Young Army officer Benjamin Harrison commanded the 70th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. On Jan. 16, 1865, Brevet Brig. Gen. Harrison was ordered to rejoin his unit, which was then stationed in Savannah.
Harrison took a train to New York and then boarded the steamer "Fulton," which headed for Hilton Head Island, S.C. Harrison, who became our 23rd president in 1889, transferred to a smaller steamer, which proceeded up Broad River to Blair’s landing by Beaufort, S.C., Instead of Savannah, he was ordered to board the steamer “Champion" for Wilmington, N.C.
On Nov. 18, 1898 the New York Times reported that the Savannah City Council declared the city did not want a visit by President William McKinley Jr. Mayor Peter W. Meldrim declared he did not want to add an extra burden to the city’s treasury. Savannah City Council’s declared their opposition to his visit because of his “appointing so many negroes to important positions in the South.”
McKinley decided to come to Savannah anyway to confer with Major General John R. Brook, the Military Governor of Cuba. A special Presidential Reception Committee was sent to Guyton to meet the President’s train. As President McKinley stepped from his special train at the Central Railroad depot, he received a 21-gun salute.
McKinley headed to the Forsyth Park Parade Grounds Extension where he reviewed some 12,000 Army troops that were waiting to board ships in Savannah’s harbor for the voyage to Cuba. That afternoon, he addressed students in Peter W. Meldrim Hall at the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth.
That evening, Mayor Meldrim welcomed the president and his party to the grand banquet being held at the DeSoto Hotel. McKinley gave a speech in which he praised the “splendid heroism” of black soldiers fighting in Cuba and told of the black standard bearer of a Confederate unit who died protecting his flags during the Civil War.
McKinley made his second trip to Savannah and the Coastal Empire in March of 1899 when Cornelius Bliss, his
former Secretary of the Interior, invited him to Jekyll Island. It turned out both McKinley and his 1896 Republican Party Convention opponent, Hobart Thomas Reed, visited Jekyll at the same time.
Rumors abounded about what might happen if the two met. Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, purposely invited a number of journalists onto the island so that they could cover "the story." After attending an “old-fashioned cake walk” at the Clubhouse sponsored by the island’s black workers, McKinley and his party left, calling Jekyll Island “simply delightful."
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.