Monday, December 23, 2019

The Great Eggnog Riot of 1826

Also known as the Great Grog Mutiny, the riot at the U.S. Army's Military Academy in West Point, New York, began on Christmas Eve in 1826. What was it over, you ask? Well, eggnog and whiskey!

Because of the large number of small dairy farms in America at the time, there was a steady supply of milk, cream, and eggnog during Christmas. It's said that eggnog was a particular favorite of early Americans, as it is today. Of course, spiked eggnog is also a favorite of many people today, just as it was back in the day. One well-known eggnog fan, who was also known to add copious amounts of rum, sherry, brandy, and whiskey, was none other than George Washington.

As for the Great Eggnog Riot of 1826, it really was an actual riot. Yes, among Army cadets. 

It resulted from a large amount of whiskey being smuggled into the academy a couple of days earlier. It was supposedly used to spike the eggnog of a Christmas party in the North Barracks of the academy. What happened was something that happened in so many other colleges all over the nation, students got drunk.

As for the riot, what happened at West Point was enormous. The scale of the riot was actually incredible. It's said that the riot involved more than a third of all of the cadets by the time it was brought under control on Christmas Day. Imagine that a third of all cadets were involved in the drunken riot. Yes, all because the cadets got drunk on many eggnogs made with smuggled whiskey.

One of the big differences between what took place at West Point and that of other colleges was the actual court-martialing of twenty cadets and the discharge of one active-duty enlisted man. And as for those rioters, a few would become famous in their own right. One was cadet Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who would become the President of the Confederate States of America. 

Though not court-martialed, it's said that Davis used his family's political influence to sidestep disciplinary actions. Jefferson Davis' disciplinary problems were well known at the academy. Most believe he would have been expelled if his family were not politically connected. Davis would graduate 23rd in a class of 33 in 1828. In the same class at West Point with Davis was future Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston of Kentucky. In the class behind Davis and Johnston were future Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, Virginia.

By 1826, West Point academy had a faculty and staff of 36 men teaching mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, life sciences, and military tactics. There were 260 cadets there, and its superintendent was Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, who took command of the United States Military Academy in 1817.

As for the possession of alcohol there, that was strictly prohibited. Things have always been strict there. Tobacco use and gambling could lead to demerits or even the loss of basic privileges. As for drinking, drunkenness and intoxication were both grounds for expulsion.

The school is said to have had a drinking problem by that time. In fact, according to reports, by 1826, drinking was seen as out of hand. So now, imagine how they took it when the administration told them that their Christmas eggnog would be alcohol-free. That didn't sit well at all with many there. And yes, that's what prompted a few to smuggle whiskey into the school.

It all started on the night of December 22nd, cadets William R. Burnley and Samuel Alexander Roberts, both from Alabama, and Alexander J. Center from New York were at Martin's Tavern. The three had planned to purchase a gallon or more of any kind of booze that they could lay their hands on. They wanted to use it as a base for the eggnog at the Christmas party just two nights later in the North Barracks. They decided to settle on a half-gallon of whiskey if they had to.

In the process of finding whatever they could smuggle into the academy, those three cadets are said to have gotten into a fight with the proprietors of at least one other tavern while at Martin's Tavern. The owner of that other tavern knew the U.S. Army would shutdown his place if they found out he was involved with smuggling any sort of booze into the school.

Earlier that night, Army private James Dougan was on guard duty. He allowed the three cadets to take a boat across the Hudson to smuggle whiskey. As for the duty cadet guard of the day, he was Phillip St. George of Virginia.

When cadets Burnley, Roberts and Center, returned, they successfully found two gallons of whiskey which they snuck into the North Barracks room No. 33. At about the same time, cadet T. M. Lewis of Kentucky showed up with a gallon of rum from Benny's Tavern. He snuck the rum into North Barracks room No. 5.

At the North Barracks, cadets planned their party. Besides their smuggled booze, they gathered stolen food from the mess hall. At the South Barracks, cadets there found out about the Christmas party at the North Barracks.

The Christmas party started with only nine cadets in room No. 28 in the North Barracks. The word swept the academy very soon, and other cadets showed up. Then the party spread to room No. 5. Soon after that, several cadets showed up with another gallon of whiskey.

