was not just about camaraderie and securing privileges; its members took their role as defenders of the Union seriously. They were equally serious about preserving that memory for future generations The men of the 13th New York were part of this phenomenon. When the GAR formed in 1866 the men named Camp 399 named themselves the Clarence D. McKenzie Post.
A nondescript grave in a common field, even a common field in one of the country’s most prestigious garden cemeteries, was no place for the individual who had become the human face of the regiment and its sacrifices. Memorialization was an increasing phenomenon. The monuments and memorials that veterans literally built to themselves were quite consciously an attempt to stand in their place after they were gone. Almost immediately after its founding in 1879, the 13th Regiment Veteran Association began raising funds for an appropriate memorial. Commemorating individual soldiers was increasingly common in the late Victorian America. Advertisements for the construction and maintenance of statuary were ubiquitous in regimental histories (including the 13th’s) and in the magazines geared toward veterans and their families. The Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut advertised a generic soldier for $450 in 1880s dollars; for an additional $150 the likeness of the specific individual could be had. The 13th chose the latter option.
On November 25, 1886, a quarter century after Clarence McKenzie was senselessly killed in an Annapolis encampment, a contingent of veterans paraded from the Thirteenth Armory down Flatbush to Green-Wood. As the rain fell heavily John B. Woodward, once an officer in the 13th and now a prominent Brooklynite, gave the oration. Speechmaking was considered a show in the years before electronic entertainment, with audience expecting a combination of entertainment, humor, and moral uplift. Woodward did not disappoint. After, the drape was pulled and the monument to the Little Drummer Boy unveiled.