Spirits on the USS Monitor: A Daily Dose of Grog

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Commander Catesby ap Roger Jones, ca. 1863-64, Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 48723.

Drinking and fighting always seem to have some type of connection. On the early morning of  March 9, 1862, the CSS Virginia prepared to destroy the remaining Union fleet in Hampton Roads. Its success the day before gave the crew confidence that they would secure a complete victory over the wooden federal fleet. Catesby ap Roger Jones, the Confederate ironclad’s acting commander, thought to give the men even greater encouragement. “We began the day with two jiggers of whiskey,” an elated William Cline wrote, “and a hearty breakfast.” [1] The crew was now truly ready for combat!

Grog was first introduced in the 18th century, eventually a mix of rum, gin, or whiskey with water, sugar, and lime or lemon. It was a boost to sailors fighting the doldrums suffered on long sea voyages or to give a surge of instant courage when preparing for battle. Enlisted men could only drink when their grog ration was issued or when they were on liberty. Officers, however, drank without care and were only punished when their intoxication got in the way of performing their duties. USS Monitor’s paymaster William Keeler fought to do away with the grog ration stating that drinking was the “curse of the navy.”[2] It was true: many Civil War sailors and soldiers were all too often plagued by whiskey, whiskey, and more whiskey.   Read more