For Christmas 1826, a handful of cadets at West Point used their military training to plan a party. A party which would cause 19 cadets to be court-martialed, most of those to be expelled, a number which nearly included future Confederate States of American President, Jefferson Davis, class of 1828.
A few cadets smuggled alcohol onto post across the Hudson River in order to make eggnog for a Christmas day party in the North Barracks. As events escalated, the party went from drinking to a riot, causing numerous cadets to be put under arrest.
Alcohol consumption has always been an issue at West Point. During my time there, we had the 10-K rule, where a circle of 10 kilometers was drawn with the flagpole in the center. Cadets were not allowed to consume alcohol at all, whether they were of legal age or not, within that circle. Think through the ramifications of that rule on cadets who had cars?
Much like the North Barracks eggnog party of 1826, which was a blatant flouting of the rules, my company at West Point held a zero-K party. Figuring the best deception is brazenness, G-1 held a beer party right near the flagpole just off the Plain at West Point. It was so obvious that officers passing by had to assume we had permission to do this. After all, no one would be so foolish, but indeed we were and we got away with it.
While Jeff Davis was imbibing with his classmates, Robert E. Lee, class of 1829, was at a more refined party at the superintendent’s quarters where Sylvanus Thayer, considered the “father” of the Military Academy was quizzing him on trigonometry problems regarding artillery fire. Thus can you tell someone’s personality by the way they party.
Jeff Davis wasn’t court-martialed and wasn’t dismissed from the Corps and thus history would play out decades later as Davis, class of ’28, and Lee, class of ’29, both ended up leading the political and military arms of the Confederate States of America.
My novel, Duty, Honor, Country, coming 12 April, opens with cadets drinking in famous Benny Havens tavern, one of them, William Tecumseh Sherman. The drinking escalates, along with other events, to a near duel, and the future for all involved is changed forever.
A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.
Tomorrow: Pilot Peak, Kit Carson, the Donner Party and Conquering California