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McKinley gave speech discussing Civil War

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

One hundred twenty years ago, William McKinley, during his first summer in office, took time to remember the past, as much as he worked as president on the future of the nation.

Taking time away from his vacation, he would travel to Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 24 to deliver three speeches associated with the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest organization of Union Civil War veterans. In those remarks, McKinley would state his feelings on wars, and those who served in them.

“Blessed is the country where soldiers fight for it and are willing to give the best they have, the best that any man has, their own lives, to preserve it, because they love it. From the War of Revolution to the late Civil War, the men followed that flag in battle, because they loved it and believed in what it represented. That was the stuff of which the volunteer army of 1861 was made. You recall that young soldier upon the battle line, ahead with the color guard, bearing the Stars and Stripes way ahead of the line with the enemy ahead of him. The General called out to the color bearer, ‘Bring those colors back to the line’ and, quicker than any bullet, the young soldier answered back, ‘bring the line up to the colors.’ It was the voice of command, and there was patriotism in his heart.”

Two weeks later, McKinley would travel to Fremont, Ohio, the home of his commander during the Civil War and the 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, for his own unit’s reunion. The 23rd Ohio Regiment of Volunteers was assigned mostly to the border states. During the war, McKinley would receive a battlefield commission from Hayes and signed by President Abraham Lincoln for bravery at the battle of Antietam in Maryland.

McKinley entered the military as a private, but after a few short months was promoted to the rank of commissary sergeant, a position in the rear of the company dealing with food and supplies. On Sept. 17, 1862, Antietam marked the single bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War.

Men of the 23rd began their day well before dawn and walked through the woods and open fields until afternoon when they holed up near the bridge that spans Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Md.

McKinley loaded his chuck wagon with cooked meat, beans, and coffee, climbed aboard and drove his team of mules at high speeds directly into the enemy fire. He found a low spot covered by hills and resupplied the very hungry troops to a large welcome. It would mark the first time in American military history an engaged unit would be resupplied at the front lines during a battle. McKinley would be granted an officer’s rank for his heroic actions that day and would rise to the rank of brevet major at the end of the war. McKinley would prefer to be called Major rather than Mr. President.

At the reunion, McKinley as president would honor his brothers in arms from his regiment and those units from Ohio.

“We had a good regiment, but there were nearly two hundred regiments from our good state who were willing to die for the government and for the flag. Every one of our ten companies was well officered. That great tactician, that magnificent disciplinarian, that leader of armies, General William S. Rosecrans. Let that be our prayer here today as our love goes out to him in California. And so the officers and men made the Twenty-Third a splendid regiment. But it was the rank and file of that regiment that, after all, gave it its glory. This old regiment flag was never shot down that a hundred men did not fly to pick it up and lift it aloft. You did your duty; that is all anybody can do. “

Mike Wilson is the director of SCOPE Senior Services of Trumbull County and has traveled around the nation performing as William McKinley for the past 25 years.

columns@tribtoday.com

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