William McKinley: An Infallible War Hero

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TnFed

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Is there anywhere on this board to make a thread on the POTUS administrations?
You know in an earlier post you make a good point. I am a reader of books, always have been. But a writer ..no...I wish that I was. Now it's real easy to copy and paste off the internet. But typing references while holding a book and turing pages can be time consuming. An old gezzzer like me didn't take typing in High School...sure, I can look and peck...But I wish I could do that over, that and a lot of other things.
Regards, TnFed.
 

Potomac Pride

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AND, he has my very favorite monument on any battlefield for heroically serving hot coffee under fire without orders. :smile:

I live in Columbus, Ohio. There's a large monument to him that was done after his assassination right in front of the State House. Visit his tomb in Canton some time--it's every bit as impressive as Grant's. He was held in enormous esteem and was immensely popular as president. All of that does overshadow his Civil War service.

That said, he was indeed an extremely capable and competent fellow. When I get home tonight, I will try to remember to post a piece that I wrote about McKinley's participation in the 1862 Maryland Campaign. It's no wonder that Rutherford B. Hayes was so fond of the young man.
I have visited McKinley's Memorial which is located in a scenic park in Canton OH. It is very impressive and is adjacent to his Presidential Library and Museum which is also very interesting. He had a distinguished military career during the Civil War where he served more than just coffee as one poster tried to insinuate.
 

lurid

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You know in an earlier post you make a good point. I am a reader of books, always have been. But a writer ..no...I wish that I was. Now it's real easy to copy and paste off the internet. But typing references while holding a book and turing pages can be time consuming. An old gezzzer like me didn't take typing in High School...sure, I can look and peck...But I wish I could do that over, that and a lot of other things.
Regards, TnFed.
I don't have the time nor do I feel it's necessary to type in bibliography notes on an internet site. This is not academia, and I'm not a student trying to argue on the behalf of McKinley. Members either believe McKinley was an excellent soldier or they don't.
 
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lurid

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I have visited McKinley's Memorial which is located in a scenic park in Canton OH. It is very impressive and is adjacent to his Presidential Library and Museum which is also very interesting. He had a distinguished military career during the Civil War where he served more than just coffee as one poster tried to insinuate.
To my dismay, I'm from Western Pennsylvania and never visited Canton, Ohio. I think I'll plan a trip to peruse McKinley's memorials and then hit the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 

TnFed

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I don't have the time nor do I feel it's necessary to type in bibliography notes on an internet site. This is not academia, and I'm not a student trying to argue on the behalf of McKinley. Members either believe McKinley was an excellent soldier or they don't.
Completely agree.
 
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Eric Wittenberg

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As promised:

COMMISSARY SERGEANT WILLIAM McKINLEY:
HONORED AT ANTIETAM FOR HIS COURAGE UNDER FIRE

The second future President of the United States to serve in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and in the 1862 Maryland Campaign was Commissary Sergeant William McKinley. McKinley’s valor in the Maryland Campaign was a completely type of valor than that of Rutherford B. Hayes, but it has nonetheless been commemorated with the erection of a large, handsome monument near the Burnside’s Bridge sector of the Antietam battlefield.

William McKinley, Jr. was born in Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. He was the seventh of nine children of William and Nancy Allison McKinley. His Scotch-Irish ancestors settled in Pennsylvania and fought against the British in the American Revolution. His grandfather, James McKinley, took a job as the manager of a charcoal furnace in Ohio. His son, William McKinley, Sr., followed his father’s footsteps into the iron manufacturing industry, and operating several iron furnace facilities in the Mahoning Valley “He was a stubborn, vigorous, industrious man, but his labors provided little more than the necessities for his large family,” noted his son’s biographer, Margaret Leech, “and his means were severely straitened in the hard times of the Buchanan administration.”[1]

Young William spent the first nine years of his life in Niles, tending to the family’s cows and attending school. In 1852, the family relocated about 20 miles and settled in the town of Poland, near Youngstown, where there was a high school for the McKinley children to attend, meaning that the boy’s father was often absent, tending to the family’s business. William enrolled in Poland Academy, where he took a special interest in mathematics, poetry, Greek and Latin. He also joined a literary society. “It was seldom that his head was not in a book,” remembered a childhood friend.[2]

Young William was destined for college—he was a diligent, earnest student who excelled at public speaking and in lively debates. “He was serious and rather delicate, and he seems never to have taken much interest in sports or games,” wrote Leech. “He was extremely fond of the company of his mother and three older sisters. His environment was narrow and plain, but William grew up with the sunny optimism of temperament and the capacity for warm affection that came from a secure and happy childhood.” He was also deeply religious, and became a devout member of the Methodist Church. Everyone assumed that he would heed the calling and become a minister; his mother’s dearest hope was that he would become a bishop.[3]

He graduated from Poland Academy at seventeen in 1860, and enrolled at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he began studying to join the ministry. However, the young man fell ill at the end of his first semester and returned home to Poland to recuperate. Before he was well enough to return to school, William Sr. encountered severe financial hardship and lost the family business. Instead of returning to Allegheny College in 1861, William went to work, teaching school and clerking in the local post office in order to earn sufficient funds to resume his path to the ministry.[4]

