The Eggnog Riot!

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB. Robert H. Johnson




Yes, you read that right, The Eggnog Riot. It all started back in December of 1826, when some cadets of the West Point Military Academy wanted to smuggle whiskey into said academy for the Christmas party. At that time, alcohol possession, drunkenness and intoxication were absolutely prohibited and would result in expulsion. Even use of tobacco or gambling would get you minor incarceration, loss of privileges etc.

Once the cadets had learned that the eggnog would have to be alcohol free, they promptly decided to smuggle some in. On December 22nd, a few cadets, namely William R. Burnley, Alexander J. Center and Samuel Alexander Roberts were at Martin's Tavern and almost got into a fight with another local watering hole over the business of getting this much sought after whiskey into West Point.

The three cadets managed to convince Private James Dougan to let them cross the Hudson River to smuggle the whiskey in. They had only planned on acquiring one half gallon of whiskey as a base for the eggnog, however they ended up with a whole lot more than that.

Thanks to Phillip St. George who was the Duty Guard for that day (24 hour shift), the three cadets managed to score two gallons of whiskey for the Christmas party which would be taken back to the North Barracks in room #33. However it may have been help from Bro. T. M. Lewis who came through with the clutch when he acted accordingly to acquire a gallon of rum which he delivered to North Barracks Room #5.

The cadets made their plans and while Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer was attending his own administrative holiday party, the cadets, including Bro. Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States During the Civil War) started to party as well, even Robert E. Lee was present. The movie Animal House comes to mind. Below is a time line of events which eventually ended with court-martials and expulsions.

Follow along carefully...

24–25 December 1826 - 22:00 to 04:15
Nathaniel Eaton (Massachusetts) was the cadet in charge of the external post of the North Barracks. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a faculty member in military tactics, was also stationed in the North Barracks. Eaton and Hitchcock met and discussed the smuggled liquor in the North Barracks.

The eggnog party started among nine cadets in North Barracks Room No. 28. Numerous cadets appeared as the party progressed, while another party began in Room No. 5, mentioned by seven cadets including Davis. Farrelly went again to North's or Havens and returned with another gallon of whiskey early on Christmas morning.

Cadet Charles Whipple (Michigan Territory), the division superintendent during the first part of the incident, went to North Barracks Room No. 5 at 02:00 after hearing a commotion, interrupting a round of singing among eight cadets, including Davis. Whipple returned to his room after a verbal exchange with Davis and the other cadets. Hitchcock made another patrol around the barracks at 03:00. Lieutenant William A. Thornton was asleep while the events unfolded.

By 04:00, voices from the floor above Hitchcock were loud enough to cause the faculty member to investigate Room No. 28, where Hitchcock knocked on the door and found six cadets drunk from the eggnog, as well as two others sleeping on a bed. Hitchcock ordered two of the cadets back to their rooms. After they left, Hitchcock woke the two sleeping cadets and ordered them to leave as well. Then he confronted Cadet James W.M. "Weems" Berrien (Georgia), who responded with equal force. Hitchcock read the Riot Act to the residents of the room for possessing alcohol on the premises. The captain left the room at 04:15. Berrien began verbalising his rage toward Hitchcock, which led William D.C. "Billy" Murdock (District of Columbia) to lead an effort to organize a riot against Hitchcock.


25 December 1826 - 04:30 to 06:05
Hitchcock went down to his room to sleep. Three times he heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. After finding another cadet drunk, Hitchcock saw Davis head over to Room No. 5 where thirteen cadets were partying. Davis, seeing Hitchcock's arrival, warned the other cadets. The captain entered the room, ordering one of the cadets to open up another cadet's footlocker, but the cadet refused. Hitchcock ordered no more disorder, left the room, and started looking for Thornton around 04:50.

Meanwhile Thornton had strolled the North Barracks between 21:00 on the 24th and 02:00 on Christmas Day observing the ongoing partying, before going to sleep at 02:00. He was awoken by loud yells and, once out of his room, was attacked by two cadets. Thornton then put cadet William P.N. Fitzgerald (New York) under arrest for brandishing a weapon. Fitzgerald retreated from Thornton, then told two cadets in Room No. 29 about the arrest.

At this point, noises erupted from the South Barracks which distracted Thornton. While going to investigate that commotion, Thornton was knocked out by Roberts, who had been ejected from Room No. 28 by Hitchcock earlier that evening.

