William McKinley and Poland’s Riverside Cemetery

We welcome back to the blog guest Gordy Morgan. Mr. Morgan, a native of the Mahoning Valley in northeastern Ohio, was inspired by the recent ECW Weekender: William McKinley by blogger and author Dan Welch, also a native of the area. Dan’s Weekender planned a trip to this area of Ohio to follow in the footsteps of William McKinley. Today, Mr. Morgan adds the history of Poland’s Riverside Cemetery, a site dedicated by William McKinley in honor of war dead from Poland, Ohio.

Poland’s Riverside Cemetery

William McKinley once described Poland, Ohio, as a “trim, neat little village on Yellow Creek, with its tasty white frame dwellings, its dear old academy, and the village stores, from which we got our political inspiration.” At the end of the American Civil War, it was in one of those stores, that several prominent citizens conceived the idea for setting aside land as a final resting place for Poland’s volunteer sons.

Lying atop the rolling hills overlooking the Yellow Creek Gorge, Riverside Cemetery in Poland holds the graves of more than one hundred and fifty Civil War veterans from nearly sixty regiments representing four states. The names of thirty-seven young men who left Poland in nearly every year of the war and never to return are etched into the shaft.

On one particularly cold December day in 1864, several prominent men were gathered at John Leslie’s Grocery Store, awaiting the arrival of the stage bringing weekly newspapers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of the men, Charles Newton Kirtland, a prosperous farmer and grandson of the township’s founder, suggested that with the war winding down

Poland Riverside Cemetery Civil War Monument (Image courtesy Ted Heineman).
Poland Riverside Cemetery Civil War Monument. (Image courtesy Ted Heineman)

the young men of Poland who would not be coming home should have a monument to their sacrifice. Immediately Joseph Truesdale, the local doctor, offered three acres of his own land for that purpose. Daniel May, brother-in-law of future president William McKinley, suggested using the land around the monument to bury needy veterans.

Since the cemeteries in town were nearly full, the group decided to go beyond serving only needy veterans to offer final resting places to all of Poland’s citizen-soldiers. Charles Kirtland’s brother, Cook Fitch Kirtland, sent a letter to his friend Governor David Tod requesting a State permit to plot a cemetery, and by the beginning of 1865, Riverside Cemetery Association was formed. John MacKey, a surveyor from nearby Canfield, was hired to plot the gravesites and establish an appropriate spot for the monument.

October 12, 1887

The Youngstown Telegram described the air as “raw” that afternoon as a procession formed at the historic First Presbyterian Church. Led by the Poland Coronet Band, the entourage included members of the Hawkins Post, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), of Poland and Tod Post, No. 29 of Youngstown; a martial band and chorus of school children followed by carriages bearing special guests and other dignitaries.

Along the way, reported the Youngstown Vindicator, visitors witnessed Poland in its patriotic glory—“the little town was attired in a rich robe of flags and bunting. Every house in the village was gracefully trimmed with Union colors, and all around was a bright blaze of decorations” (many of those houses stand to this day and are identified by Ohio Historical Markers). To allow everyone the opportunity to attend, businesses and schools were closed for the day.

Upon entering the cemetery, the surviving comrades formed a square around the monument. Following singing by the school children, C.F. Kirtland, chairman of the monument committee, then spoke about the sacrifices and devotion of the Union soldier, which even during the darkest day was “never excelled.” “The road to peace and an undivided nation was a long one and bloody,” Kirtland said, invoking the names Gettysburg, Antietam, the Wilderness and Appomattox, and “the graves of 13,000 men at Andersonville tell its horror where cruelty, inhumanity and fiendishness went hand in hand.”

“The soldiers of Poland Township, living and dead, did their share of this great work and they did it well.” he concluded. Kirtland then called for the monument to be unveiled, and on behalf of the committee, presented it to the Hawkins Post and the citizens of Poland. Mr. Manassas Meyers, commander of Hawkins Post, accepted the gift and read from the G.A.R. ritual.

Chairman Kirtland then introduced William McKinley, then a Congressman, who according to the Telegraph description paid “a warm tribute to the heroic dead whose names were inscribed upon the granite shaft.” Next to speak was Capt. William C. Lyon, a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor and veteran of the 23 Ohio who had spent the last year of the war in a Rebel prison camp. According to the Vindicator description, “Although the crowd had stood for over an hour listening to the words of Mr. McKinley, the most respectful attention was given Captain Lyon,” whose emotional speech “touched the tender hearts of his listeners.”

The Telegram described the eighteen-foot granite monument, the work of J.A. Kohler & Sons of Warren, Ohio, as “a handsome piece of workmanship.” The unpolished granite base supports a four-sided shaft upon which is inscribed the names “of the heroic dead of Poland, with the places where they were killed or died of wounds.” Topping the shaft is a life-size figure of polished granite, “a soldier in full uniform, wearing an overcoat. His hands are clasped in front holding his cap, and a musket rests in his arms.”


