Eggnog Riot

“Late on this day in 1826, a group of drunken cadets at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York reaped havoc that lasted deep into Christmas morning. Breaking the Academy Superintendent’s strict rules forbidding the consumption of liquor, the young cadets managed to smuggle in gallons of whiskey and rum, and mixed them into the traditional Christmas-time drink, eggnog. The resulting chaos in which guns were fired, barracks destroyed and the artillery unit summoned to control the situation, was dubbed the Eggnog Riot.

An investigation following the Eggnot Riot provides us with unprecedented details into the preparation of this marvelous military mischief. In an attempt to hold what is perhaps the greatest Christmas party in the then-recently established US Military Academy, the cadets sought to obtain a half-gallon of whiskey to mix into their eggnog. Eggnog was a popular wintertime drink in 19th century America, often enhanced with a drop of brandy, rum or whiskey. Even the great General and President, George Washington was known to have a weak spot for the creamy concoction.

A few nights before Christmas, having dealt with the security guard, cadets Burnley, Center, and Roberts managed to commandeer a boat across the powerful Hudson River to a nearby tavern. There, the cadets proved their worth, and succeeded in not only purchasing a half-gallon of whiskey, but two gallons with which they returned to their residence at the North Barracks. Another cadet, by the name of Lewis, obtained an additional gallon of rum. Rations, it appeared, would be generous at the cadets’ Christmas soirée.

As the strict superintendent entertained top brass at his Christmas events, and well-behaved cadets presumably polished their boots and belt buckles, certain cadets of the North Barracks began smuggling bits of food from the mess hall and planning their celebration.

The great event began in earnest at 10 PM on the evening of the 24th. As fellow cadets heard about the party, they joined in themselves and more whiskey was brought from nearby taverns. In the early hours of Christmas morning, an officer on patrol overheard loud signing and a commotion. The following hours involved cadets becoming more intoxicated and belligerent, while the indignant members of faculty turned to disciplinary actions. One thing led to another, and before they knew it, the cadets had taken up arms in the North Barracks, to protect, one presumes, their precious remaining stash of liquor.

By the time reveille was sounded, the so-called Eggnog Riot had begun: threats were shouted, windows were smashed, and guns were fired. Meanwhile, a few dedicated cadets remained in their barracks drinking. The company formed for roll call at 6:20 on Christmas morning, with many of the cadets drunk in formation.

The inquiry and proceedings that followed included 167 witnesses testifying–the Academy had only 260 cadets at the time. Burnley and Roberts were expelled along with 16 others. Among those implicated but not court martialed was the future President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.

Needless to say, we should all keep an eye on whoever is making the eggnog this season.”