By 2:00 a.m., there was a large commotion coming from singing and carrying on in the North Barracks. By 3:00 a.m., things had gotten out of hand. At 4:00 a.m, the duty officer, Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, was awoken by the loud partying a few floors above him.

Hitchcock went to investigate and found cadets drunk on eggnog. He ordered them to their rooms. Then as he went to leave, he heard a second party going on in the room next door. When he went to investigate, he found several drunk cadets. James W.M. "Weems" Berrien of  Georgia, one particular cadet, used his hat to conceal his face.

Hitchcock ordered Berrien to remove the hat, but Berrien refused. When Hitchcock demanded that Berrien show himself, they started arguing. Then when Hitchcock left the room at 4:15 a.m., things got so tense that cadets were heard calling out, "Get your dirks and bayonets! And pistols if you have them. Before this night is over, Hitchcock will be dead!"

In fact, Berrien incited such a rage toward Hitchcock that Berrien's companion cadet William D.C. "Billy" Murdock of the District of Columbia started getting others together to kill Hitchcock. And with their efforts to attack Hitchcock, the Great Eggnog Riot was on!

It's said that anywhere from 80 to 90 cadets took part. And while no one was killed that night, the riot and total chaos resulted in Hitchcock and another officer being assaulted, windows being shattered, doors being demolished, and even banisters being ripped away from stairways. By daylight on Christmas morning, the North Barracks was completely wrecked.

How did Berrien and Murdock influence so many to wreck the North Barracks? Well, it is said that when Captain Hitchcock ordered another officer to fetch the superintendent, some of the drunk cadets thought Hitchcock called for regular troops with their heavy weapons to quell the riot. This made several cadets, many of whom were not drunk, take up arms to defend the North Barracks.

Superintendent Thayer was awoken at 5:00 a.m. by the sound of drums. He immediately ordered his aide to get his second in command. Meanwhile, Captain Hitchcock continued to restore order in the North Barracks while the main rioters were attempting to recruit other rioters with no success.

Captain Hitchcock met with Col. Thayer to report what transpired during the early morning. By this time, Thayer had summoned regular Army troops to assist in getting things under control. When reveille sounded at 6:05 a.m. that morning, U.S. Army troops from the Second Artillery arrived at the North Barracks.

The troops took up positions while hearing the sound of gunfire, windows breaking, and listening to future officers swearing a blue streak while some of the injured cadets screamed in pain. The troops stayed while many rioting cadets kept up their threats to academy officials. Then things started to quiet down, especially as those cadets who were not drunk from the eggnog simply laid down their arms.

Col. Thayer decided not to indict the third of the academy's 260 students involved in the riot. Instead, he chose to target only the worst offenders. With that, 20 cadets were tried and expelled, Army Private Dougan was discharged for dereliction of duty, and the buildings that served as the riot site were completely demolished. In fact, it's said that when new barracks were reconstructed at West Point in the 1840s, the academy actually took special precautions to make any future riot a lot more difficult.

Imagine that. All as a result of making a little too merry at Christmas!

Update: My reader, Bill Schroeder, sent me a recipe for George Washington's Eggnog. He states it makes "a jug of some Riotously good Grog Nog." The gentleman in the picture is Bill Schroeder's great-great-great-great-grandfather, Weems Berrien. 

I've posted it here because it's linked to history, and I love eggnog. And frankly, my friends, after looking at the recipe and directions to make it, I can't wait to give it a try this Christmas.

Tom Correa

Friday, December 20, 2019

One of the Greatest Surprises at Christmas

On December 24th, 1818, the Christmas carol "Silent Night," which was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, was sung for the very first time at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria.

The story goes that a young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the previous year. He wrote the lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night") in 1816. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics.

Franz Xaver Gruber was a schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass. The reason for the guitar is that a river flooded and damaged their church organ. The collaboration took place, and the rest is history.

Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Father Mohr's name was lost to time. And while Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed that some great composer such as Mozart, or Beethoven came up with the melody. That all changed in 1995 when a manuscript was discovered in Father Mohr's own handwriting. It was dated and states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria. That manuscript also shows that the music was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818. The manuscript is believed to be the only such work in Father Mohr's own handwriting.

By 1859, an Episcopalian priest John Freeman Young who was serving at the Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation to the famous song. That translation is what we still sing today.

