Friday, November 7, 2014


7 November 2014: As promised, here is the follow on to yesterday's post on liquor in the sea services. We covered the Royal Navy yesterday with a note that today we'll see what the United States Navy was doing - "grog-wise" - and how it ended.

But first, how did it begin? 
When the Navy was created by the Naval Act of 1794, the government established that sailors were to receive "one-half pint of distilled spirits per day." That meant rum, following in the footsteps of British tradition. All went well until 1806 when, realizing the high cost of rum, the Navy began to encourage the sailors to accept American made whiskey in place of the preferred rum. Also, at the same time, an allowance of 3 - 6 cents a day (imagine that!) was ordered paid to those who were either under age or who simply chose to pass on the the daily ration. Further, the ration was reduced to one gill, 4 ounces, in 1842 and, in the Union Navy at least, was totally eliminated in 1862 for the duration of the Civil War. The Confederate Navy continued to provide their sailors with a daily ration of rum. (Their rationale was the drink would help encourage sailors from other nations to join the Confederate side!)

After the War, the ration was reinstated but sailors were encouraged to keep their own stock of beer and UNdistilled spirits at the discretion of  their commanding officer, but in 1899, the Navy department banned the sale of ANY liquor to enlisted men on any ship, station, or within the limits of a navy yard. This included the Marine barracks as well. At that time, the only personnel allowed strong drink were the officers.

1914, a dark day in naval history: Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, issued General Order #99 which would ban liquor of ANY type in the Navy, effective 1 July 1914.
Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy

At the appointed time, much of the fleet was in Veracruz, Mexico, part of the occupation force. Commanding officers rushed to comply with the order by selling the ships' store of alcohol as they could, but were unable to get rid of it all. The decision was made to have one last fling - a banquet, of sorts - and drink or pour into the sea the remaining stocks. Some took on the feeling of a funeral, as sailors and officers watched their precious stock of ardent spirits being poured overboard. But others, with the joyful participation of the crews of visiting ships from British, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish navies who traveled between ships in small boats, managed to consume most of it. It would be the last friendly meeting between those navies for some time, as WWI was bubbling and would erupt by the end of the month!

While occassionally ships DO allow some alcohol (sometimes disguised as "medical"), for the most part the Navy remains dry. But we do get a few English words from those halcyon days of ardent spirits on ships:  

 Groggy: being sleepy or dazed often feels akin to having had too much grog

Three Sheets to the Wind: Sheets, of course, were used to control the sails on ships and if the sheet becomes loose or unattached on several (three) sails, the ship will often become unstable. A sailor can not walk in a straight line down the deck under those circumstances!

Down the Hatch: Tipping your head back and pouring the liquor down your throat sometimes looks like the cask disappearing below deck i.e. down the hatch.

Cup of Joe: Might be named after SecNav Daniels who suggested coffee in lieu of liquor.

So there you have it, folks. More than you wanted to know about the history of booze in the Navy!

"Down the Hatch!" Toast in American Navy when drinking

                                        Fair winds,
                                                  Old Salt

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