The law establishing the Home requires all members to conform to the rules and articles of war, and they are governed thereby in the same manner as if they were in the army of the United States.
At present there are enrolled as members of the Home 2,610, of whom 2,421 are present. These represent every state in the Union, and nearly every regiment in the late war, and several are Mexican war veterans. A complete record is kept of a member’s military service, while the names on the roll books are so arranged as to have names of men from the same company, regiment, brigade, or division appear together.
The soldier, when admitted, is assigned to a company according to his disability, men of about the same degree of health being kept together. There are twelve companies in the home, besides the convalescent company and the hospital. Each company has a captain, Sergeant and Corporal, who have charge of the men; an office being provided for these officers in one end of the company’s barracks. The rank of a company Captain being nearly equivalent to a Captain in the regular Army, and his command much larger.
Every member is provided with an iron bedstead, with woven wire springs, a wool mattress, four blankets, sheets, pillow cases, pillow, an arm chair and wardrobe. These he is required to keep in order.
Every member must retire by nine o’clock at night, and cannot arise in the morning until six o’clock.
Every member is required to take a bath at least once a week.
A barber shop is provided in each building, where shaving is done free of charge for all members who do not draw a pension, or who draw a pension of $2 per month or less.
The members in companies who are able to work are assigned to duty about one-half day each week, to do fatigue camp duty, such as preparing vegetables for cooking, clearing up the lawn and other light work. In some companies the men do not do any work. Men who do regular work of any kind receive pay, and are termed on “Extra Duty.”
There are beside cooks and waiters, who are paid a salary, thirty-eight guards for police duty, a construction gang for making roads, etc., farm hands, attendants in the hospital, carpenters, painters, orderlies, and men for like work. The pay roll (not including officers) amounts to over $4,800.00 per month. Extra duty payday is usually about the fifth day of the month, when members doing any kind of labor are paid in cash for their previous month’s work.
Read the 1924 Barrack Rules here.
The Weekly Bath
It was an iron-clad rule that every old soldier had to take a bath once a week. He could take more baths if he wanted them; but once a week he was checked into the bath compartment, and his Company Captain could hear whether he had the water running.
To be sure, his comrades did occasionally assert against some old soldier that he ran the water, and let a sufficient amount of time elapse, and then emerged from the bathroom in a state of virgin impurity. However, that was considered a low-down way to cheat. The bathing regulation was pretty well lived up to—and that, too, at an epoch when one bath a week was the allotment of many of our most respected citizens.
But there were hard cases: men who preferred the guard-house and “the dump” to the horrors of bathing. And there was one especially hard case, but he did not linger with us.
He was an old man who applied for admission. His papers were in order, and he seemed to be set for comfort and security all the rest of his life.
But he learned that, when he was accepted, the first thing that would be required of him was that he take a bath; and after that, he would be expected to take a bath the next week, and another bath the following week, and so on to the end of time.
Against such tyranny his rugged soul revolted. He announced bitterly, “I ain’t had a bath since I fell in the river at the Battle of Shiloh, and I’ll be God damned if I’m goin’ to begin now.”
Sooner than be regimented so cruelly, he left the Home, and kicked its lack of dust from his disgusted heels.
From Out at the Soldiers' Home, Elizabeth Corbett