After South Carolina seceded and its troops fired upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, young William attended a patriotic rally, wherein many of the attendees stepped forward to enlist. William and his cousin, William McKinley Osborne, both decided to enlist after much discussion. “I came to a deliberate conclusion,” said McKinley, “and have never been sorry for it.”[5]Although greatly distressed at the prospect of losing her son to war, William’s mother accepted the decision, and the two cousins traveled to the large training facility located in Columbus, where they mustered into the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was the first three-year regiment raised. They enlisted for three years or the duration of the war. Only 18, McKinley was one of the youngest members of the regiment. The slight young man stood 5’6” and weighed only 125 pounds and looked much younger than he actually was. However, appearances are deceiving, as sterner stuff lay within the boy. William served four years, while his cousin fell ill and was discharged for disability.

McKinley’s own words demonstrate the power of his patriotism and explain why he felt so strongly about enlisting. “I volunteered to serve my country in this her perilous hour from a sense of duty,” William wrote in a letter to his sister. “I felt it was obligatory upon me, as a young man a citizen of this highly favored land, to step forward at the call of my country, and assist if possible in suppressing rebellion and putting down secession, what do you think of it?” He concluded, “I know you will say I did a noble act.”[6]

The earnest young man caught the eye of Maj. Rutherford B. Hayes, who took McKinley under his wing. In letters home, Hayes praised the young man’s courage and described him as a “handsome bright, gallant boy.”[7]Hayes marked the young man for promotion.

During the 1861 and early 1862 campaigns in western Virginia, McKinley was assigned to work as a clerk in the quartermaster’s office, a duty that he did not particularly enjoy. However, the intelligent young man pitched himself into his task with all of his considerable talents simply because it was his nature to do so. When the commissary sergeant fell ill, McKinley assumed that important duty. On April 15, 1862, McKinley was promoted to commissary sergeant of the 23rd Ohio. His job—an important one—was to ensure that there was adequate food for the men of the regiment, a task that quickly drew the respect of the men of the regiment.

McKinley participated in the Kanawha Division’s campaigns of 1862, and in August, made the long march to join the Army of Virginia operating, which was about to face its fate in the Second Battle of Bull Run. The 23rd did not arrive in time to participate in that sanguinary fight, but, as pointed out above, it played a major role in the important victory at South Mountain on September 14, 1862, a victory that McKinley described as one “achieved at great cost” but nevertheless, “a splendid victory.”[8]Young William played no real role in the victory, but he greatly lamented the severe wounding of his mentor, Hayes. William’s moment of glory was about to come on the banks of Antietam Creek.

The Battle of Antietam raged on the morning of September 17, 1862. As the guns boomed in and around the East Woods and the Cornfield, General Jacob D. Cox received orders to commit the Kanawha Division to the fighting near the handsome stone bridge over Antietam Creek that would forever bear the name of Burnside’s Bridge. Once in position and with sufficient ammunition on hand, the Kanawha Division attacked that afternoon. By 2:00, the men of the 23rd Ohio had not yet joined the fighting, and its men were tired and hungry. McKinley recognized their plight, and, on his own initiative and without orders to do so, rode two miles back to the wagon train, and put all available hands to work preparing food for the beleaguered soldiers of the 23rd.

When the food was ready, McKinley loaded it all into a wagon and then asked for a volunteer to help him take the food to the front. John A. Harvey of Company I of the 23rd responded to the call for a volunteer. He described their ordeal:

We started by the way of a by road through a heavy piece of woods. After driving along the road for some distance from the camp, we met an army officer with his staff and he told (then Sergeant) McKinley that he must not try to go to the Regiment as it would be impossible to run the blockade, as the Rebel forces had command of an open strip in the woods. The road being so narrow that we could not turn around Sergeant McKinley thought we had better try to go on a little farther. Before we came to the open space in the woods, and close to the brow of the hill, we met another Commanding Officer who ordered us to immediately turn back. We stopped and considered the matter and the Officer and his bodyguard went in the opposite direction. This left Sergeant McKinley to decide what was best to do. The Regiment was almost in sight of us and Sergeant McKinley was so anxious to carry out his point and give the half-starved boys something to eat. He made one more appeal to me to run the blockade; he himself risking his life in taking the lead, I following and the horses going at full speed past the blockade. We had the back end of the wagon shot away by a small cannon shot. In a very few minutes we were safe in the midst of that half-famished regiment.[9]

The men of the 23rd heard the clatter of McKinley’s approach from the rear “at breakneck speed, through a terrific fire of musketry and artillery that seemed to threaten annihilation to everything in range.”[10]The wagon screeched to a halt, and McKinley reported to Major Comly, who was in temporary command of the regiment after Hayes’ wound three days earlier. Colonel Scammon, the brigade commander, heard the cheering of the men of the 23rd and sent one of his staff officers, Lt. James Botford, to see what all of the commotion was about.

