Christmas Eve Eggnog Riot

  • The Eggnog Riot

Christmas Eve December 24, 1826: West Point cadet behavior leads to the largest mass expulsion in West Point history.

Future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was involved, joining a group of his friends to throw a “rager” in spite of the school’s superintendent’s order that no alcohol was allowed on campus “on pain of arrest and expulsion”.

Outside the area of West Point, taverns were made illegal to visit, but few times was it ever enforced. Davis was known to leave his post at the Academy to drink at the taverns, and was arrested or censured for doing so.

So it probably wasn’t surprising when Davis joined a group of his friends on Christmas Eve to openly disregard the campus prohibition.

It had all been planned days in advance of Christmas Eve, with cadets leaving their posts to secure the necessary ingredients for a customary drink enjoyed across the years, eggnog. And procure they did. Brandy. A gallon of liquor. Eggs, milk, and nutmeg, all for the nog. Add to that some wine, plus a mutton for a snack.

Nothing was unusual at first, with maybe 9 cadets beginning the party around midnight. By 2 a.m. things started to get loud and by 4 a.m. with 14 cadets partying away, the noise could be heard between the upstairs and downstairs areas.

That’s when a faculty member who happened to be a Captain went to investigate. It was Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, or “Old Hitch” to the cadets.

What followed was the opening move which later sealed their fate:

Davis, in a classic frat boy move, hurried into the room to warn the thirteen friends inside—“Put away the grog boys, Old Hitch is coming!”—only to realize Old Hitch was already there. Davis and others were placed under arrest and ordered to their rooms. Hitchcock read the group the Riot Act, which declared any group of twelve or more unlawfully assembled, and satisfied, left the room fifteen minutes later.

But what happened next was what’s called the Eggnog Riot (also called the Grog Mutiny), evolving from a party that involved one-third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. Missing from the riot however was none other than Jefferson Davis (who had passed out in his room).

Jefferson Davis

Cadets, angered by the breakup of the party, started to prank Hitchcock, but that led to someone being knocked out, personnel attacks, brandishing of weapons, arrests, inebriated wanderings, broken windows, a shot being fired into Hitchcock’s room, more arrests, cadets taking up arms in defense, and a slow effort to restore order as reveille approached at 6:05 a.m.

Reveille did sound, but more gunfire was made, more glass broken, and threats to the officials made. The drunk and the sober made roll call. Davis and a couple of other cadets failed to appear. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the riot ended; however, not without various repercussions.

From December 26, 1826 through May 3, 1827 formal proceedings occurred, ending with president John Quincy Adams adjusting some of the verdicts for the cadets, one even receiving a month of hard labor.


NOTE: In addition to the entertaining read of our source article on Lapham’s Quarterly, Wikipedia has the full details, the timeline, and a list of cadets involved in the notorious Eggnog Riot



News to Share Brief source: “The Eggnog Riot: Jefferson Davis throws a holiday rager” by Michelle Legroon for Lapham’s Quarterly

Jefferson Davis image license {PD-US}: By unattributed (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Eggnog Riot image source: