William McKinley, the twenty-fifth President of the United States, was born in Niles, Trumbull Country, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1843. His father, William McKinley, Sr., came to Ohio from Pennsylvania. The family was Scotch-Irish, and the President's forefathers came to America 150 years ago.
William was the seventh child in the family of nine. His first education was received in the public schools of Niles, but when he was nine years of age his parents removed to Poland, Mahoning County, Ohio, a town which was at that time well known for its educational facilities.
There he was admitted into Union Seminary and pursued his studies until he was seventeen. Excelling in most of his studies, he was especially noted for his brilliancy in debate. He evinced a lively interest in all the great public questions of the day, and his speeches upon them were worthy of a much more matured mind. His application was intense, and soon his health was so undermined that he was obliged to return home for rest and recuperation, but even then he did not escape a severe illness. When his health was restored he did not return to school, but sought and obtained a place as a teacher in the public schools of the Kerr district, near Poland.
His career really began at the outbreak of the Civil War. At that time he was a clerk in the Poland Post Office. A war meeting was held in the Sparrow tavern. At the close of a patriotic speech by an eloquent speaker a call was made for volunteers. Young McKinley was among those who stepped forward. He went with the recruits to Columbus and was there enlisted as a private in Company E of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This regiment numbered among its field and staff officers William S. Rosecrans, after Major General, and Rutherford B. Hayes, nineteenth President of the United States.
The life of a soldier was beneficial to young McKinley's health. During the fourteen months he served as a private he developed from a slip of a boy to a robust young man. He participated in all the early engagements in West Virginia, the first of these being at Carnifex Ferry. In the winter's camp at Fayetteville he earned and received his first promotion--Commissary Sergeant. It was while he was acting in this capacity that the "coffee incident," of which an attempt was made to create ridicule in his first campaign for the Presidency, occurred. Far from being a subject of ridicule, it was an incident which reflected the highest credit upon the young officer.
The "Coffee Incident"
At the battle of Antietam, while his regiment was in the thick of the fray, Sergt. McKinley was in charge of the commissary department of his brigade, and, necessarily, his post of duty was with the supplies, about two miles from where his famished comrades were battling with the enemy. Enlisting stragglers to help him, Sergt. McKinley filled two wagons with cans containing hot coffee and other supplies, and hurried them to the front. The mules of one wagon became disabled under the terrific fire, but the plucky young officer, undaunted, continued his efforts, and finally reached his regiment with the supplies, being received with tremendous cheers.
Col. Hayes was badly wounded at South Mountain, and when he went home he told the story to Gov. Tod. The Governor was so impressed with it that he at once requested that a Lieutenant's commission be made out for McKinley. This was done, the commission dating from Sept. 24, 1862. Gen. Hayes in describing this incident in a speech at the Lakeside, Chautauqua, in 1891, said:
"From Sergt. McKinley's hand every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats, a thing which had never occurred under similar circumstances in any other army in the world. He passed under fire and delivered with his own hands those things so essential to the men for whom he was laboring."
While he was a Second Lieutenant McKinley's regiment participated in a number of minor engagements, in all of which he showed great gallantry. On Feb. 7, 1863, he received his commission as First Lieutenant. It was under his leadership that his company was the first to scramble over the fortifications at Camp Platt and silence the enemy's guns. It was at the battle of Kernstown, near Winchester, that he gained his greatest military distinction.
Crook's army was attacked by Early's. crook had but 6,000 men, while Early had 20,000. Gen. Hayes had charge of the first brigade. He was on the extreme right, and was soon attacked with such fury that he was obliged to fall back toward Winchester. The movement was successfully executed, except that the Thirteenth West Virginia Regiment failed to retire, and was in imminent danger of capture. Lieut. McKinley was ordered to go and bring the regiment away, if it had not already fallen into the hands of the enemy. It was a mission fraught with the gravest peril. As he urged his horse through the open fields, over fences and across ditches, the fire of the enemy was poured out upon him.
As McKinley came back with the regiment he was cheered by the whole brigade. Col. Hayes was filled with emotion on seeing him. He loved McKinley as a father, and when he sent him on his perilous mission he truly believed, as he said to the Lieutenant on greeting him, and as he afterward said in many public addresses, that he would never see him alive again. That very same night Lieut. McKinley led a party of volunteers to rescue four guns and some caissons, which were in imminent danger of falling into the hands of the enemy. It was a most dangerous piece of work, gallantly accomplished. The next day, July 25, 1864 at the age of twenty-one, McKinley was promoted to be a Captain.
In a fierce engagement at Berryville on Sept. 3, 1864, Capt. McKinley's horse was shot under him. At Opequan and Fisher's Hill he again distinguished himself. Soon after the battle of Fisher's Hill his regiment was detailed as a train guard to Martinsburg. On the march the men voted. Capt. McKinley's first ballot was cast for Lincoln, whose career his own was to parallel so closely, even to assassination.
McKinley was with Sheridan at the battle of Winchester. For a time he was on the staff of Gen. Hancock. Later he was assigned as Acting Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Gen. Samuel S. Carroll, commanding the veteran reserve corps at Washington, where he remained through that exciting period which included the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appamattox and the assassination of President Lincoln. It was just a month before Mr. Lincoln fell a victim to an assassin's bullet that McKinley received from him a document which he has always considered one of his most precious possessions. It is a commission as a Major by brevet in the volunteer army of the United States, "for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of Opequan, Cedar Creek, and Fisher's Hill," signed, "A Lincoln."
Major McKinley participated in the final act of the great war drama, the Grand Review in Washington. At the close of the war, although a military career was open to him, he decided to leave the army. On his return to Poland a complimentary dinner was tendered to him by the citizens, who took a pride in his military achievements. He at once began the stud of the law, entering the office of Judge Charles E. Glidden, at Youngstown, Ohio. After one year's study under the preceptorship of Judge Glidden, he went to law school in Albany, N.Y., and in March, 1867, was admitted to the bar at Warren, Ohio.
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