July 30, 1891

Lakeside, Ohio

OHIO FARMER’S ALLIANCE (WILLIAM MCKINLEY)

 

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - In some of its important features this meeting seems to be a soldiers’ meeting. It is announced by Dr. Vincent that I am to preside this evening at a musical festival to be conducted by Mr. Arthur. Many here, perhaps, do not know that Mr. Arthur as well as Major McKinley, was four years with me in the golden days of the divine war for the union, good government and liberty. A friend wrote me a few days ago, in substance, that he used to think as old age came on those faculties which are concerned in matters of friendship and of social enjoyment grow dull, but he had found, as I have found, that as the ties are sundered, as associations diminish, those that are left dearer and dearer are prized more and more. And of all the friendship among men perhaps the best is the comradeship of soldiers in a good cause.

 

Rather more than thirty years ago I first made the acquaintance of Major McKinley. He was then a boy, he’d just passed the age of 17. He had before that taught school, and was coming from an academy to the camp. He with me entered upon a new, strange life -- a soldier’s life -- in the time of actual war. We were in a fortunate regiment -- its colonel was William S. Rosecrans -- a graduate of West Point, a brave, a patriotic, and a very able man, who afterwards came to command great armies and fight many famous battles. Its lieutenant colonel was Stanley Matthews -- a scholar and an able lawyer, who, after his appointment to the supreme bench, the whole bar of the United States was soon convinced of his unsurpassed ability and character for that high place.

 

In this regiment Major McKinley came, the boy I have described carrying his musket and knapsack. In every company of that regiment General Rosecrans and Colonel Matthews and myself soon found there were young men of exceptional character and promise. I would not go into any detail of the military history of this young man I have described. At once it was found that he had unusual character for the mere business of war. There is a quartermaster’s department, which is a very necessary and important department in every regiment, in every brigade in every division, in every army. Young as he was, we soon found that in business, in executive ability, young McKinley was of rare capacity of unusual and unsurpassed capacity, especially for a boy of his age. When battles were fought or service was to be performed in warlike things he always took his place. The night was never too dark; the weather was never too cold; there was no sleet, snow, or hail, or storm, or rain, that was in the way of his prompt and efficient performance of every duty.

 

When I came to be commander of the regiment he soon came to be upon my staff, and he remained upon my staff for one to two years, so that I literally did and in fact, knew him like a book and loved him like a brother.

 

From that time he naturally progressed, for his talents and capacity could not be unknown to the staff of the commander of the army of West Virginia, George Crook, a favorite of the army he commanded. He wanted McKinley, and of course it was my duty to tell McKinley he must leave me. The bloodiest day of the war, the day on which more men were killed or wounded than on any other day of the war -- observe I don’t say any other battle, stretching over many days, but any one day -- was 17th of September, 1862, in the battle of Antietam. The battle began at daylight. Before daylight men where 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. As was the case, perhaps, with very many soldiers, I did not keep a diary regularly, from day to day, but I kept notes of what was transpiring, When I knew that I was to come here it occurred to me to open an old notebook of that period and see what it contained and I found this entry.

 

“Saturday, Dec. 13, 1862 - Our new second lieutenant, McKinley, returned today, an exceeding bright, intelligent and gentlemanly young officer. He promises to be one of the best.” He has kept the promise in every sense of the words.