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The Civil War tore the whiskey-making states apart. Pennsylvania was solidly in the Union, but Kentucky and Maryland were two of the four border states in which slavery existed and was legal, yet whose political leanings were mostly with the Union. However, many of the residents of these states sided with the Confederate cause-states' rights. Since the late 1700s, when whiskey was first shipped down South, a number of Kentucky's whiskey-makers had come to rely heavily on the southern st.1.tes' demand and market for their products. Hence people such as John Thompson Street Brown, father of George Garvin Brown (Old Forester), and the Weller brothers (W.L. Weller's sons), along with many other Kentuckians, served in the Confederate Army.
Over the course of the war, some distilleries were destroyed, some distillers died, and the rest survived as best they could, But in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was forced to reintroduce the excise tax on whiskey to help pay for the Union war effort. Once again, just as in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, whiskey was made to help finance the armed forces.
Whiskey had great value during the Civil War. It had the power to soothe men's souls, to make them forget the carnage of the battlefield, and perhaps most important, whiskey often acted as the only anesthetic available. A paper written in 1993 by Mervel V. Hanes, M.D., of Louisville, points out that although quinine and laudanum were used medicinally in the mid-1800s, few other medicines, apart from whiskey, were available. Even aspirin, which was discovered in 1849, wasn't used medicinally until the end of the century. So during the Civil War, more than a little red liquor was poured over a wound to clean it and much, much more was poured down parched throats to depress awareness and ease the pain of countrymen fighting countrymen on their own land.
According to Gerald Carson, in his hook The Social History of Bourbon, the Northern soldiers had more money than their adversaries and could buy more whiskey. But although Union officers were allowed to buy whiskey, enlisted men had to rely on rations as their legitimate source of liquor. Needless to say soldiers on both sides were, for the most part, hungry, cold, frightened and sorely in need of solace wherever they could find it. If temporary refuge from their plight lay in a slug of whiskey, they would find a way of getting it.
The Union troops procured their whiskey from wherever they could: having it sent by their families, dodging the guards and finding their way to a local grogshop and, in the case of one whole regiment during the Christmas celebrations of 1864, making a full 15 gallons of had whiskey all by themselves. The Confederate troops, on the other hand, didn't get their fair share of whiskey, not only because of their lack of hard cash but also because the South couldn't afford to use what valuable grain there was to make such frivolous stuff as whiskey; people were wanting of the basic necessities just to exist.
Not all Northerners believed that their soldiers were drinking more than the Southern troops. \When recording the 1863 arrival of the Sons of Temperance at the White House, Lincoln's secretary, John Hay, noted that the group blamed the defeats of Union troops on intemperance among the soldiers. But Hay could not believe it; "'the rebels drink more and worse whiskey than we do," he wrote.
Whatever the reality of who was drinking more, the Southern populace needed food more than they needed whiskey. The Confederacy, therefore, declared prohibition on a state-CO-state basis and tried to buy up all the available whiskey to use as medicine, for Navy rations and, in certain instances, for soldiers who needed a "medicinal" boost. States reacted to the prohibition with varying degrees of complicity. Carson states that one colonel from Georgia was actually making whiskey himself -prohibition be damned. The fact was that since Jefferson Davis had made whiskey hard to come by, its value had increased by leaps and bounds. The black-market price for whiskey was, in 1863, about $35 per gallon, compared to about 25 cents for the same amount at the end of 1860. Black marketers who had the means to make whiskey simply couldn't restrain themselves. Overall, the Civil War's effect on the whiskey business, by no means negligible, was to whittle down the number of whiskey distilleries and distillers-a fact that probably didn't upset temperance advocate Abraham Lincoln.
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