Short Takes

A nostalgic look back at the long relationship between the Army and whiskey.

American commanders began supplying strong drink in 1775 — right after the Continental Army was formed. Congress voted to supply it with beer. Gen. George Washington, who was fond of beer and all sorts of drink, nonetheless felt something heartier was required. “The benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced in all armies, and are not to be disputed,” wrote Washington to John Hancock, then president of the Congress. Washington directed that each soldier be issued a gill — 4 ounces — of whiskey each day, and later directed field commanders to reward valor with additional rations. To keep fighting men in their cups, Washington asked Congress to fund the erection of whiskey distilleries. (His request was not satisfied. Washington opened his own whiskey distillery near his Mount Vernon estate a couple decades later.)

In the Civil War whiskey was used extensively for medicinal and recreational purposes. Wounded soldiers were often given some as they arrived at the field hospital, and it was otherwise (wrongly) considered a stimulant.

U.S. Grant was fond of it, leading Lincoln (perhaps apocryphally) to consider sending some of whatever he drank to his other generals.

And it’s still popular today.

At Forgotten Weapons Ian McCollum checks out the Burnside carbine, and yes it was designed by the same Ambrose who later commanded the Union IX Corps and briefly the Army of the Potomac. It was quite an advanced design for its time, and ended up the third most commonly used Federal carbine.



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