01 July 2007 by Published in: General musings 6 comments

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I visited the Antietam and Harpers Ferry battlefields a week ago today. I posted about the visit, and put up a bunch of photos, including one of my very favorite battlefield monument, the one to Sgt. William McKinley, for bravely serving coffee to the troops under fire and without orders. I called it–and quite rightfully–silly, but pointed out that it reflects McKinley’s enormous popularity at the time of his assassination.

One of McKinley’s living relatives wrote in and apparently took umbrage with my calling the monument silly. Sorry about that, Theresa. I certainly didn’t mean to offend, but given the incredible bravery demonstrated by so many soldiers under fire that day–such as John B. Gordon still leading his troops in the fighting for the Sunken Road in spite of having been shot in the face–that I find it pretty damned silly to erect a large monument to a soldier whose contribution to the Union victory at Antietam was bringing buckets of coffee to the front lines. It just seems preposterous to me.

That in no way is intended to suggest that McKinley was not a brave or competent soldier. In point of fact, he was. He was clearly a capable soldier, or he never would have made the leap from private in 1861 to major by the end of the war at the young age of 22. Obviously, there was a reason why he would received so many promotions, and that reason is competence. So, I’m not suggesting that the 25th President of the United States did not deserve recognition for his military exploits. I’m simply saying that the field at Antietam and the reasons for the monument are not especially appropriate.

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  1. Mike Peters
    Sun 01st Jul 2007 at 6:10 pm


    At one time, wasn’t there talk of McKinley receiving a MOH for his Sharpsburg actions? And IIRC, McKinley nixed it. Am I remembering it right?


  2. Sun 01st Jul 2007 at 8:25 pm


    Beats me. I have no idea. If he did, then I give him a world of credit.


  3. Steve Basic
    Sun 01st Jul 2007 at 10:49 pm


    Like you, I agree he was a competent soldier, but the monument there on the Battlefield is so out of place. IIRC, he was assassinated in Buffalo, and I wonder if there is a monument there that denotes just what happened there. IMHO, there should be one.

    I also tend to think President McKinley would not have been happy with the wording on that monument at Sharpsburg.

    I did some googling, and could not find any mention of him and the MOH for his actions at Sharpsburg, but Hayes was very fond of the young McKinley, and mad him his Chief of Staff.

    My apologies to his relative as well, as my joke about the moniment is what is written on it, and does not mock his service to the Union during the Civil War.

    Hope all is well.


  4. Ian Duncanson
    Mon 02nd Jul 2007 at 4:48 pm

    As pointed out, the monument is ‘so out of place’ and fortunately is has been located ‘so out of place’!

  5. Scott
    Mon 02nd Jul 2007 at 8:36 pm


    I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is silly to have a monument to McKinley for bringing coffee to the troops at Antietam. In my opinion, it might be better suited at Kernstown, where he braved a gauntlet of enemy fire to save a Union regiment from being cut off. There are a lot of things about McKinley’s CW service that seem to have their orgins more from his political years than the war years. For example, one Early biographer essentially credits McKinley for giving the order that led to Crook’s successful flank movment on McKinley’s own initiative. I have found no wartime mention of this nor post war, just the political biography.

  6. ES Rafuse
    Mon 09th Jul 2007 at 4:02 pm

    For me, the greatest little factoid about McKinley is that he made it through the 14 September 1862 Battle of South Mountain (where the 23rd Ohio played a much more conspicuous role than at Antietam) unscathed and then died by a gunshot wound on 14 September 1901.

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