Civil War Generals, and Suggestions of Being Under the Influence

Joined
Jul 6, 2020
Location
Hoboken living, CNY raised
I've always had it on my to do list to do a comprehensive study of alcohol in the Civil War. James McPherson had a line in "Cause and Comrades" about how Civil War soldiers didn't drink that much, but every campaign history has an anecdote about passing soldiers finding hidden whiskey and getting absolutely hammered before their officers or the Provost Guard can regain control. So I've always wondered.

As part of this interest, I've started compiling a list of high ranking officers I've come across who were arrested, cashiered, accused, or suspected of being drunk (or addicted to pain killers) while on duty. Please let me know if you can think of anyone else!

Opiates
Henry Eustis, USA (Resigned 6/26/64 for Health Reasons - Rhea suggests Opiate addiction)
JB Hood, CSA (Suspected of having a Laudanum addiction to deal with his wounds from Gettysburg and Chickamagua)

Alcohol
US Grant, USA (Reputation of drunkenness followed him during the war - modern scholarship suggests unfairly)
William Harrow, USA (Briefly resigned for accusations of drunkenness at 1st Kernstown, sobriety in question after Gettysburg)
Thomas Rowley, USA (Accused of being drunk during Seminary Ridge fight at Gettysburg, later Court Martialed)
JH Hobart Ward, USA (Sacked by Hancock for accusations of drunkenness at Wilderness)
Dixon Miles, USA (Claims he was very drunk while in command during Jackson's attack on Harpers Ferry, September 1862)
Alexander Hays, USA (Claims he was drunk during botched attack at Morton's Ford, Winter 1864)
George Crittenden, CSA (Arrested for Drunkenness, April 1, 1862, later resigned rank)
Benjamin Cheatham, CSA (Claims he was drinking heavily at Stones River)
Roy Stone, USA (Horse fell on him at Wilderness, observers claimed he was drunk)
Thomas Meagher, USA (Rumored to have been drunk after falling off his horse at Antietam)
James Ledlie, USA (Accused of drinking liquor in a bunker while his men attacked The Crater)
Edward Ferraro, USA (Accused of drinking liquor in a bunker during Crater attack)
William Carroll, CSA (Arrested March 31, 1862 for being drunk on duty in Iuka)
Alfred Iverson, CSA (Rumors of being drunk during disastrous charge at Gettysburg on July 1, probably not true)
JM Jones, CSA (Drinker at West Point, Freeman conjectured drunkenness later in war)
David Stanley, USA (Roberston suggests drunkenness during Summer of 1863 Chattanooga Campaign)
Preston Smith, CSA (Roberston suggests drunkenness during Summer of 1863 Chattanooga Campaign)
Paul Frank (Colonel), USA (Cashiered for Drunkenness at Spotsylvania, Mentions of Drunkenness at Wilderness too)
Gershom Mott, USA (Rumors of drunkenness at Spotsylvania, but I can't remember the source right now)
Ambrose Wright, USA (Rhea suggests rumors of drunkenness at Spotsylvania - Known drinker, but no evidence of impairment)
John Dunovant, CSA (Cashiered for drunkenness, November 8 1862, but reinstated July 1863)
William French, USA (Claims of drunkenness at Mine Run, known drinker)
Thomas Singletary (Colonel), CSA (Relieved at Mine Run for drunkenness while commanding Kirkland's Brigade)
Nathan Evans, CSA (Famous drinker, accused of being drunk at Kinston, NC)
Joseph Finegan, CSA (Rhea speculation based on Cold Harbor actions on June 3)
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I've always had it on my to do list to do a comprehensive study of alcohol in the Civil War. James McPherson had a line in "Cause and Comrades" about how Civil War soldiers didn't drink that much, but every campaign history has an anecdote about passing soldiers finding hidden whiskey and getting absolutely hammered before their officers or the Provost Guard can regain control. So I've always wondered.

As part of this interest, I've started compiling a list of high ranking officers I've come across who were arrested, cashiered, accused, or suspected of being drunk (or addicted to pain killers) while on duty. Please let me know if you can think of anyone else!