In 1914, roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial truce during World War I along the Western Front. Thought British and German troops were dug into their established lines in the region of Ypres, Belgium, and such a truce was not permitted by senior officers, it did take place on Christmas Eve 1914.

The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1914, when German troops began decorating their trenches for Christmas. Soon, they were noticed placing candles on a tree, then another and another. Then they were heard singing Christmas carols. Most notably, the German troops started singing "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night"). Imagine being nearly knee-deep in mud in northern France and sing Silent Night.

Well, soon the British troops in trenches across from them, across "No Man's Land," started singing the English version of "Silent Night." After that, troops started shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Then calls came out for troops to cross "No Man's Land" and meet.

That was a dangerous place. As dangerous a place as could have been found in the history of warfare. Snipers regularly tried to take out targets of opportunity. So imagine if you would the bravery it took for the first troops to climb up out of the trenches and make the effort to greet their enemy at Christmas. Such bravery resulted in the men exchanging small gifts such as buttons and coins, food and even clothing.

Soon, the unofficial truce expanded and it allowed the troops to retrieve those recently killed. The dead were returned to back behind their lines by burial parties. And believe it or not, last respects and funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned those killed. They did do together. During one such funeral in the middle of "No Man's Land," both German and British troops gathered, read a passage from Psalm 23, and paid respects to those of equal courage.

I read where they had a soccer game or two, but I couldn't find out what they used for a soccer ball since soccer balls weren't in the trenches in World War I. And while the story of the soccer games are widely known, I can't find out how it was done. Because of that, it makes me wonder if it might be more myth than fact.

As I stated before, the truce was not sanctioned by the higher ups. It actually worried the high-ranking officials on both sides. Some were afraid that their men might lose their will to fight. It is said that a German corporal saw the truce as a surrender of sorts. He is known to have said, "Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honor left?" That German corporal was Adolf Hitler.

It is said that when the sun set on Christmas Day, that all of the troops returned to their respective trenches. While a few unofficial truces actually lasted until New Year’s Day, in most places on the front the war resumed on December 26th. One report on the resumption stated:

At 8:30 a.m. in Houplines, Captain Charles Stockwell of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers fired three shots into the air and raised a flag that read “Merry Christmas.” His German counterpart raised a flag that read “Thank you.” The two men then mounted the parapets, saluted each other and returned to their sodden trenches. Stockwell wrote that his counterpart then “fired two shots in the air—and the war was on again.”

The events of what took place was not reported in newspapers at first. In fact, it was a week later before the public heard about it. The first to report it was The New York Times which published the story on December 31st. Remember, the United States was still neutral at the time. British papers picked it up and immediately printed a number of versions of what took place, many were first-hand accounts from soldiers in the field. Some accounts were from letters sent home to their families.

During the Christmas of 1915, there was no truce -- official or otherwise. In fact, it's said that British Expeditionary Force commander John French issued orders stating that such an unofficial ceasefire should never happen again. As for their resumption of fighting? It would become even more brutal than before, especially with the introduction of mustard gas in 1915. They say that's why the event was not repeated in 1915.

And while the guns of World War I did not finally fall silent again until the signing of the armistice on November 11th, 1918, "The Christmas Truce," as it became known, did in fact provide proof that such a thing was possible. Seen as a sort of Christmas miracle in itself, the guns being extinguished for that brief moment in time gave many a flicker of hope that peace was something that wasn't completely out of reach. Too bad the moment wasn't seized upon, as millions of lives could have been saved.

Tom Correa

Saturday, December 7, 2019

About Darby, Music, Movies, And More

Classic Film Rear Window (1954)

During dinner while celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday a few days ago, my family met a wonderful young woman by the name of Darby. As usual, my curiosity got to me and I asked what motivated her folks to name her Darby. Frankly, whether it's parents naming their children after favorite vacation spots, hotels, movies stars, or made-up ethnic names, I'm always surprised at the way parents name their kids.

I thought it may have been a family name passed down, but that wasn't the case. She said her parents liked the name Darby from a Disney movie. We had a laugh about that. But really, it fits her. Her pleasant disposition and genuine friendliness somehow goes along with her name. And of course, after asking her about that Disney movie, we somehow stumbled over the fact that she loves classic movies and older music. She said her favorite movie stars are Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. I immediately suggested that she watch Rear Window and Casablanca. She said she owns both on DVD.