The story of Poland’s Roll of Honor is one told across both the North and the South, and the backdrops include Antietam, Perryville, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and Andersonville Prison. Ohio contributed much manpower to the Union Army, and Poland, which sent a company of men to the U.S. Army in 1812, never failed to fill its quotas.

The 23rd Ohio was mustered into Federal service at Camp Chase near Columbus on June 11, 1861, the first of Ohio’s three-year regiments. Company E of the 23rd began as a militia unit known as the “Poland Guards,” which signed up for the war on the front porch of the Sparrow Tavern, which stands to this day.

Three men on the Roll of Honor are David Williams, Thomas Mayberry, and Charles Long. At the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862, the 23rd lost almost two hundred men, at one point fighting hand-to-hand. Private Williams was killed in this action.

A few days later on September 17, twenty-one-year-old Corporal Long was killed at the battle of Antietam, and twenty-two-year-old Private Mayberry was wounded and died almost a month later.

Honored dead of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry on the Poland Civil War Monument. (Image courtesy the author)
Honored dead of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry on the Poland Civil War Monument. (Image courtesy the author)

Poland will never really know how much they lost in terms of leadership that day. Only six months earlier, Long and Mayberry, two bright and talented young men, had participated in an event sponsored by the Athenian Literary Society of Poland, Ohio. Long delivered the opening oration while Mayberry engaged in a discussion of whether the federal government should abandon or fortify Fort Sumter. Debating Mayberry that night was an eighteen-year-old schoolteacher named William McKinley.

Another Poland man with the 23rd was twenty-four-year-old James Botsford, who before the war tried his hand mining for gold in California. Botsford was elected Third Lieutenant the day the Poland Guards marched out to war, and by November of 1862, would rise to captain and be appointed assistant adjutant-general of U.S. Volunteers. After the war, Botsford was engaged in several businesses, including iron manufacturing, and in 1892 then-Governor McKinley appointed his friend and former comrade Ohio’s quartermaster general. When Botsford died in 1898, McKinley, as president, wrote that Botsford’s memory would “always remain with me in tender recollection.”

Poland was also well represented in Companies A and H of the 105th Ohio Infantry. At the battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, Robert Wilson, a forty-year-old tailor with a wife and three children, was gravely wounded. A Mexican War veteran, it is said that his stories of that war made him a hero in the eyes of the young men who signed up with him, which could explain his being elected their captain. After being wounded, he was taken to Mackville where he died and was buried. In 1866, Wilson was reinterred at the National Cemetery at Camp Nelson in Kentucky.

Fighting with Wilson on that ridge was twenty-year-old sergeant Ira Mansfield. In 1916, Mansfield, by then a wealthy mine owner, paid to have a marker erected and dedicated at Riverside Cemetery to his boyhood hero.

Marker in Riverside Cemetery dedicated to Capt. Robert Wilson. (Image courtesy of author)
Marker in Riverside Cemetery dedicated to Capt. Robert Wilson. (Image courtesy of author)

The 105th lost twenty-nine men killed and one hundred thirty wounded that day, including nineteen-year-old Poland resident William H. Barker, who died a month later at Bardstown.

Following Perryville, the 105th was transferred out west and participated in the battles around Chattanooga. At Chickamauga, Emmons Sparrow of Company H was captured on the second day’s fighting and was never again heard from. Over the next year, the 105th would lose four more comrades.

The National Park Service estimates that of the nearly 200,000 Union soldiers held prisoner during the Civil War, about 30,000 died while in captivity. The Poland monument bears the names of seven men who gave their lives not on the battlefield, but in enemy prison camps. Four died at Andersonville in Georgia, the best known of the Southern camps: Privates John Park and Zabad Bissell of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and Privates J.M. Hollibaugh (nineteen-years-old) and George Cobb of Company E, 23rd Ohio Infantry.

Private D.I. Blackman of the 23rd was one of 2,800 Union prisoners to die as a prisoner in Florence, South Carolina, while Private Samuel Zedaker of Company I, 60th Ohio Infantry perished in North Carolina’s Salisbury Prison, one of 3,649. Private William Morse of the 79th Illinois Infantry died in an Atlanta prison.

In his remarks at the 1887 dedication ceremony, C.F. Kirtland, speaking on behalf of the citizens of Poland, called the Riverside Cemetery monument “a voluntary tribute” to the soldiers’ worth and a reminder to the living “of them who have sacrificed their lives to duty.” That sentiment is re-affirmed every year when the Poland Village Memorial Day parade ends at Riverside Cemetery and guest dignitaries lay a wreath at the Civil War monument.

Laying a wreath at the monument on Memorial Day. (Image courtesy Ted Heineman)
Laying a wreath at the monument on Memorial Day. (Image courtesy Ted Heineman)

To visit, Riverside Cemetery is located at 110 Riverside Drive, Youngstown, Ohio 44514 and is open year-round. You can contact them at 330.757.1082.

2 Responses to William McKinley and Poland’s Riverside Cemetery

  1. Great article!
    There is one mistake at the base of the monument.
    It states that McKinley was both the 25th and 26th President.
    Dave Smith, Poland, Ohio

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