When the Civil War broke out, 18-year-old William McKinley quit his job as a postal clerk in Poland, Ohio, and enlisted as a private in Company E, of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Before his first year of service had ended, young McKinley was promoted to Commissary Sergeant.
On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, Sergeant McKinley was just to the rear of the battlefield watching over the brigade’s food and supplies. The men had eaten only a scanty breakfast, and he knew that as the day wore on the Buckeyes were growing weaker.
Gathering up a hand full of stragglers, Sergeant McKinley courageously led two mule teams with wagons of rations and hot coffee into the thick of battle. Working his way over rough ground, through a hailstorm of artillery and rifle fire, he ignored repeated warnings to retreat – and continued on. He lost one team of mules to Confederate gunners, but did not return to the rear of the brigade until his fellow soldiers had been properly fed under the most adverse conditions.
For his coolness under fire, outstanding bravery, and attention to DUTY, young McKinley was that same week promoted to second lieutenant. By war’s end he was a major – and thirty years later became President of the United States.
Compiled by Dr. Steven Anders, former Quartermaster School historian
Event: Commissary Sergeant at Antietam
Date: 17 September 1862
"I’m just a Kansas farm boy who did his duty."
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Quoted in a postwar interview