Botford left this account of what he found when he rode back to investigate:

At the battle of Antietam, McKinley was commissary sergeant of the Twenty-third Regiment, O.V.I., and his duty was, of course, with the commissary supplies, which were at least two miles from the battlefield proper.

As you no doubt are aware, in all battles, whether large or small, there are numerous stragglers who easily find their way back to where the commissary supplies are. This was the case at Antietam, and McKinley conceived and put into execution the idea of using some of these stragglers to make coffee and carry it to the boys in front. It was nearly dark when we heard tremendous cheering from the left of our regiment. As we had been having heavy fighting right up to this time, our division commander, General Scammon, sent me to find out the cause, which I very soon found to be cheers for McKinley and his hot coffee. You can readily imagine the rousing welcome he received from both officers and men.

When you consider the fact of his leaving his post of security, driving right into the middle of a bloody battle with a team of mules, it needs no words of mine to show the character and determination of McKinley, a boy at this time about twenty years of age. McKinley loaded up two wagons with supplies, but the mules of one wagon were disabled. He was ordered back time and again, but he pushed right on.[11]

“God bless the lad,” declared a badly wounded soldier of the 23rd Ohio.[12]While bringing food and coffee to soldiers does not seem like a particularly noteworthy thing in the big scheme of the carnage of the Battle of Antietam, it took a great deal of courage for McKinley to do what he did, and his conspicuous gallantry did not go unnoticed.

After the battle, Hayes learned of his young protégé’s heroic deed from Major Comly, who wrote that McKinley “showed ability and energy of the first class, in not only keeping us fully supplied with rations throughout the fight, but in having them fully prepared for eating, also. We had plenty when every body else was short. He delivered them to us under fire, in two instances, with perfect method and coolness…I feel greatly indebted to McKinley. No promotion could be made which would give more general satisfaction.”[13]The news did not surprise Lieutenant Colonel Hayes, who expected great things from his young protégé. He told another officer to “keep your eye on that young man. There is something in him.”[14]

Hayes later penned the following:

[The Battle of Antietam] began at daylight. Before daylight men were in the ranks and preparing for it. Without breakfast, without coffee, they went into the fight, and it continued until after the sun had set. Early in the afternoon, naturally enough, with the exertion required of the men, they were famished and thirsty, and to some extent broken in spirit. The commissary department of that brigade was under Sergeant McKinley’s administration and personal supervision. From his hands every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats, a thing that had never occurred under similar circumstances in any other army in the world. He passed under fire and delivered, with his own hands, these things, so essential for the men for whom he was laboring.

Coming to Ohio and recovering from wounds, I called upon Governor Tod and told him this incident. With the emphasis that distinguished that great war governor, he said, “Let McKinley be promoted from sergeant to lieutenant,” and that I might not forget, he requested me to put it upon the roster of the regiment, which I did, and McKinley was promoted.[15]

Thus, the twenty-year-old William McKinley received the promotion to second lieutenant requested by Major Comly.

Years later, not long after he was elected President, some of McKinley’s old comrades from the 23rd Ohio nominated him for a Medal of Honor for his valor that day. They appealed to President Grover Cleveland to honor McKinley, and Army chief of staff Nelson Miles approved the issuance of the Medal. However, the modest McKinley wanted no part of such a thing, and requested that nothing further be done. The matter was dropped at the President-elect’s request.[16]

McKinley was promoted to first lieutenant and became regimental quartermaster. He was “esteemed and respected by all his comrades and was recognized as a young man in whom could be placed implicit confidence.”[17]Another soldier of the 23rd remembered,

He was a model officer, and a good fellow to boot. To be sure, there was a certain reserve about him, so that one couldn’t get too familiar, but he was never harsh, and he never swore at us as some officers did. He never seemed to care for rough stories, and I don’t think he ever told such a story in his life, even though he would occasionally make a good-natured joke. He was a great fellow to read and to watch how matters were going in camp, and he kept his uniform and equipments as clean as the cleanest.[18]

McKinley received a promotion to first lieutenant in February 1864, and became the special favorite of the new regimental commander, Rutherford B. Hayes.

McKinley was promoted to first lieutenant in February 1864, serving on Hayes’ staff. For his valiant service, he was promoted to captain on July 25, 1864. When George Crook was promoted to brevet major general, he requested that McKinley be transferred to his staff to serve as adjutant. McKinley served on Crook’s staff at the Third Battle of Winchester and at the October 19, 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek. On March 14, 1865, he was brevetted major of volunteers for his meritorious service, and mustered out with the rest of the 23rd Ohio on July 26, 1865. He was now 22 years old and in robust good health, no longer the sickly lad who had to drop out of college just five years earlier.[19]

His military successfully ended, McKinley returned home to Poland, where he took up the study of law. He attended law school in Albany, New York, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in Warren in March 1867. Taking the advice of an older sister, who was a schoolteacher in Canton, McKinley relocated there and opened a law office there. Canton became his permanent home. He soon became active in local Republican Party politics, campaigning for Negro suffrage in 1867, and for Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential campaign in 1868. He was also active in veterans’ activities, joining the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, an organization for men who had served as officers during the late Civil War. He also remained a dedicated member of the Methodist Church.
In 1875, he actively took up the cause of his old mentor, Rutherford B. Hayes, who was the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. In 1876, McKinley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he joined Hayes, who was now serving as President of the United States. McKinley served in Congress until 1891, gaining national prominence as the author of the McKinley Tariff and as a leader in the Republican National Committee.

