The Great West Point Eggnog Riot

In the early 1800s attitudes regarding young people drinking alcoholic beverages and decorum in general were still developing. It was not against the law in most places for young people to drink, at least in moderation. At West Point Academy, where United States Army officers have been trained for multiple centuries, cultural morays developed at a similar pace to those in society as a whole. A tradition grew up that during the winter holidays of Christmas and New Years the young cadets at the academy could indulge in the consumption of eggnog in its most alcoholic form, laced with whiskey, rum or brandy.

In 1826 the Superintendent of West Point, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, made it known that alcohol would no longer be an acceptable part of the holiday celebrations.1 Nevertheless, some young men decided that they would circumvent the rules and indulged excessively in drink. They smuggled in several gallons of whiskey with the help of an enlisted guard. They began to drink heavily in the North Barracks, singing and talking loudly. Two officers attempted to control their unruly behavior and were roughly handled. One cadet evidently fired a weapon through the door of one of the officers. The indignation of these cadets at the restrictions placed upon them as well as overindulgence led them to even more destructive activity which included the breaking of windows in the North Barracks. It was not until the next morning that the riot was quelled, partly by the action of some of the more sober of the students. The incident came to be known as the Eggnog Riot or the "Grog Mutiny".

Charges were brought against many of the cadets. In fact, it was thought that at least 70 cadets were involved. Court Martials ended up expelling many of the ring-leaders. Some of the names of those involved included individuals who would become powerful or famous in later years including Jefferson Davis who was confined to quarters for a short period for his role. Robert E. Lee was called as a witness during the later investigation by authorities.2

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  1. The Eggnog Riot
  2. Eggnog Riot: The Christmas Mutiny at West Point

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