Davis was asleep, but other cadets went looking for Hitchcock. Three other cadets were discovered by Cadet James G. Overton (Tennessee), a relief sentinel and not involved in the parties, and questioned about their actions. They gave a drunken explanation about needing drums and a fife.

At around 05:00, Hitchcock found another inebriated cadet wandering the academy.

By this point, several window panes had been broken. Hitchcock returned to the room where he was staying, No. 8. Several cadets then attacked his door, Guion drawing his pistol and firing a shot into the room. Hitchcock opened the door and yelled at the cadets to stop. The captain then began arresting cadets.

Hitchcock ordered Eaton to find Worth's headquarters. Overton asked Hitchcock to find Thayer and Hitchcock replied "No, Mr. Overton. Fetch the 'com'(Commandant Worth) here!" Several of the drunken cadets thought Hitchcock had stated the Bombardiers would be the ones to quell the riot, using heavy weapons, causing several cadets who were not drunk to take up arms in defence of the North Barracks. Thayer had been awoken at 05:00 by the sound of drums. He ordered his aide, Patrick Murphy, to get Major Worth because of what he could hear going on in the North Barracks.

Hitchcock continued restoring order in the North Barracks, getting into a fight with Cadet Walter Otey (Virginia).Thornton awoke from the stairway where he had been knocked out and returned to his room. Hitchcock greeted him in his room at 05:45. By 06:00, other cadets who were not drinking were also involved in restoring order. The main rioters were attempting to recruit other cadets, but with no success.

Overton could not find Cadet Eaton, who was checking the South Barracks, but did find Major Worth. Hitchcock met Worth and told him what had transpired. By this time, Thayer's aide had arrived in the North Barracks' guardroom. The Second Artillery had arrived at the North Barracks by the time of Reveille at 06:05.

06:05–18:30

Reveille sounded at 06:05, along with gunfire, the sound of glass breaking, profanity by cadets, cries of pain, and threats on Academy officials. North Barracks residents who were not drunk from the eggnog were appalled by the damaged property. Cadets in the South Barracks were well rested, while other cadets in the North Barracks were disheveled. Some of the cadets remained in their rooms drinking, although some appeared in parade formation despite being drunk. Worth met with Superintendent Thayer after the first formation to discuss what had happened in the North Barracks the previous evening. Thayer instructed Worth to get the officers into the North Barracks and restore order.

Captain Mackay, Academy quartermaster, took down details of the damages to the property at North Barracks so repairs could take place in the following days. Many cadets who were drunk made it to company roll call at 06:20, though they were subdued. The mutiny officially ended when Cadet Captain James A.J. Bradford (Kentucky) called the corps to attention and dismissed them from the mess hall after breakfast. Chapel formation took place after breakfast, followed by two hours of service, with most of the drunk cadets still recovering.

Thayer was advised by Worth regarding the events at North Barracks. Captain Hitchcock and Lieutenant Thornton were bruised, while several cadets suffered minor injuries, and Fitzgerald suffered a hand injury. Worth told Thayer that between fifty and ninety cadets had been involved in the mutiny. Later that day, Thayer met with Governor Kemble, an ordnance manufacturer in Cold Spring, New York, to discuss different items, including the events at West Point. Kemble asked Thayer what he would do about the misconduct, to which Thayer replied he did not know.

26 December 1826 - 07:00–08:00

A faculty and staff meeting took place, with all but Captain Thomas C. Legate of the 2nd Artillery A Battery and a few assistant professors in attendance. Thayer informed them that Major General Alexander Macomb, Chief of Engineers and Inspector General of the Academy, had been told of the riot, and that he was awaiting orders from Macomb. The superintendent also informed the attendees that an inquiry would take place during semester finals in January 1827, so some of the cadets would face simultaneous examinations and inquiry.

Cadet Battalion Order 98 was read at formation and posted at several prominent locations at the Academy. Twenty-two cadets were placed under house arrest until further notice; among them was Davis, who had been reported as a malefactor by Hitchcock and Thornton.

Certainly a good time and a bunch of cadets, a handful of whom were Brothers of the craft were determined to have some spirits for their Christmas party. Perhaps keeping passions within due bonds was a lesson they forgot about. Either way, I hope you found the story interesting and maybe just a little funny. 

The timeline above was published on wikipedia with multiple cited references.

Bro. Robert Johnson, 32° is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He is the Master of Waukegan Lodge No. 78. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts a weekly Podcast (internet radio program) Whence Came You? which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.

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