In 1891, McKinley was elected governor of Ohio for a two-year term. He was re-elected in 1893. When he left office in 1895, he set his sights on the White House. 1896 was a presidential election year, and McKinley became the logical choice to become the Republican nominee. The Ohioan had no enemies in the party, and he was available. When the party held its convention in St. Louis in June 1896, McKinley was nominated for the Presidency on the first ballot by 661.5 votes out of a total of 906 votes case. That November, he was elected President by a popular vote of 7,107,779 to 6,502,925 for his opponent, William Jennings Bryan. McKinley carried the electoral vote by 271 to 176.

McKinley led the country through a war with Spain in 1898 that added Puerto Rico to the United States, and that added the Philippines and Cuba as protectorates, and ordered U.S. troops to participate in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in China, helping to expand American influence and power to Asia. He was known for his “gunboat diplomacy” and for his protectionist approach to international trade.
When he ran for reelection 1890, McKinley selected an energetic young man named Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate. The McKinley/Roosevelt ticket won the election, with McKinley again defeating Bryan for the White House. Bryan carried only four states in the Deep South and lost his native Nebraska to the enormously popular McKinley.[20]

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czoglosz shot McKinley twice in the abdomen from point blank range at an event in Buffalo, New York. McKinley seemed to be recovering nicely from his wounds, but his doctors did not know that gangrene was attacking his stomach walls, and that there was no way for him to survive. On September 14. 1901, nearly 40 years after his bravery at Antietam, he died of his wounds. His last words were "It is God's way, His will be done, not ours." McKinley was the third President of the United States to be assassinated since 1865. After a state funeral, his body was taken home to Canton, where he rests in a large, ornate tomb befitting a martyred President.[21]

“McKinley was a major actor in some of the most important events in American history. His decisions shaped future policies and public attitudes. He usually rises in the estimation of scholars who study his life in detail,” observed McKinley biographer H. Wayne Morgan. “Even those who disagree with his policies and decisions see him as an active, responsible, informed participant in charge of decision making. His dignified demeanor and subtle operations keep him somewhat remote from public perception. But he is once again at the center of events, where he started.”[22]He is often criticized for being an imperialist, but he was an influential and enormously popular President.

On October 13, 1903, almost a month after the second anniversary of McKinley’s assassination, the State of Ohio honored its native son with a handsome monument on the Antietam battlefield, the site of his courageous actions that day. “The McKinley monument is declared to be, by those who have seen it, one of the finest monuments ever erected on any battlefield,” declared the report of the Ohio Battlefield Commission that placed the monument on the battlefield. It stands 33 feet, 6 inches high, and 8 feet, 9 inches square at the base. A column 12 feet, 2 inches tall, of Doric architecture, stands upon the stone base. A granite eagle atop a ball crowns the monument. The die was cut from a single block granite 5 feet square, 7 feet, 9 inches high. An allegorical figure representing the people’s devotion to the martyred dead of the war, with one hand clasping an American flag and the other holding a palm branch over two bronze busts of McKinley, representing him as a boy soldier and as the President of the United States. Beneath this is a bronze historical scene, showing Commissary Sergeant McKinley serving coffee to his comrades upon the firing line. J. B. King, a famous Scottish sculptor, created the handsome monument.[23]

This monument not only pays tribute to the courage of the young commissary sergeant under heavy fire that horrible day, it also stands as a silent demonstration of the enormous popularity of the martyred President, assassinated during the first of his second term in office. The placement of this large monument speaks volumes for the esteem in which McKinley was held by his comrades and countrymen, and for that reason it is worth visiting.

The 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry is the only military unit in the history of the United States to boast two future Presidents among its ranks. Each left his mark on the 1862 Maryland Campaign in his own unique fashion, and both are worthy of being remembered as such.