Opiates
Henry Eustis, USA (Resigned 6/26/64 for Health Reasons - Rhea suggests Opiate addiction)
JB Hood, CSA (Suspected of having a Laudanum addiction to deal with his wounds from Gettysburg and Chickamagua)

Alcohol
US Grant, USA (Reputation of drunkenness followed him during the war - modern scholarship suggests unfairly)
William Harrow, USA (Briefly resigned for accusations of drunkenness at 1st Kernstown, sobriety in question after Gettysburg)
Thomas Rowley, USA (Accused of being drunk during Seminary Ridge fight at Gettysburg, later Court Martialed)
JH Hobart Ward, USA (Sacked by Hancock for accusations of drunkenness at Wilderness)
Dixon Miles, USA (Claims he was very drunk while in command during Jackson's attack on Harpers Ferry, September 1862)
Alexander Hays, USA (Claims he was drunk during botched attack at Morton's Ford, Winter 1864)
George Crittenden, CSA (Arrested for Drunkenness, April 1, 1862, later resigned rank)
Benjamin Cheatham, CSA (Claims he was drinking heavily at Stones River)
Roy Stone, USA (Horse fell on him at Wilderness, observers claimed he was drunk)
Thomas Meagher, USA (Rumored to have been drunk after falling off his horse at Antietam)
James Ledlie, USA (Accused of drinking liquor in a bunker while his men attacked The Crater)
Edward Ferraro, USA (Accused of drinking liquor in a bunker during Crater attack)
William Carroll, CSA (Arrested March 31, 1862 for being drunk on duty in Iuka)
Alfred Iverson, CSA (Rumors of being drunk during disastrous charge at Gettysburg on July 1, probably not true)
JM Jones, CSA (Drinker at West Point, Freeman conjectured drunkenness later in war)
David Stanley, USA (Roberston suggests drunkenness during Summer of 1863 Chattanooga Campaign)
Preston Smith, CSA (Roberston suggests drunkenness during Summer of 1863 Chattanooga Campaign)
Paul Frank (Colonel), USA (Cashiered for Drunkenness at Spotsylvania, Mentions of Drunkenness at Wilderness too)
Gershom Mott, USA (Rumors of drunkenness at Spotsylvania, but I can't remember the source right now)
Ambrose Wright, USA (Rhea suggests rumors of drunkenness at Spotsylvania - Known drinker, but no evidence of impairment)
John Dunovant, CSA (Cashiered for drunkenness, November 8 1862, but reinstated July 1863)
William French, USA (Claims of drunkenness at Mine Run, known drinker)
Thomas Singletary (Colonel), CSA (Relieved at Mine Run for drunkenness while commanding Kirkland's Brigade)
Nathan Evans, CSA (Famous drinker, accused of being drunk at Kinston, NC)
Joseph Finegan, CSA (Rhea speculation based on Cold Harbor actions on June 3)
Just to clarify things, the Hood-laudanum theory was demolished by Steve Davis 20 years ago. It was then re-demolished by the discovery a few years ago of an account by his treating physician.
 

Polloco

Captain
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Unless I missed it I didn't see Hooker's name on the list. Wasn't it He, Butterfield and Sickles who used to do a little "extra curricular" activity at headquarters?
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 6, 2020
Location
Hoboken living, CNY raised
Unless I missed it I didn't see Hooker's name on the list. Wasn't it He, Butterfield and Sickles who used to do a little "extra curricular" activity at headquarters?
I'd add Henry Benham, who fell off his horse in a stupor while supervising the laying of pontoons for the Chancellorsville campaign.
I tend to reserve judgement on Hooker as a partier, just because his reputation is so over-sized. That said, the Hooker era / Chancellorsville campaign is outside of my current scope. Sears' book on the battle is on deck.
 

mofederal

Major
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
Location
Southeast Missouri
In Co Aytch Sam Watkins wrote "It was Christmas. John Barleycorn was general-in-chief. Our generals, and colonels. and captains, had kissed John Barleycorn a little too often. They couldn't see straight. It was said to be buckeye whiskey. They couldn't tell our own men from Yankees. The private could, but he was no general, you see. But here they were--Yankees--a battle had to be fought. We were ordered forward. I was on the skirmish line. We marched plumb into the Yankee lines, with their flags flying." P. 76 "Murfreesboro".