My conversation with her started me thinking about some of the questions that I get from readers. Many want to know where I received my degrees from, what are they in, what sort of work was I in before retiring, was I an investigator, did I retired from the Marine Corps, or if I've ever considered running for political office. Some have written to ask about how long I've been writing before starting this blog, if I did it for a living, and was there any real money in writing for others.

I'm real surprised at how many readers have contacted me to ask the exact number of firearms, and types of guns, that I own. That's always sort of surprised me, as if I'd tell folks such a thing. Or really, if that's anyone's business but mine. And while that surprised me at first, I got used to being asked strange questions like that. For example, I've had a couple of people write to ask what sorts of precautions have I taken when "the next revolution starts." Imagine that!

As for my education, what I've done for work, my time in the Corps, the absurdity of running for office, or some of the firearms that I own, I've pretty much answered a lot of those questions here and there since starting my blog in 2010.

Though not as much as I have in the past, I still write about horses, firearms, and conservative politics. Of course, as most on here know, or at least those who have read my blog for a while now, I've concentrated on writing about my interest in Old West History more than anything else. And since I've always found American History so interesting, especially what took place during the Old West and the Great Depression, I have sort of focused on that lately.

Darby did get me thinking about the readers who have taken the time to ask about what sorts of movies and music that I may like. Maybe it's because I'm a very old fashion sort of guy, but my taste in music and movies runs to the old stuff. In fact, from old Western television series like Lawman starring John Russell and Peter Brown to the music of Bob Wills and Glenn Miller, I love of the old stuff.

Since I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, I still enjoy listening to Dean Martin. Yes, especially his singing My Rifle, My Pony and Me. Whether it's Eddy Arnold doing Cattle Call, Johnny Horton singing North to Alaska, Ray Price singing Soft Rain, Merle Haggard singing San Antonio Rose or The Fightin' Side of Me, Ricky Nelson doing Mary Lou or Travelin' Man, or the great Marty Robbins singing El Paso, I like songs and singers who I can understand what they're saying. Because of that, besides Dean Martin, I love Elvis, Nat King Cole, Jim Reeves, Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Rex Allen, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall, and Ray Price. I love listening to Doris Day. Laugh if you want, but there are few sounds that top Doris Day singing Sentimental Journey.

I'm sure someone will write to ask about my taste in "modern" music. Well, I've never been a Garth Brooks fan. Frankly, after seeing him in concert many years ago, I really think he's about the most over-rated singer out there. For me, I'm a big fan of George Strait, Alan Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Asleep At The Wheel, and the Sons of the San Joaquin. 

Kathy Mattea did a song called Where've You Been? in 1989. Like Tom T Hall's Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine, and Kenny Rogers' The Gambler, I find that I'm really thinking more about their messages as I've gotten older.

As for those songs that stick in you head, I remember being at the Marine Corps Recruit Deport going through Boot Camp in 1973 when I heard Marie Osmond's Paper Roses coming from a jukebox inside the Enlistedmen's Club on base. I remember standing in a chow-line and just about the whole platoon leaned to hear it better. I remember working the door at a honky-tonk bar in 1979 when I first heard Waylon Jennings singing Amanda. And I happened to be working the door in that same joint in 1981, when the song You're The Reason God Made Oklahoma by David Frizzell and Shelly West came out.

Because I like singers with great voices who I can maybe sing along with if I have a mind to, I also enjoy most '50's rock and roll, Jimmy Dean's Big Bad John, and Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire. And really, how can anyone not like Don Gibson's Sea of Heartbreak, Ben E. King performing Stand By Me, Sam Cooke's Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World, or Gene Pitney's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Since I mentioned the song The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 movie of the same name starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Lee Marvin is about as good as any classic Western can get. OK, maybe with the exception of Shane (1953) starring Alan Ladd -- which is probably the best Western ever made.

Besides Shane and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, my favorite westerns are Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) starring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn, Big Jake (1971) and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973) which featured John Wayne, Rough Night in Jericho (1967) with Dean Martin, George Peppard, and Jean Simmons, Hang 'Em High (1968) which starred Clint Eastwood, and Bite the Bullet (1975) starring Gene Hackman and James Coburn. Those are a few of my very favorites.

