By Andy Mateja

While there were many heroic regiments on both sides during the Civil War, each with their own memorable experiences, there is one that has the unique distinction of containing TWO future presidents of the United States.  The 23rd Ohio is that special regiment that contained both future presidents Rutherford B Hayes and William McKinley. It also started off with an army commander named William S. Rosecrans who became the commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland.

The 23rd Ohio Regiment was formed in mid-1861 and received its training at Camp Chase near Columbus OH. It mustered in 960 men at the time and was ordered to West Virginia to guard the vital Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railway through that region. Rosecrans was their commander at the time who, prior to the Civil War had resigned from the army to work in the oil refining business in Cincinnati. His victories in West Virginia propelled by to higher command and transfer to the Union Army on the Western region.

Since weapons were scarce in Ohio, the regiment was issued old “Flintlock” rifles which they bitterly rejected in protest. The men also disliked officers who had attended West Point and preferred “civilian” leaders. Major Rutherford Hayes fit that description and was instrumental in convincing the troops to accept the Flintlocks until better weapons became available. He reminded the men of the efforts of the veterans of the Revolutionary War who had far less to work with and inferior weapons, but still went on to win their independence .

Hayes eventually became commander of the regiment and after the war became Governor of Ohio and the 19th President of the United States.

The 23rd Ohio participated in some of the major battles of the war in the East, including South Mountain and Antietam in 1862. Antietam was the bloodiest single day of the entire Civil War. The regiment also participated in Maj Gen Phillip Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign including at Opequon (Third Winchester), Fishers Hill and Cedar Creek.

The “other” future President Wm B McKinley joined the regiment as a private and rose to the rank of Major by the end of the Civil War.

No other regiment enjoyed this special distinction as the 23rd Ohio.

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