He mentions Cheatham a lot, but does not state if he is drunk or not. A lot of praise for him though. Others claimed he was pretty drunk at Stone's River, and could not command his units effectively, but Watkins saw it differently, claiming he was inebriated.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Wouldn't you guess it was a handy charge to lay against someone? I mean, if it were a female who was disliked she'd have been ' hysterical '.

Having said that, boy, given what the average soldier was up against by way of conditions, add to that his expectation he could die in his next engagement, the fact he was away from home and loved ones and witnessing horrors most couldn't speak of for the rest of their lives, it'd be amazing they didn't drink. Wouldn't the responsibility of being an officer be another layer? I'm not letting anyone off the hook, it just seems unsurprising.

Sears' book on the battle is on deck

Off thread I know, just haven't read it. Really liked his Gettysburg, if this one is the same like to hear about it please?
 

A. Roy

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Having come from a family plagued by alcohol problems, the idea of going into battle inebriated scares my socks off!

I haven't read much about the drinking habits of most of those on @JeffFromSyracuse's list, but I've been studying Alfred Iverson recently, and have read accusations that he was drinking on the afternoon his brigade met disaster at Gettysburg. So far, everything I've read is just a rumor, no first-hand account. I know that Rodes's division had just spent a couple of days in Carlisle, Pa., where there was ample alcohol, so Iverson and his brigade had recently had easy access.

As far as Grant, I'm currently reading Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy. I'm partway through the third volume, and so far Foote tends to dismiss most rumors about Grant's drinking. He does recount a bender Grant went on while traveling up the Yazoo River in 1863. However, even that account was published decades later and hard to confirm.

Roy B.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Didn't know that! Is it a book or an article he wrote?
I'd have to check but IIRC the Davis information was in a Blue & Gray article c. 1998 - haven't looked through my collection yet. The paper by Hood's physician is in the collection of Hood papers The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood, edited by Stephen Hood and published by Savas Beatie in 2013. Dr. John T. Darby's report regarding the Chickamauga wound and treatment is at pp. 27-38. His limited use of laudanum is a model for what physicians should have been doing with opioids in this country the past couple of decades.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I tend to reserve judgement on Hooker as a partier, just because his reputation is so over-sized. That said, the Hooker era / Chancellorsville campaign is outside of my current scope. Sears' book on the battle is on deck.
Sears pretty convincingly takes apart the urban legend that Hooker was DUI at Chancellorsville.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Having come from a family plagued by alcohol problems, the idea of going into battle inebriated scares my socks off!

I haven't read much about the drinking habits of most of those on @JeffFromSyracuse's list, but I've been studying Alfred Iverson recently, and have read accusations that he was drinking on the afternoon his brigade met disaster at Gettysburg. So far, everything I've read is just a rumor, no first-hand account. I know that Rodes's division had just spent a couple of days in Carlisle, Pa., where there was ample alcohol, so Iverson and his brigade had recently had easy access.

As far as Grant, I'm currently reading Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy. I'm partway through the third volume, and so far Foote tends to dismiss most rumors about Grant's drinking. He does recount a bender Grant went on while traveling up the Yazoo River in 1863. However, even that account was published decades later and hard to confirm.

Roy B.
I think the historians who have looked into this confirm the Yazoo information after assessing all the evidence, but with limits. The most recent example is Miller's book on Vicksburg published within the last 6 months or so.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
To be fair, my list is mostly speculation and rumors, but I should have Hooker on the list if I have Hays / Grant / Iverson - guys who accusations of drunkenness follow, perhaps unfairly.
I'd say two things about Hooker from all I've read: (1) he certainly did his share of drinking; (2) he appears not to have done it in combat, at least based on what I've seen.
 
Top