Books on This Topic Union Army Camp Cooking Northern Ladies' Civil War Recipes Civil War Plants & Herbs Powers of Endurance Divided Christmas Civil War Celebrations Confederate Camp Cooking Confederate Home Cooking Cooking for the Cause Yanks, Rebels, Rats, and Rations

Billy McKinley and Hot Roast Beef at Antietam

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 1991.

Henry H. Woodruff of Oakland, California, penned in the 1920's this reminiscence of William McKinley and his rise from a private in the 23rd Ohio Regiment to 23rd President of the United States:

I was born in the township of Mecca, County of Trumbull, State of Ohio, July 15, 1841. Wm. McKinley was born in the next township at Niles, in Trumbull County, Ohio, January 29, 1843. I entered the preparatory department of Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, about thirty miles west of Cleveland, April 15, 1861. We were in class in old Tappin Hall, when the Professor read a dispatch from Washington City stating that President Lincoln had called for 75,000 men to go to the front to put down the Rebellion. Instantly every male member of that class volunteered, grabbed his hat, rushed out in front of the building, and tried to form a line, or company, as we had no military knowledge, being only farmer boys or students. We took the cars for Cleveland, going into Camp in the old Fair Grounds called “Camp Taylor.” Other companies began to arrive, officers were elected, and we were formed into a regiment and given the number Twenty-third Ohio. We soon moved to “Camp Chare” at Columbus, where the regimental organization was completed and Wm. Stark Rosecrans appointed colonel.

As new companies arrived, I sometimes would go among them and get acquainted with the boys. One day I visited Company E and, to my surprise, found a Private, my neighbour, Billy McKinley. Colonel Rosecrans took the regiment into West Virginia, where we were just in time for the battle of Carnifex Ferry, September 10, 1861. This is the first battle the writer or “Billy” ever saw. We moved around considerably, joining other forces all under command of “Old Rosey.” We had fought nineteen battles before the war was over, commencing at Carnifex Ferry and ending at Fisher's Hill, in the upper Shenandoah Valley.

After serving as a private for one year, McKinley was promoted to Regimental Commissary Sergeant and got his first shoulder straps, for the meritorious act performed by him at Antietam. We lined up for battle and commenced firing before the sun rose. McKinley, knowing the condition of our haversacks, drew from the quartermaster 1,000 rations of fresh beef, got camp kettles, pressed some men into service, cut up and cooked the entire amount, pressed a teamster (John Harvey by name) into service, got some crackers and drove along behind the line still in battle, giving every man a chunk of beef between two crackers. I thought then and still think it was the sweetest morsel I ever ate.

This act was noticed by Colonel (afterward President) Hayes, who was in command, and McKinley got a commission as Second Lieutenant. From this he rose rapidly through all grades, ending with Brevet Major, then Governor of Ohio, and President of the United States.

Soon after his election he began to make plans for his inauguration, and among other things, he issued an invitation to his old regiment to assemble in Washington City and to act as his escort on Inauguration Day, with the result that ninety-six members arrived at our headquarters, very proud of our honoured Comrade “Billy,” as he was called.

President McKinley delivers his inaugural address.

Next morning, we assembled in the Capitol grounds to witness the second member of our regiment take the oath of office as President of the United States. We took the post of honour under the command of Captain Skyles, whom we had elected as our Commander, formed on Pennsylvania Avenue, and with great pomp and honour escorted the new President to the White House, his future home.

Next day was set apart for the foreign diplomats to make their official calls on the new President. When we arrived there was a great crowd ahead of us. English, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, etc., with their retinues of officers and servants all waiting their turn of admission. The doors were securely locked and guarded by armed men; soon the President appeared at the door and speaking to the guards, said, “Let my comrades in first.” When I heard that welcome order, my head swelled with pride and I got a California strut on me, as we marched by so many waiting diplomats into the East Room, to shake hands with our highly honoured comrade.