[1]Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley(Newtown, CT: American Political Biography Press, 1999), 4.
[2]Henry B. Russell, The Lives of William McKinley and Garrett A. Hobart(Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Co., 1896), 57.
[3]Leech, In the Days of McKinley, 5.
[4]Ibid., 5-6.
[5]William H. Armstrong, Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War(Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), 3.
[6]Ibid., 11.
[7]Williams, Diaries and Letters, 2:374 and 534.
[8]Murat Halstead, The Illustrious Life of William McKinley Our Martyred President(Murat Halstead, 1901), 116.
[9]John A. Harvey to C. B. Lower, January 18, 1897, M 670, CB 65, RG 94, NARA.
[10]Russell Hastings to William McKinley, December 23, 1896, M 670, CB 65, RG 94, NARA.
[11]Cunningham and Miller, Report of the Ohio Antietam Battlefield Commission, 26.
[12]Amrstrong, Major McKinley, 38-40.
[13]James M. Comly to Rutherford B. Hayes, October 5, 1862, Rutherford B. Hayes Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio (emphasis in original).
[14]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 40.
[15]Robert P. Porter and James Boyle, Life of William McKinley, President of the United States (Cleveland, OH: N. G. Hamilton Publishing Co., 1897), 76-79.
[16]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 41.
[17]Canton Weekly Repository, July 2, 1891.
[18]Edward Stratemeyer, American Boys’ Life of William McKinley(Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1901), 59-61.
[19]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 43-106. A detailed discussion of the rest of McKinley’s military career strays far beyond the scope of this narrative. See Armstrong’s fine study of McKinley’s military career for that detailed discussion.
[20]For a detailed and insightful discussion of McKinley’s political career, see In the Days of McKinleyby Margaret Leech, who specialized in political biography.
[21]For a fascinating study of the assassination of William McKinley by a dedicated anarchist, see Scott Miller, The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century(New York: Random House, 2011).
[22]Wayne H. Morgan, William McKinley and His America(Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2003), 473.
[23]Cunningham and Miller, Report of the Ohio Antietam Battlefield Commission, 27.
 
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lurid

Corporal
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COMMISSARY SERGEANT WILLIAM McKINLEY:
HONORED AT ANTIETAM FOR HIS COURAGE UNDER FIRE

The second future President of the United States to serve in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and in the 1862 Maryland Campaign was Commissary Sergeant William McKinley. McKinley’s valor in the Maryland Campaign was a completely type of valor than that of Rutherford B. Hayes, but it has nonetheless been commemorated with the erection of a large, handsome monument near the Burnside’s Bridge sector of the Antietam battlefield.

William McKinley, Jr. was born in Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. He was the seventh of nine children of William and Nancy Allison McKinley. His Scotch-Irish ancestors settled in Pennsylvania and fought against the British in the American Revolution. His grandfather, James McKinley, took a job as the manager of a charcoal furnace in Ohio. His son, William McKinley, Sr., followed his father’s footsteps into the iron manufacturing industry, and operating several iron furnace facilities in the Mahoning Valley “He was a stubborn, vigorous, industrious man, but his labors provided little more than the necessities for his large family,” noted his son’s biographer, Margaret Leech, “and his means were severely straitened in the hard times of the Buchanan administration.”[1]

Young William spent the first nine years of his life in Niles, tending to the family’s cows and attending school. In 1852, the family relocated about 20 miles and settled in the town of Poland, near Youngstown, where there was a high school for the McKinley children to attend, meaning that the boy’s father was often absent, tending to the family’s business. William enrolled in Poland Academy, where he took a special interest in mathematics, poetry, Greek and Latin. He also joined a literary society. “It was seldom that his head was not in a book,” remembered a childhood friend.[2]

Young William was destined for college—he was a diligent, earnest student who excelled at public speaking and in lively debates. “He was serious and rather delicate, and he seems never to have taken much interest in sports or games,” wrote Leech. “He was extremely fond of the company of his mother and three older sisters. His environment was narrow and plain, but William grew up with the sunny optimism of temperament and the capacity for warm affection that came from a secure and happy childhood.” He was also deeply religious, and became a devout member of the Methodist Church. Everyone assumed that he would heed the calling and become a minister; his mother’s dearest hope was that he would become a bishop.[3]

He graduated from Poland Academy at seventeen in 1860, and enrolled at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he began studying to join the ministry. However, the young man fell ill at the end of his first semester and returned home to Poland to recuperate. Before he was well enough to return to school, William Sr. encountered severe financial hardship and lost the family business. Instead of returning to Allegheny College in 1861, William went to work, teaching school and clerking in the local post office in order to earn sufficient funds to resume his path to the ministry.[4]

After South Carolina seceded and its troops fired upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, young William attended a patriotic rally, wherein many of the attendees stepped forward to enlist. William and his cousin, William McKinley Osborne, both decided to enlist after much discussion. “I came to a deliberate conclusion,” said McKinley, “and have never been sorry for it.”[5]Although greatly distressed at the prospect of losing her son to war, William’s mother accepted the decision, and the two cousins traveled to the large training facility located in Columbus, where they mustered into the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was the first three-year regiment raised. They enlisted for three years or the duration of the war. Only 18, McKinley was one of the youngest members of the regiment. The slight young man stood 5’6” and weighed only 125 pounds and looked much younger than he actually was. However, appearances are deceiving, as sterner stuff lay within the boy. William served four years, while his cousin fell ill and was discharged for disability.

McKinley’s own words demonstrate the power of his patriotism and explain why he felt so strongly about enlisting. “I volunteered to serve my country in this her perilous hour from a sense of duty,” William wrote in a letter to his sister. “I felt it was obligatory upon me, as a young man a citizen of this highly favored land, to step forward at the call of my country, and assist if possible in suppressing rebellion and putting down secession, what do you think of it?” He concluded, “I know you will say I did a noble act.”[6]

The earnest young man caught the eye of Maj. Rutherford B. Hayes, who took McKinley under his wing. In letters home, Hayes praised the young man’s courage and described him as a “handsome bright, gallant boy.”[7]Hayes marked the young man for promotion.

