American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 11

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McKinley appointed a Major—Closing Scenes of the War—Return to Poland—A Mother's Protest—Farewell to Military Life

With the defeat of General Early the campaign in that section of the Shenandoah Valley came practically to an end. The Twenty-third Ohio was moved from one place to another until on the first of January, 1865, it embarked for Cumberland. On that day Colonel Hayes was appointed a brigadier-general, the commission dating back to October 19, 1864.

"We'll have no more war and no more hardships," said some of the privates, but they were mistaken regarding the hardships. In two weeks they were moved to Grafton, to protect the railroad tracks in that vicinity. It was bitterly cold, and to add to the men's discomfort no tents were to be had and very little in the way of rations.

The protection of the railroad was recalled by one veteran, who told the following story:—

"It was bitterly cold when our crowd got down there. We were in something of a hollow, and when it rained the water formed little pools around the tents and froze over in no time. We had a small tent, and six of us used to crowd in it and we were better off than some others who didn't have any tents at all.

"Rations were scarce for two days, and when the supply train came in, how we did crowd around to get what was coming to us! I had been helping the commissary sergeant, and the boys used to growl at me morning, noon, and night because I couldn't get them what they wanted to eat. I couldn't exactly blame them, but it was rather rough on me, for I didn't have any more than they did.

"Captain McKinley wasn't with us all the time,—he had some staff duty to perform,—but one night when the boys were on picket duty he came down and told four of the fellows to keep a sharp eye on a certain barn not far away. We wondered what was up, but he didn't say, and we kept the barn in sight night and day.

"Nothing happened that night nor the next, but the night following it was kind of foggy, and in the fog one of the pickets saw three rebels sneaking along back of the barn and making for the railroad bridge at a point where there was a trestle over a little creek. The fellows were carrying something between them that looked like a milk can.

"The picket didn't give the alarm at once, but called some of the other boys, and together they sneaked after the rebels. The Johnnies were making for a handcar, and just as they got to it, our fellows called on them to halt. They didn't stop, but ran for dear life, and we opened fire—I came up after the first volley. One of the rebels was hit, for he gave a yell of pain, but he kept on, and soon the darkness swallowed them up, so they got away.

"The can the rebels had been carrying was overturned on the handcar, and when we got there we found that it had been filled with turpentine. On the handcar was a bag of cotton. The rebels had probably intended to saturate the cotton and set fire to it, and then send the handcar down the railroad grade, letting it fetch up wherever it might. If they had carried out their plan, there would have been cotton and turpentine blazing away on that track for two or three miles.

"I often wondered how Captain McKinley got the information that led him to give orders that we watch the barn, but I was never able to find out. But I think he was doing some scouting work on the quiet, with the hope of receiving a promotion."

The promotion came, by recommendation of General Sheridan, who had not forgotten the meeting with the young staff officer on the road from Winchester. He was made a major by brevet of Volunteers "for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Opequan, Cedar Creek, and Fisher's Hill." The commission was signed by Abraham Lincoln, the President for whom he had cast his first vote in the preceding November. It was a document of which the newly appointed major was very proud, and justly so.

After picket duty at Grafton the regiment repaired to Cumberland, where it went into winter camp. There was now little to do but drill and "police" camp, and anxious though Major McKinley was to get again into active service, it was impossible to do so.

In April came the news of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. The telegraph sent the tidings in every direction, and while the South mourned deeply, the North went nearly mad with joy. Church bells rang, whistles blew, cannon boomed, and at night huge bonfires were lit and mass meetings were held everywhere. When mothers and sisters heard that husbands and brothers would have to fight no more, they fell on their knees and wept tears of joy. On every lip were heard the words, "Thank God! the war is over!"

And over it was, although some little fighting still occurred in one direction or another, and a few Southern leaders tried their best to revive that which was to rise no more. Henceforth the country was to be one, as Washington and the patriots of 1776 had intended—there should be no North, no South, no East, no West, only One Country—Our Country, the United States of America. And the great bitterness occasioned by that war which had just passed was to be swept away to its last drop by that young soldier who had done his duty so faithfully,—William McKinley.

It was not until July 26, that the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteers was mustered out. The regiment was only the ghost of its former self, and the battle flag was sadly torn and scarred. But even in that condition it went to Washington, there to pass in the Grand Review before President Lincoln. That was the day of all days, and no young soldier was more proud than was Major McKinley, as he passed the President's stand on his faithful bobtailed steed.

This was the end of William McKinley's military career. Before, however, we pass on to other scenes, let us look for a moment at his achievements while fighting for Old Glory. He went into the army a mere boy of eighteen, knowing absolutely nothing of the service. He took part in some thirty engagements and served as commissary sergeant, second and first lieutenants, captain, staff officer, and finally as major. He had but one furlough, and was never absent from duty on account of sickness. In his recommendation of McKinley, General Crook wrote:

"I have the honor to earnestly recommend Captain William McKinley, Twenty-third Ohio Infantry, for appointment to a higher grade than his present rank for bravery, gallantry, soldierly conduct, and distinguished services during the campaigns of West Virginia and Shenandoah valley." And when General Sheridan forwarded the recommendation, he indorsed it as follows: "Respectfully forwarded to the adjutant-general of the army approved. The appointment recommended is well deserved." The recommendation then went to General Grant, who likewise approved it, and then it went to the President, with the result that McKinley left the army a major at the age of twenty-two.

From Cumberland the Twenty-third Ohio took the cars to Camp Taylor, near Cleveland. Here a most important affair took place, being nothing less than the final payThis page is blank and marked as

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The young major's friends in Poland were proud of his success, and all crowded around to shake his hand, and congratulate him. He was the centre of a vast circle of admirers; and although he was shy about doing so, he was forced to tell of his military service, and of the exciting scenes through which he had passed. When a grand dinner was given, he was at the head of the table, and there he made the first after-dinner speech of his life, although what he said has not been recorded.

"Of course, you are going to remain in the army," said several.

"I have an offer to do so," answered the major. "But I wish to think it over before I decide."

"You must remain, major," cried one of the crowd. "The country can't afford to let you go."

"I hope my country can afford it," was the sober answer. "I do not wish to see another war as long as I live." What fateful words, when we come to realize what was to follow.

When McKinley spoke at home of remaining in the army, his parents and his sisters at once protested. He had been a soldier long enough, they said, and he had better turn to something else. He thought the matter over for several weeks, and then went to his mother.

"So you think I had better give up the army?" he began.

"Yes, William, I do. The war is over, and you can do better, I am sure."

"All right, then, mother, I'll give it up."

"And what do you think of doing?"

"I'm going in for law—if I can get the opening," he made answer.