West Point’s Eggnog Riot
On the night of December 24, 1826, a group of cadets launched an eggnog-fueled riot that was silenced the following morning.
By the early 1800s, the increasing number of dairy farms in America made milk, cream, and eggnog more readily available for many people. As the Christmas holiday approached, cadets were reminded of West Point’s rules on drinking. Alcohol possession, as well as drunkenness and intoxication, at the West Point Military Academy had long been against the rules. Anyone found in violation of this rule could be expelled. Because of this, the eggnog served at the academy’s Christmas party would be alcohol-free.
In the days leading up to Christmas, a small group of cadets gathered at a nearby tavern and began plotting a way to sneak alcohol into the school. By Christmas eve, they managed to smuggle in two-and-a-half gallons of whiskey and a gallon of rum. The cadets also gathered bits of food from the mess hall for their party.
The party began around 10 p.m. on December 24, with just nine cadets in one room. More arrived later, and a party began in another room. In the early hours of Christmas morning, the cadets – including a young Jefferson Davis – began singing loudly and making a commotion. The voices were soon loud enough to wake faculty member Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who went to one of the rooms and ordered the cadets to bed. While some followed orders, others got angry and began planning a riot against Hitchcock.
Hitchcock returned to bed, but was repeatedly disrupted by knocks on his door. He set out once again to find the trouble-makers and followed Davis to one of the party rooms. After the cadets refused to reveal the source of their spiked eggnog, Hitchcock left to find another faculty member, William A. Thornton.
Thornton had slept through much of the partying but awoke to investigate yells outside. He was then attacked and knocked unconscious by two cadets. Unable to find him, Hitchcock returned to his room. A group of cadets then began attacking his door, and one even fired his pistol into the room. Hitchcock finally opened the door and began arresting them.
Some drunken cadets thought they heard Hitchcock say he would bring in bombardiers to put an end to the riot, and took up arms to protect their barracks.
When reveille began at 6:05, it was joined by gunfire, breaking glass, profanity, screams, and threats against academy officials. Those who hadn’t participated in the night’s party were appalled by the destruction their classmates had caused. Tensions quickly cooled, though, and the mutiny was over by the end of breakfast.
West Point superintendent Sylvanus Thayer, who’d slept through most of the riot, led an investigation into the night’s events. It was estimated the cadets caused $168 (over $4,000 today) worth of damage. Thayer’s inquiry also found that 70 cadets had been involved in the riot. Those who smuggled the whiskey and incited rioting were then prosecuted. As part of the school’s mandate, President John Quincy Adams made the final review of the sentences, making some adjustments to the verdicts. The case was closed on May 3.
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