Benny Havens, his infamous tavern outside West Point, and Edgar Allen Poe

As a plebe at West Point, there were many things we had to memorize. One was a song, Benny Havens Oh!  The song is an ode to a tavern keep from the early to mid 1800’s.  If you remember my early blog post about alcohol at West Point, you might think such an homage strange, but such is the way of tradition.

Benny Havens was a legend among cadets. Not just for his service during the War of 1812, but after it, for the small cottage he’d occupied just west of the Cadet Hospital where he’d dispensed hot flips, ale, cider and wheat cakes to home-sick young men.  Among cadets, the oft-repeated story was that Edgar Allen Poe, during his short stint at the Academy, had found Benny Havens to be the only congenial soul in the entire place.  Many in the years that followed agreed.

The Academy had not looked at either Poe or Havens with similar empathy. Poe departed within a year of his arrival at the Academy, dismissed for ‘gross neglect of duty’ and ‘disobedience of orders’.  The rumor in the Corps was that Poe had shown up for parade formation, the uniform order to be ‘with cross belts and under arms’—wearing just cross belts and carrying his musket.  True or not, it made for a good tale and good tales made many a gray night pass by a bit lighter.

Benny Havens was also banished from the military reservation. Only to set up a new tavern down by the Hudson River, just south of post limits.  It was a magnet for the young cadets, many of who were away from home for the first time and thrust into a harsh disciplinary environment that reshaped their boyish spirit into captains of war.  Everyone needed an occasional break from that and Benny Havens was the person to give it.

In my novel, Duty, Honor, Country, the first scene in the book takes place in Benny Havens tavern and involved him, his daughter, William Tecumseh Sherman and other fictional characters. It ignites a series of events that will determine the course of the Civil War.

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:  How West Point Cadets became Cows.


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