Physical examinations prior to entering the army sometimes included checking the recruit for teeth. Here's one soldier's description of the exam and of the fare:
"Shortly after our arrival we were taken before the regimental surgeon for examination. The surgeon was Dr. J. J. H. Love, one of the most brusque-appearing and yet most kind-hearted men that ever lived. Until his recent death he was one of the most respected and prominent residents of Montclair.
'Strip,' ordered the doctor.
There were five or six examined at a time. We boys, who never had a pain or qualm in our lives, thought it was a needless formality, but were told that it was 'according to regulations.' Then the doctor punched us and pinched us, rubbed his hands down our legs as if we were so many horses, seized us in the groin, and told us to cough, and finally said:
'Let's see your teeth.'
'What do you want to see my teeth for?' I asked. 'Are we going to bite the enemy?'
'Something tougher than that,' good-naturedly answered Dr. Love. 'You will ahve to bite hard-tack and chew cartridges, and I guess you will find both tougher than any rebel meat you ever will see.'
I didn't know then that hard-tack was the stuff soldiers were mainly fed upon; but I found out before long. For the information of the reader I will explain that a hardtack is the most deceptive-looking thing in the world. Its general appearance is that of a soda cracker, but there the resemblance ends. You can bite a soda cracker. A hard tack isn't tender. Compared with it a block of granilite paving stones would be mush. That is the sort of pastry that the government fed its soldiers upon. Hard-tack must have been referred to in that part of the Bible where it says, 'he asked for bread and they gave him a stone.' A further corroboration of this conclusion lies in the positive fact that every box of hard-tack that ever arrived in the army was marked: 'B. C. 348,764,'
the variation being only in the figure. The 'B. C.' was on every box. And judging from the antediluvian toughness of some of the crackers, the prehistoric ancient who stencilled on the figures either accidentally or wilfully post dated the box several thousand years.
What 'chewing cartridges' meant, I hadn't the slightest conception of, but learned that subsequently. that my teeth were apparently equal to the emergency of both biting hard-tack and chewing cartridges, however, must have been a matter satisfactory to Dr. Love, for I successfully passed the ordeal of a 'surgical examination.'"
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!