During the 1861 and early 1862 campaigns in western Virginia, McKinley was assigned to work as a clerk in the quartermaster’s office, a duty that he did not particularly enjoy. However, the intelligent young man pitched himself into his task with all of his considerable talents simply because it was his nature to do so. When the commissary sergeant fell ill, McKinley assumed that important duty. On April 15, 1862, McKinley was promoted to commissary sergeant of the 23rd Ohio. His job—an important one—was to ensure that there was adequate food for the men of the regiment, a task that quickly drew the respect of the men of the regiment.

McKinley participated in the Kanawha Division’s campaigns of 1862, and in August, made the long march to join the Army of Virginia operating, which was about to face its fate in the Second Battle of Bull Run. The 23rd did not arrive in time to participate in that sanguinary fight, but, as pointed out above, it played a major role in the important victory at South Mountain on September 14, 1862, a victory that McKinley described as one “achieved at great cost” but nevertheless, “a splendid victory.”[8]Young William played no real role in the victory, but he greatly lamented the severe wounding of his mentor, Hayes. William’s moment of glory was about to come on the banks of Antietam Creek.

The Battle of Antietam raged on the morning of September 17, 1862. As the guns boomed in and around the East Woods and the Cornfield, General Jacob D. Cox received orders to commit the Kanawha Division to the fighting near the handsome stone bridge over Antietam Creek that would forever bear the name of Burnside’s Bridge. Once in position and with sufficient ammunition on hand, the Kanawha Division attacked that afternoon. By 2:00, the men of the 23rd Ohio had not yet joined the fighting, and its men were tired and hungry. McKinley recognized their plight, and, on his own initiative and without orders to do so, rode two miles back to the wagon train, and put all available hands to work preparing food for the beleaguered soldiers of the 23rd.

When the food was ready, McKinley loaded it all into a wagon and then asked for a volunteer to help him take the food to the front. John A. Harvey of Company I of the 23rd responded to the call for a volunteer. He described their ordeal:

We started by the way of a by road through a heavy piece of woods. After driving along the road for some distance from the camp, we met an army officer with his staff and he told (then Sergeant) McKinley that he must not try to go to the Regiment as it would be impossible to run the blockade, as the Rebel forces had command of an open strip in the woods. The road being so narrow that we could not turn around Sergeant McKinley thought we had better try to go on a little farther. Before we came to the open space in the woods, and close to the brow of the hill, we met another Commanding Officer who ordered us to immediately turn back. We stopped and considered the matter and the Officer and his bodyguard went in the opposite direction. This left Sergeant McKinley to decide what was best to do. The Regiment was almost in sight of us and Sergeant McKinley was so anxious to carry out his point and give the half-starved boys something to eat. He made one more appeal to me to run the blockade; he himself risking his life in taking the lead, I following and the horses going at full speed past the blockade. We had the back end of the wagon shot away by a small cannon shot. In a very few minutes we were safe in the midst of that half-famished regiment.[9]

The men of the 23rd heard the clatter of McKinley’s approach from the rear “at breakneck speed, through a terrific fire of musketry and artillery that seemed to threaten annihilation to everything in range.”[10]The wagon screeched to a halt, and McKinley reported to Major Comly, who was in temporary command of the regiment after Hayes’ wound three days earlier. Colonel Scammon, the brigade commander, heard the cheering of the men of the 23rd and sent one of his staff officers, Lt. James Botford, to see what all of the commotion was about.

Botford left this account of what he found when he rode back to investigate:

At the battle of Antietam, McKinley was commissary sergeant of the Twenty-third Regiment, O.V.I., and his duty was, of course, with the commissary supplies, which were at least two miles from the battlefield proper.

As you no doubt are aware, in all battles, whether large or small, there are numerous stragglers who easily find their way back to where the commissary supplies are. This was the case at Antietam, and McKinley conceived and put into execution the idea of using some of these stragglers to make coffee and carry it to the boys in front. It was nearly dark when we heard tremendous cheering from the left of our regiment. As we had been having heavy fighting right up to this time, our division commander, General Scammon, sent me to find out the cause, which I very soon found to be cheers for McKinley and his hot coffee. You can readily imagine the rousing welcome he received from both officers and men.

When you consider the fact of his leaving his post of security, driving right into the middle of a bloody battle with a team of mules, it needs no words of mine to show the character and determination of McKinley, a boy at this time about twenty years of age. McKinley loaded up two wagons with supplies, but the mules of one wagon were disabled. He was ordered back time and again, but he pushed right on.[11]

“God bless the lad,” declared a badly wounded soldier of the 23rd Ohio.[12]While bringing food and coffee to soldiers does not seem like a particularly noteworthy thing in the big scheme of the carnage of the Battle of Antietam, it took a great deal of courage for McKinley to do what he did, and his conspicuous gallantry did not go unnoticed.

