It was the year 1826, Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock was settling in for what he had hoped to be a quiet Christmas Eve. Just one night before the Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy, one Colonel Sylvanus Thayer had given Hitchcock and Lieutenant William Thornton orders to keep the cadets of the North Barracks under tight watch. History would call this the night of the 1826 Eggnog riot.
The superintendent had warned that the cadets might try to throw the long storied, traditional Christmas drinking party that night. It was an annual event that had long been permitted to give the future military leaders a much-needed respite of revelry, but Thayer had put his foot down the year before and the cadets were forbidden to hold the party. Hitchcock was certain his orders would be followed and he slept well for nearly four hours.
Little did Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock know, but the cadets of the North Barracks at West Point were set upon their course. They had quietly snuck the rum, brandy, wine, and whiskey into the military facility. They would soon be combined with homemade Eggnog to toast the holiday… over and over and over again. Three intrepid students even braved the frigid river to buy the hard liquor from a tavern on the opposite shore.
The Countdown To EggNog Fueled Chaos
As the good Colonel slept, the rowdy brigand cadets (a young Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy among them) partied… and hard. They partied long into the early morning hours. By 4 AM the noise from the raucous party roused Captain Hitchcock and the hammer came down. According to New York Upstate, the explosive rowdy party culminated in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 and the largest mass expulsion in West Point History.
“The noise woke Captain Hitchcock up and he wandered the halls looking to “ascertain if there was any disorder in the barrack.”
It did not take him long to find some.
He found seven visibly drunk cadets in one room and told them to disperse.
He found thirteen drinking inside another room.
In a scene right out of a college comedy movie, Jefferson Davis, with the world’s worst timing, burst into the room and shouted to his classmates, “Put away the grog boys, Old Hitch is coming!”
The cadets didn’t take the riot act the Colonel read them well. “Get your dirks and bayonets…and pistols if you have them. Before this night is over Hitchcock will be dead!” These days they’d probably call it a “mostly peaceful Christmas party”.
Then All Hell Broke Loose
The drunken rabble couldn’t reach the Captain, so instead, they trashed the place. Allegedly, Hitchcock was nearly shot for his trouble when he tried to break down a barricaded door between him and the students, a cadet pulled his pistol and fired. Luckily for Ethan Allen, another cadet bumped into him, and instead, a door jamb took the bullet.
Hitchcock sent for the Barracks’ Commodore William Worth who arrived to restore order, but not before the cadets had smashed dishes, destroyed furniture, broke windows, and ripped banisters down from the stairs.
By the time order was restored, the barracks was in near-ruins, and ninety of two-hundred and sixty cadets had participated in the rioting. In a spirit of clemency (and pragmatism), the Army brass only charged the 19 “most aggressive offenders”. All 19 were summarily expelled. Today, the barracks have been redesigned, and rowdy parties are strongly discouraged, even at authorized events the amount of alcohol cadets are permitted is strictly controlled. All because of the EggNog Riots 195 years ago.