The Boy Officer William McKinley
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
DR. MARK L. NARDYZ, a retired army surgeon, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, though an Italian, was given the name of the " Flying Dutchman," by General Grant ; as a member of Grant's staff, he showed such courage and swiftness in carrying despatches, that the General called him by that name. While brigade surgeon, Dr. Nardyz saw very much of the boy-officer, William McKinley, and for three years was his intimate acquaintance. He speaks thus of his friend :
" The young major seemed to be very religious. This fact impressed me very much, as well as the deference shown him by the men on this account. In the three years we were together I never saw Major McKinley drink a drop of liquor or heard him use a profane word. That is a difficult thing to do when a man is thrown into the rough life of the army.
" It was not at Antietam that President McKinley distinguished himself, for his regiment had no chance to do anything there. It was at Gettysburg. His name is always associated in my mind with Gettysburg, and a magnificent charge on a stone wall in a hollow before Cemetery Hill. There is where the young, smooth major showed the true qualities of a soldier, and the men who were alive after that charge felt a new regard and increased respect for the man who did not swear or drink, but was as cool and collected as the oldest veteran.
Our brigade was assigned to the Sixth Army Corps, which was commanded by General Hooker. I will never forget the incidents of the long march from Cincinnati down through Virginia and up into Pennsylvania. That was in 1862. When we started, Colonel Keppler was in command of the Ohio regiment, but Major McKinley, it seemed, assumed the special duty of looking after the condition of the men. He was an ideal officer, calm always, and kindly in his manner. The first real battle McKinley's regiment was in was at Antietam, but for some reason it was held in reserve and did not get much to do. This disappointed the future President. But his turn soon came. Our corps became part of Meade's army, sent to check Lee, who was threatening to invade Pennsylvania. The history of the battle of Gettysburg is well known, but the part of which I remember most was the attack of the left wing, of which our brigade formed a part. I can see the stone wall in the hollow behind which the Confederates lay. The order came to charge, and then the roar was terrific. Sheets of flame came from behind the wall, but our men got over it. Smoke was everywhere, and through it could occasionally be seen the calm, set face of the boy-like major. No excitement or agitation was visible in those features. He was always the same. Colonel Keppler was killed and Major McKinley took command of what was left of the Thirty-sixth Ohio Volunteers. That was not much. The men came from around Canton, Niles, and Cleveland, and many of them fell. This was where McKinley won special mention for his bravery. He became known as one of the most distinguished officers in the Ohio volunteers. His men idolized him."
The home of the boy, William McKinley, had not wealth nor social pre-tense, but it had things more important—honesty, virtue, affection, moral instruction and religious training. And when the boy went out into the army to meet as terrible temptations as ever assailed mortals, he was enabled to stand firm as a rock, and in all the struggles and temptations which beset a man in political life, he maintained his moral principles to the last. His political enemies, as well as his friends, paying the warmest tributes to the correctness of his habits, to the purity of his life. The boy-major, who stood straight as an arrow before God and man, preserved the same uprightness of character till the assassin's bullet laid him low.
Major McKinley was not only careful of his moral habits, but he was genuinely religious in his soul. He was not ashamed to let it be known to all his comrades in the army that he was a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and determined to maintain the honor of his name, and to the day of his death he was a brave, loyal and efficient soldier of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Young men who are looking to success in public life, need not think that it is necessary to surrender principles or yield to the temptations that line so thickly the avenues of political life, or to conceal their religious faith and experience. A firm, religious faith better equips a public officer for his grave responsibility, and a consistent Christian life has a tendency to bring to him increased public favor.