Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Henry Keiser and the Whiskey Ration

Posted By on September 15, 2014


“Too Much Whiskey”

The print of a political cartoon shown here is from Harper’s Weekly, June 1862, and is available at the Library of Congress.  How much whiskey was “too much whiskey?”  Was there a “whiskey ration” during the Civil War?  The following quotes are from another blog:

For additional relief from the meager and unappetizing meals, whiskey was at the top of many lists.  I sympathize.  Just reading about Civil War rations makes me want to go out a [sic] buy a bottle….

Buying liquor was  illegal unless authorized by a company commander.  Some soldiers still attempted to get it illegally.  General McClellan said, “No one evil agent so much obstructs this army… as the degrading vice of drunkenness.”

It is not the purpose of this blog post to analyze the effect of whiskey on the Civil War or to discuss the so-called whiskey ration which was part of the military for many years (and several wars) prior to 1861.

Henry Keiser, whose diary has been presented here on several prior occasions, mentioned whiskey (and drinking of alcohol) eleven times in the diary.  He was a member of the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company G, for most of the war, and then, after his re-enlistment, his company was merged with Company G of the 95th Pennsylvania Infantry.  It is the purpose of this post to present only the words of Henry Keiser in regard to the whiskey ration and will be up to the reader to judge or carry on further research.

All of the diary entries that mention whiskey are presented below.  Keiser does not state the size of the ration, although it was widely believed to be anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces.  However, on two occasions, a full canteen was issued as the ration.  The number of the entry preceding the date refers to the sequential number of days of service.

2. Wednesday, September 25, 1861. At seven this morning we left Lykens for Pottsville in two teams. We drank at every hotel on our route in “Uncle Sam’s” credit, and all got pretty jolly. I sprained my ankle jumping over a fence while going through Williams Valley. We passed through Tremont and arrived at Pottsville at 4 o’clock this afternoon. Each of us drawed a blanket from the Regimental Quarter-Master Sergeant Jonathan A. Schweers…. [?]

253. Tuesday, June 3, 1862. It rained all last night. Do not feel better today. The regiment returned from picket at 5 o’clock this evening. A ration of whiskey was issued.

258. Sunday, June 8, 1862. The regiment returned from picket at nine this morning. We have about two rations of whiskey per week. I feel pretty well today.

263. Friday, June 13, 1862. Very fine and clear this morning. We now get whiskey morning and evening. Had orders to march but it was countermanded. Received a letter from Sister Mariah.

457. Wednesday, December 24, 1862. We, the guards, got an order from Adjutant Richard, aide to the General, for a canteen full of whiskey, which we got at commissary. We drew our rations at the brigade commissary.

458. Thursday, December 25, 1862. Got another order for whiskey and got a canteen full. Spent a very poor Christmas. The day was fine.

489. Sunday, January 25, 1863. We pitched the General’s tents and fixed up this forenoon and this afternoon the troops returned. Each man of our brigade got a ration of whiskey. They marched past headquarters. This squad received their share. Wrote a letter to Miss Sallie and received one from Brother William, Nicholsville, Kentucky.

631. Tuesday, June 16, 1863. Left Dumphrey’s at four this morning and marched to Acaquin Creek, where we rested from one to three o’clock p.m. when we again started off and marched until 7:30 p.m. when we halted near Halifax Station for the night, having marched about 18 miles since morning. A ration of whiskey was issued to each soldier wanting it, after our hard march, very warm all day.

674. Wednesday, July 29, 1863. It is still cloudy this morning. Some of the boys brought three pigs into camp last night. Had a ration of whiskey issued to each one of us. It rained this evening. Had Dress Parade at 6 p.m.

675. Thursday, July 30, 1863. Had whiskey again this morning. The boys captured a calf last night. Went on guard as Sergeant at 8 a.m. Drawed a pair of pants. Received a letter from cousin Lucy. Had several hard showers this afternoon.

875. Monday, February 15, 1864. Our company was mustered for three years today as veterans by Captain A. M. Taylor. Sergeant John Williams got half a barrel of ale for the Company. Awe also drew a ration of whiskey from the commissary. Snowed a little this evening.





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