Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Pennsylvania Reserves at Manassas: A Drunken State of Mind

As I discussed last week, the Pennsylvania Reserves left the outskirts of Alexandria during the second week of April 1862 and established camp near Manassas Junction.  The division was on the move along with the rest of Gen. Irvin McDowell's command, which President Lincoln had recently detached from the Army of the Potomac.  Although their stay at Manassas was a short one, the Pennsylvanians found plenty of ways to pass the time. 

Consumption of intoxicating beverages apparently ranked near the top of the list.  The more I read regimental histories, memoirs, and newspapers accounts, the more I am convinced that if the soldiers weren't fighting and marching, they were drinking.  And nothing stood in the way of the men procuring their own supply of liquor at Manassas.  As Archibald Hill of the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves recalled:
[F]rom some source, a considerable quantity of spirits had made its way among the boys. Upon inquiring "whence such great good-fortune," I was informed that a train of cars laden with whiskey, bound for [Nathaniel] Banks' Division, via Manassas Gap, had broken down just beyond the junction, and that OUR BOYS had flocked over, and unhesitatingly appropriated said whiskey to their own use. (Hill 226-27.)
The men of Hill's regiment took full advantage of their discovery:
Scarcely a man was there who had not his canteen full; the most of the boys had already become inebriated, and were making an unwarrantable amount of noise. . . .  Before the close of that eventful day there may possibly have been ten sober men remaining in the regiment; but I doubt it.   (Hill 227-28.) 
Likewise, a few Bucktails pried open a boxcar and discovered about a dozen bottles of whiskey that were intended for use by the Pennsylvania Reserves' medical director.  The story, unfortunately, had a less than happy ending.  The Bucktails began to drink from other bottles in the stash.  A soldier tried to warn his companions that what they were drinking was "no bitters at all," but they continued to imbibe.  (Thomson & Rauch 92.)  The bottles actually contained laudanum, and two men died the next day from ingesting the bitter-tasting narcotic.

"Drunken Soldier" by A.R. Waud (courtesy of Library of Congress).  The sketch is a bit light, but I couldn't resist using the image.
New York Times reporter visiting the Pennsylvania Reserves was appalled by the soliders' bad behavior:
It is to be regretted that at Manassas Junction the most lamentable misrule prevails. Stragglers or drunken soldiers are the only objects of interest to be seen in the vicinity. . . .  (N.Y. Times, Apr. 11, 1862.)
He singled out the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves for particular scorn:
Your correspondent, passing through the place this morning, saw a First Lieutenant and Sergeant of the Fifth Pennsylvania Reserve arm in arm, staggering together over the rail track, in a state of disgraceful inebriety. It is stated that the Colonel of the Fifth Pennsylvania Reserve serves out whisky to his men twice daily and that this morning the Conductor of a train opened six barrels of the beverage, and gave the soldiers free access thereto. . . .  It is certain that over a hundred drunken gorillas, with the number of that regiment on their caps, were occupying the place, threatening to shoot peaceful contrabands as being prime causes of the war -- insulting peaceful travelers -- subject to no rule whatever. It is to be hoped that a speedy stop will be put to such disgraceful proceedings.  (N.Y. Times, Apr. 11, 1862.)
Maj. George Dare from the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves rushed to defend his regiment's honor in a letter submitted to the Philadelphia Press.  He admitted that upon arriving at Manassas on April 10, "some of the men found there a lot of whiskey in some of the open cars."  (Phila. Press, Apr. 25, 1862.)  However, Dare denied the allegations of drunkenness and misbehavior.  He rebuked the Times for publishing an article which "vilifies a thousand of Pennsylvania's best young men, and a colonel who has occupied various positions in our regular army for the past twenty-five years. . . ."  (Phila. Press, Apr. 25, 1862.) 

The Columbia (Pa.) Spy also entered the fray.  In an article published on April 26, 1862, the Spy explained:
We have not seen the paper, and only learn the charge through Lieut. [Sam] Evans, Quartermaster of the Fifth, who authorizes us to deny it as altogether false.  (Columbia Spy, Apr. 26, 1862.)
The Spy informed readers of Evans' version of events:
He says in explanation of the origin of the report, that Government has been supplying the men with a whiskey ration in bad weather.  The Division Commissary had brought on the cars from Alexandria several barrels of whiskey, which the "Bucktails" discovered, and knocking in the heads, they, with assistance from a New York Regiment, finished it.  Of course there was a disgraceful frolic, in which we are sorry to learn, two men from the Fifth participated, one of whom got drunk.  The only officers drunk (and there were several) were of the New York regiment.  (Columbia Spy, Apr. 26, 1862.)*
The paper took aim at war correspondents from the Empire State:
The New York dailies employ a reckless set of reporters, who, deprived of their past facilities for betraying the movements of the army to the enemy, resort to the safer and equally congenial occupation for their mischievous pens--blackening the character of Pennsylvania soldiers.  No repetition of warning will ever teach these slanderous scribblers caution. . . until a half dozen of them are shot as wholesome examples.  (Columbia Spy, Apr. 26, 1862.)
The actual version of events is probably lost to history, but the seemingly trivial debate over the behavior of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves tells us something about moral attitudes towards alcohol consumption and drunkenness in the army.  Soldiers drank to escape the realities of war (and because it was fun), but knew that intoxication could also bring contempt from the outside world.  Such an awareness goes a long way to explaining why Hill felt a bit guilty about his own drinking at Manassas and tried to ease his conscience:
Readers, perhaps you are an advocate of the temperance cause; I hope you are—I am. But I beg you will not censure me for drinking on this occasion. You may be a civilian—a lady, perhaps—and you don't know how a man feels when exposed to the inclemency of the weather—his feet wet and cold—his clothes damp, and a chill wind penetrating them! Under circumstances like these "something," dear reader, is of inconceivable service, warming one up, and making one feel good generally.  (Hill 227.)
Wartime view of officers drinking in a sutler's tent by Arthur Lumley (courtesy of Library of Congress).
Not all liquor was taken from army trains at the railroad junction.  One sutler smuggled hard cider into camp and offered the drink at a price of ten cents a glass.  Even this supply was not safe from the Pennsylvania boys.  A few enterprising men cut a hole in the sutler's tent from behind, tapped the back side of the barrel, and sold two times the cider for half the price.  According to Evan Woodward of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves, these soldiers were "liberally patronized" and soon drained the barrel of cider.  (Woodward 92.)

Thankfully for the sake of military discipline and sobriety, the Pennsylvania Reserves soon resumed their march.  On April 17, John F. Reynold's brigade struck camp and moved along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad towards Catlett's Station.  (OR, 1:12:3, 80; Sypher 174.)  The brigades of George Meade and E.O.C. Ord joined the advance the next day.  (OR, 1:12:3, 85; Sypher 174.)  By the start of May, the Pennsylvania Reserves had marched to Falmouth, across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg.  In June, the men would join the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula. Amidst the carnage of the Seven Days, many soldiers from the Reserves would probably have given anything to be back in Manassas, enjoying a bottle of whiskey with their comrades.

*The whiskey supply mentioned here was likely the same one discussed above in connection with the Bucktails episode.

Columbia Spy, Apr. 26, 1862; A.F. Hill, Our Boys: The Personal Experiences of a Soldier in the Army of the Potomac (1864); New York Times, Apr. 11, 1862; Philadelphia Press, Apr. 25, 1862; J.R. Sypher, History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (1865); O.R. Howard Thomson & William H. Rauch, History of the "Bucktails" (1906); Edward Morrison Woodward, Our Campaigns (1865).

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