Did You Know That Eggnog Sparked A Riot At West Point In 1826?

When Colonel Sylvanus Theyer took over the reins West Point Military Academy, staunch discipline was the order of the day.

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The academy had been in somewhat of a disarray when he took over and he soon made dramatic changes, including a prohibition on tobacco, playing cards and even novels. In a moment of generosity, he allowed the consumption of alcohol on the Fourth of July and Christmas. This came to an abrupt end then the 1825 Fourth of July celebrations got out of hand and ended with cadets snake dancing with the academy’s commandant, William Worth, on their shoulders, taking him back to their barracks.

As a result, Thayer implemented an outright ban on “any spirituous or intoxicating liquor”. This meant a dry Fourth of July in 1826, the country’s 50th birthday and the biggest party of the year. Certain West Point cadets were determined to carry out their Christmas tradition of indulging in a bit of homemade eggnog with a hearty dash of some good spirits.

Lots of planning and preparation went into the build up to the party with grog being sourced from far and wide. Not heeding Thayer’s warnings of impending shenanigans, Captain Hitchcock went to bed shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve of 1826. Needless to say, the party went ahead and leading the charge was none other than Jefferson Davis who later went on to become president of the Confederacy.

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Davis was renowned for his fondness for the odd drink and was once caught by Hitchcock at a nearby Tavern. Davis was found guilty by a court-martial but avoided expulsion due to his prior good conduct. Chaos and mayhem ensued which somehow Davis managed to avoid. Close on a third of the cadets were involved and a mass expulsion would have lead to the downfall of the academy.

22 Of the main instigators were placed under house arrest the following day and after extensive investigations around the eggnog riot, the academy started the court-martial process against 19 cadets and one soldier. The end result was that the 19 defendants were found guilty and sentenced to be dismissed. Eight of them managed to get off lightly that to recommendations of clemency of which five went on to graduate.