After the battle, Hayes learned of his young protégé’s heroic deed from Major Comly, who wrote that McKinley “showed ability and energy of the first class, in not only keeping us fully supplied with rations throughout the fight, but in having them fully prepared for eating, also. We had plenty when every body else was short. He delivered them to us under fire, in two instances, with perfect method and coolness…I feel greatly indebted to McKinley. No promotion could be made which would give more general satisfaction.”[13]The news did not surprise Lieutenant Colonel Hayes, who expected great things from his young protégé. He told another officer to “keep your eye on that young man. There is something in him.”[14]

Hayes later penned the following:

[The Battle of Antietam] began at daylight. Before daylight men were in the ranks and preparing for it. Without breakfast, without coffee, they went into the fight, and it continued until after the sun had set. Early in the afternoon, naturally enough, with the exertion required of the men, they were famished and thirsty, and to some extent broken in spirit. The commissary department of that brigade was under Sergeant McKinley’s administration and personal supervision. From his hands every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats, a thing that had never occurred under similar circumstances in any other army in the world. He passed under fire and delivered, with his own hands, these things, so essential for the men for whom he was laboring.

Coming to Ohio and recovering from wounds, I called upon Governor Tod and told him this incident. With the emphasis that distinguished that great war governor, he said, “Let McKinley be promoted from sergeant to lieutenant,” and that I might not forget, he requested me to put it upon the roster of the regiment, which I did, and McKinley was promoted.[15]

Thus, the twenty-year-old William McKinley received the promotion to second lieutenant requested by Major Comly.

Years later, not long after he was elected President, some of McKinley’s old comrades from the 23rd Ohio nominated him for a Medal of Honor for his valor that day. They appealed to President Grover Cleveland to honor McKinley, and Army chief of staff Nelson Miles approved the issuance of the Medal. However, the modest McKinley wanted no part of such a thing, and requested that nothing further be done. The matter was dropped at the President-elect’s request.[16]

McKinley was promoted to first lieutenant and became regimental quartermaster. He was “esteemed and respected by all his comrades and was recognized as a young man in whom could be placed implicit confidence.”[17]Another soldier of the 23rd remembered,

He was a model officer, and a good fellow to boot. To be sure, there was a certain reserve about him, so that one couldn’t get too familiar, but he was never harsh, and he never swore at us as some officers did. He never seemed to care for rough stories, and I don’t think he ever told such a story in his life, even though he would occasionally make a good-natured joke. He was a great fellow to read and to watch how matters were going in camp, and he kept his uniform and equipments as clean as the cleanest.[18]

McKinley received a promotion to first lieutenant in February 1864, and became the special favorite of the new regimental commander, Rutherford B. Hayes.

McKinley was promoted to first lieutenant in February 1864, serving on Hayes’ staff. For his valiant service, he was promoted to captain on July 25, 1864. When George Crook was promoted to brevet major general, he requested that McKinley be transferred to his staff to serve as adjutant. McKinley served on Crook’s staff at the Third Battle of Winchester and at the October 19, 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek. On March 14, 1865, he was brevetted major of volunteers for his meritorious service, and mustered out with the rest of the 23rd Ohio on July 26, 1865. He was now 22 years old and in robust good health, no longer the sickly lad who had to drop out of college just five years earlier.[19]

His military successfully ended, McKinley returned home to Poland, where he took up the study of law. He attended law school in Albany, New York, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in Warren in March 1867. Taking the advice of an older sister, who was a schoolteacher in Canton, McKinley relocated there and opened a law office there. Canton became his permanent home. He soon became active in local Republican Party politics, campaigning for Negro suffrage in 1867, and for Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential campaign in 1868. He was also active in veterans’ activities, joining the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, an organization for men who had served as officers during the late Civil War. He also remained a dedicated member of the Methodist Church.
In 1875, he actively took up the cause of his old mentor, Rutherford B. Hayes, who was the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. In 1876, McKinley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he joined Hayes, who was now serving as President of the United States. McKinley served in Congress until 1891, gaining national prominence as the author of the McKinley Tariff and as a leader in the Republican National Committee.

In 1891, McKinley was elected governor of Ohio for a two-year term. He was re-elected in 1893. When he left office in 1895, he set his sights on the White House. 1896 was a presidential election year, and McKinley became the logical choice to become the Republican nominee. The Ohioan had no enemies in the party, and he was available. When the party held its convention in St. Louis in June 1896, McKinley was nominated for the Presidency on the first ballot by 661.5 votes out of a total of 906 votes case. That November, he was elected President by a popular vote of 7,107,779 to 6,502,925 for his opponent, William Jennings Bryan. McKinley carried the electoral vote by 271 to 176.

