William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Volunteer Soldier

THE CIVIL WAR came to Poland as it did to many other small towns throughout the North. The tensions that followed Lincoln's election, Southern bellicosity, and the gradually crystallizing Northern determination to defend the Union culminated in the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. McKinley's cousin and confidant since boyhood, William Osborne, remembered working in a rolling mill one spring day when an elderly man rushed in and shouted: “They've fired on her! They've fired on her!”1

One day in June, 1861, Poland's main street came alive with flags and bunting, and the verandas jutting out over the dusty thoroughfare were lined with crying women and cheering men and boys. Here and there a small group of young ladies did not follow their mothers' examples. Instead of crying, they fanned nervously and watched every movement. Charles Glidden, leading local attorney, mounted the steps of the tavern and made an earnest and eloquent appeal for volunteers. As he spoke, man after man left his companions and lined up to join the military contingent. Poland did not lack enthusiasm for the cause; no man was ever drafted from her precincts.

One of the watchers kept his head. Though already noted for his seriousness, McKinley felt the occasion's emotions. But he was still only eighteen, needed at home, and was accustomed to deliberation and consultation before acting. However much he wished to fight, he must think it over. Caught in the excitement of the moment between conflicting duties, McKinley and Will Osborne were in doubt. The Poland Guards, as the local contingent was called, later assembled with due pomp on the village green and marched to Youngstown where they entrained for Columbus and basic training.2

Osborne and McKinley saw their friends off”, still undecided. On the buggy trip home they talked it over carefully and decided to enlist. It was their duty. Any man who stayed behind would be ridiculed, and it was their chance to get away from home and see the world. “Bill, we can't stay out of this war,” McKinley said seriously. “We must get in.” Osborne agreed but insisted that

-13-

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