A peculiar codicil of our Order requires each individual Mason, should he chance upon a poor and penniless "worthy brother" to contribute to his relief as liberally as possible without injury to himself. Future U.S. president William McKinley was so impressed by the generosity of one particular Freemason that he joined the fraternity before he left the army. At the Third Battle of Winchester (Virginia), twenty-one year old McKinley was a staff officer in the Union Army of the Shenandoah. Following the fight, he accompanied a federal surgeon on a visit to Confederate prisoners. In a conversation after the war, McKinley described his first impression of Freemasonry. While visiting Confederate POWs with a federal doctor, McKinley observed the physician handing out money to the rebel prisoners until he had none left. On the way back to camp, McKinley inquired of the doctor if he knew the men or if he had seen them before. On hearing the doctor answer that he did not know the men, McKinley persisted, pressing the physician for his motives. "They are Masons," the doctor replied, "and we Masons have ways of finding that out." McKinley, surprised at this generosity to strangers, asked whether the doctor ever expected repayment. "Well," said the doctor, "if they are ever able to pay it back, they will. But it makes no difference to me; they are brother Masons in trouble, and I am only doing my duty." "If that is Masonry," McKinley observed, "I will take some of it myself."
Eight months later, after the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox, while McKinley remained stationed at Winchester, Virginia, he petitioned Hiram Lodge No. 21----which was comprised of Southerners----and was initiated. He took his first degree on 1 May 1865, his second the next day, and his third degree on 3 May 1865.