McKinley led the country through a war with Spain in 1898 that added Puerto Rico to the United States, and that added the Philippines and Cuba as protectorates, and ordered U.S. troops to participate in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in China, helping to expand American influence and power to Asia. He was known for his “gunboat diplomacy” and for his protectionist approach to international trade.
When he ran for reelection 1890, McKinley selected an energetic young man named Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate. The McKinley/Roosevelt ticket won the election, with McKinley again defeating Bryan for the White House. Bryan carried only four states in the Deep South and lost his native Nebraska to the enormously popular McKinley.[20]

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czoglosz shot McKinley twice in the abdomen from point blank range at an event in Buffalo, New York. McKinley seemed to be recovering nicely from his wounds, but his doctors did not know that gangrene was attacking his stomach walls, and that there was no way for him to survive. On September 14. 1901, nearly 40 years after his bravery at Antietam, he died of his wounds. His last words were "It is God's way, His will be done, not ours." McKinley was the third President of the United States to be assassinated since 1865. After a state funeral, his body was taken home to Canton, where he rests in a large, ornate tomb befitting a martyred President.[21]

“McKinley was a major actor in some of the most important events in American history. His decisions shaped future policies and public attitudes. He usually rises in the estimation of scholars who study his life in detail,” observed McKinley biographer H. Wayne Morgan. “Even those who disagree with his policies and decisions see him as an active, responsible, informed participant in charge of decision making. His dignified demeanor and subtle operations keep him somewhat remote from public perception. But he is once again at the center of events, where he started.”[22]He is often criticized for being an imperialist, but he was an influential and enormously popular President.

On October 13, 1903, almost a month after the second anniversary of McKinley’s assassination, the State of Ohio honored its native son with a handsome monument on the Antietam battlefield, the site of his courageous actions that day. “The McKinley monument is declared to be, by those who have seen it, one of the finest monuments ever erected on any battlefield,” declared the report of the Ohio Battlefield Commission that placed the monument on the battlefield. It stands 33 feet, 6 inches high, and 8 feet, 9 inches square at the base. A column 12 feet, 2 inches tall, of Doric architecture, stands upon the stone base. A granite eagle atop a ball crowns the monument. The die was cut from a single block granite 5 feet square, 7 feet, 9 inches high. An allegorical figure representing the people’s devotion to the martyred dead of the war, with one hand clasping an American flag and the other holding a palm branch over two bronze busts of McKinley, representing him as a boy soldier and as the President of the United States. Beneath this is a bronze historical scene, showing Commissary Sergeant McKinley serving coffee to his comrades upon the firing line. J. B. King, a famous Scottish sculptor, created the handsome monument.[23]

This monument not only pays tribute to the courage of the young commissary sergeant under heavy fire that horrible day, it also stands as a silent demonstration of the enormous popularity of the martyred President, assassinated during the first of his second term in office. The placement of this large monument speaks volumes for the esteem in which McKinley was held by his comrades and countrymen, and for that reason it is worth visiting.

The 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry is the only military unit in the history of the United States to boast two future Presidents among its ranks. Each left his mark on the 1862 Maryland Campaign in his own unique fashion, and both are worthy of being remembered as such.



[1]Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley(Newtown, CT: American Political Biography Press, 1999), 4.
[2]Henry B. Russell, The Lives of William McKinley and Garrett A. Hobart(Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Co., 1896), 57.
[3]Leech, In the Days of McKinley, 5.
[4]Ibid., 5-6.
[5]William H. Armstrong, Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War(Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), 3.
[6]Ibid., 11.
[7]Williams, Diaries and Letters, 2:374 and 534.
[8]Murat Halstead, The Illustrious Life of William McKinley Our Martyred President(Murat Halstead, 1901), 116.
[9]John A. Harvey to C. B. Lower, January 18, 1897, M 670, CB 65, RG 94, NARA.
[10]Russell Hastings to William McKinley, December 23, 1896, M 670, CB 65, RG 94, NARA.
[11]Cunningham and Miller, Report of the Ohio Antietam Battlefield Commission, 26.
[12]Amrstrong, Major McKinley, 38-40.
[13]James M. Comly to Rutherford B. Hayes, October 5, 1862, Rutherford B. Hayes Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio (emphasis in original).
[14]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 40.
[15]Robert P. Porter and James Boyle, Life of William McKinley, President of the United States (Cleveland, OH: N. G. Hamilton Publishing Co., 1897), 76-79.
[16]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 41.
[17]Canton Weekly Repository, July 2, 1891.
[18]Edward Stratemeyer, American Boys’ Life of William McKinley(Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1901), 59-61.
[19]Armstrong, Major McKinley, 43-106. A detailed discussion of the rest of McKinley’s military career strays far beyond the scope of this narrative. See Armstrong’s fine study of McKinley’s military career for that detailed discussion.
[20]For a detailed and insightful discussion of McKinley’s political career, see In the Days of McKinleyby Margaret Leech, who specialized in political biography.
[21]For a fascinating study of the assassination of William McKinley by a dedicated anarchist, see Scott Miller, The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century(New York: Random House, 2011).
[22]Wayne H. Morgan, William McKinley and His America(Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2003), 473.
[23]Cunningham and Miller, Report of the Ohio Antietam Battlefield Commission, 27.[/QUOTE]

Outstanding work. Thanks for posting...
 
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