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Fort Laramie


These Relics of Barbarism: A History of Furniture in Barracks and Guardhouses of the United States Army, 1800-1880

This report offers a history of the furniture used by enlisted men in barracks and guardhouses of the United States Army before 1880. It approaches the subject along three avenues--administrative history, the history of regulations, and the observations of people who were there--and then reconciles the three bodies of information in a summary chapter. More than half the report is appendixes, which are intended to be, as completely as possible, a convenient source book on the subject. The reader is warned in advance that many of the footnotes are substantive; I apologize to those who believe (as I do) that expansions of the text ought to appear at the bottoms of pages, but the economic facts of life forbid that.

There is much in this report that may surprise some readers, especially those of an antiquarian bent. We today are accustomed to an Army that is highly bureaucratized, with a rule or regulation governing every aspect of the soldier's life. Rigid specifications, centralized procurement, and general issues now make every barrack room more or less identical to every other.

But that was not always the case. During the 19th century the Army only haltingly moved from an age of handicrafts without policy to one of polict without handicrafts. As a result, the only thing uniform about the Army was its uniform. Except for clothing and hardware procured and distributed from central sources, most of the Army's material inventory was assembled locally and without guidance from above. It was not until the 1870s that the Army's managers began seriously to address the refinement of specifications and the imposition of uniform standards servicewide. Accordingly, no two army posts--or barrack rooms or even bunks--were the same for the first full century of the Army's existence.

David A. Clary

Bloomington, Indiana


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