My taste in westerns may surprise some folks. In fact, some people have probably never heard of some of the other westerns that I like. For example, there's West of the Pecos (1945) starring Robert Mitchum and Barbara Hale, Blood on the Moon (1948) starring Robert Mitchum and Robert Preston, Cattle Drive (1951) with Joel McCrea, Man with the Gun (1955) with Robert Mitchum as a "town tamer," The Proud Ones (1956) with Robert Ryan, The Oklahoman (1957) starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Hale, Gold of the Seven Saints (1961) with Clint Walker and Roger Moore, The Night of the Grizzly (1966) starring Clint Walker. Of course, let's not forget the Hopalong Cassidy films starring William Boyd, or any of the Tim Holt westerns like Under the Tonto Rim (1947).

I can see the email now, "How about Django Unchained, and other great new Westerns? What are you, a racist?" Well, I really don't think Hollywood makes too many good movies anymore. With all of the films that they put out, most are really bad. By the previews that I saw, Django Unchained looked like a horrible film and I wasn't going to waste my time watching it.

I have friends who support any and all westerns being made. It doesn't matter to them if they are pathetic remakes like the sad job they did remaking 3:10 to Yuma. I watched a few minutes of the remake and it was terrible. As for political pieces like Dances with Wolves (1990) starring Kevin Costner which demonized Americans while making the Old West look nothing like it was, I hated it.

For the record, I do think Quigley Down Under (1990) starring Tom Selleck and Laura San Giacomo, Tombstone (1993) starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, and Sam Elliott, Last Stand at Saber River (1997) featured Tom Selleck, Suzy Amis, Keith Carradine, David Carradine, Harry Carey Jr., Crossfire Trail (2001) with Tom Selleck, Virginia Madsen, and Wilford Brimley, and the really well-done remake of Monte Walsh in 2003 starring Tom Selleck, Isabella Rossellini, and Keith Carradine are all excellent movies. They are all great entertainment. 

Most Hollywood films a not historically correct. But that shouldn't matter if they are entertaining and not boring. For me, I believe that westerns don't have to be historically correct. But they should be entertaining. Sadly, Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, just like his film Wyatt Earp, are lousy films because they were not historically correct or in any way entertaining. In Wyatt Earp, Costner makes the movie about Kevin Costner and is actually pretty boring. As for Dances with Wolves, it sets out to make a political point which is to make "whites" appear evil, all while attempting to rewrite history. I remember thinking how this film wasn't worth my time.

After posting this, a friend wrote to say the only thing good about Dances with Wolves is the movie's soundtrack. I agree a hundred percent with that. The soundtrack to that movie is excellent. Another friend wrote to tell me that I forgot to mention Lonesome Dove. I didn't mention Lonesome Dove because I was listing movies. While I think Lonesome Dove, as great as it is, would've made a great feature film, fact is it's a mini-series. And frankly, it needed to be a mini-series to get everything in. For the record, I am a big fan of just about anything Robert Duvall's done, including Open Range and Secondhand Lions

While I've always loved westerns, my favorite non-western movies are Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) which starred Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, Rear Window (1954) starring Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart, It Happened One Night (1934) starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, Adventure (1945) with Clark Gable and Greer Garson, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) which combines a western with film noir while starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, and Ernest Borgnine, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, and then there's one of my favorite comedy's Teacher's Pet (1958) with Clark Gable and Doris Day.

During this time of year, I've always loved It's a Wonderful Life (1946) starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, and of course there's the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947) film starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, and a very young Natalie Wood. But my favorite Christmas movie is The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) starring Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby. Although, after saying that, I have to admit that around this time of year I've always enjoyed a fairly unknown movie We're No Angels (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray. It's a great Christmas comedy that does a great job of poking fun at Humphrey Bogart's tough guy on screen persona. 

My short conversation with Darby was good for a few reasons. But mostly, it's because she really got me thinking about how there may be more people than I suspect who don't like what Hollywood and the music industry is doing today. She was a pleasant surprise. It was great to hear her talk about how she loved classic films and didn't like today's music. Frankly, I don't hear that very often at all.

And since she likes classic movies, I'm hoping that those that I mention above leads her to enjoying more of what came out of that era. As for being so very polite, respectful, friendly, Darby has more class and bearing than most young people that I meet today. That in itself speaks volumes about her good character, it also speaks to the fact that her parents did a great job of raising her.

I can only hope Darby has a very Merry Christmas.

Tom Correa