The Great West Point Eggnog Riot

By | December 24, 2018

[December 24, 2018]  It was Christmas Eve, 1826, and there were no little feet running through the house getting ready to open gifts.  At the famous U.S. West Point Military Academy there was, however, good cheer that was about to erupt into a riot.  What is known as the Great West Point Eggnog Riot was the result of a hard-ass superintendent who refused cadets a little brew.

What we won’t do for a modest taste of our ‘special’ medicine?” noted one of the cadets in a letter home.  Eggnog, that sweet milky beverage that is favored by children, was at the center of an altercation that imperiled the careers of men who would later become famous during the U.S. Civil War.

It all began when West Point leadership cracked down on the drinking of rum-laced eggnog.1 Alcohol consumption had always been against the rules for the cadets but was unofficially tolerated in certain circumstances.  Drunkenness and intoxication were nevertheless prohibited and could lead to demerits, loss of privileges, or dismissal.  In response to the draconian rules, a small group of cadets decided to throw the biggest party West Point had ever seen.

The southern boys were the most rambunctious of all the cadets and set about acquiring some hard liquor from Benny Havens’ tavern.  Havens was dear to the cadets, both then and now and is remembered still by the Long Gray Line who sings a song called “Benny Havens, Oh!”

A number of cadets showed what leadership, instilled with poor judgment, can do.  A number of the cadets were involved that later prove to be of great courage in war and of service to their nation.  Some of them were also to serve in the Confederacy like Jefferson Davis who became the President of the Confederate States of America.  He graduated from West Point in 1828.

After an inquiry involving 167 witnesses, 70 cadets were determined to be involved in the riots.  Superintendent Thayer picked the worst offenders for prosecution at a court-martial.  It is of interest that the U.S. military justice system is founded in the American Revolution.

The importance of discipline, tradition, and an impartial military judicial system were tested.  After the trials had been completed, sentences of the cadets were revived by the Secretary of War, the U.S. Congress, and President James Monroe.  This demonstrated the importance of the rule of law and the proper authority of the officers of West Point.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “The Great West Point Eggnog Riot

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    It’s my understanding that the large number of small dairy farms in America in the early 19th century made milk, cream, and eggnog more accessible to the American public. George Washington drank eggnog that contained not only rum, but also significant amounts of sherry, brandy, and whiskey.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Today, we find access to be even easier. No surprise that alcohol remains a two-faced coin on how it affects us.

  2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    The Eggnog Riot, sometimes known as the Grog Mutiny, was a riot that took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826. It was caused by a drunken Christmas Day party in the North Barracks of the academy. Two days prior to the incident, a large quantity of whiskey was smuggled into the academy to make eggnog for the party, giving the riot its name. Interesting!

  3. Albert Ayer

    I laughed when I read your article today, Gen. Satterfield. Well done to bring up this humorous part of our past.

  4. Eric Coda

    Good article, entertaining, educational, and readable. I’d like to say to all our regular readers and commentators, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Like most of us, I will be with family and friends during these holidays.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Thanks Eric. I too wish everyone a very merry Christmas and hope that we all remember why we celebrate it.

  5. Len Jakosky

    This is quite a story to read about on this Christmas Eve. Amazing how different people were only a few decades ago. Today, such behavior would likely have been tolerated.

  6. Greg Heyman

    During West Point’s early years following its founding in 1802, it hardly resembled the highly revered institution that exists today. According to Smithsonian, admission standards were lax, and students could be enrolled at any point during the year. Drinking was also a significant part of the campus culture, especially around the holidays. It was an annual tradition at West Point for cadets to drink eggnog during their Christmas festivities, but in 1826, the school’s superintendent, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, cut them off.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      Agree. What an institution looks like today is certainly different (good, bad, or indifferent) than the past. That’s why it’s a good idea to never make assumptions about them and base an opinion or decision upon such an assumption.

  7. Billy Kenningston

    Jeff Davis escaped court-martial, having passed out upstairs after being dismissed from Room 5. He did, though, have a colorful history of booze-related incidents at West Point: Thayer had, only a year before the holiday riot, court-martialed Davis for for shenanigans at Benny Haven’s tavern. This is small potatoes, though, compared to the time Davis got blitzed, fell off a small cliff and spend the next few weeks in the infirmary.

  8. Andrew Dooley

    I heard somewhere that it is also called the Grog Mutiny. What fun?

  9. Max Foster

    The West Point Christmas tradition revolved around cadets drinking eggnog, which at the time was synonymous with “heavily spiked eggnog.” The rules at West Point dictated there could be no alcohol or inebriation on campus, though that did not apply to off-campus watering holes, which is why you had places like Benny Haven’s Tavern, where cadets could barter blankets and shoes for alcohol (though the bartering of West Point supplied materials was technically forbidden). That is the tavern where Edgar Allen Poe spent most of his one and only year at West Point and where, earlier that year, future Confederate president Jefferson Davis was arrested for visiting.

  10. Army Captain

    Good story. I’d heard this many times and it always gives me a laugh.

  11. Martin Shiell

    Too funny to think that West Point cadets would ‘riot’ over a little rum.


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