Eggnog. That beverage associated with Christmas cheer. You either love it, or you hate it. While it is unrealistic to say that it met with universal acclaim throughout the Old South, eggnog was enjoyed by many and seen as a required treat during the holidays. When the sons of the South joined the army, they brought the tradition of eggnog with them.
So, what is eggnog? The basis is eggs, some type of whiskey (bourbon, brandy, rum), sugar, and milk or cream. One recipe from King George County, Virginia, goes like this: “beat 12 eggs separately, add to the yokes 1 heaping tablespoon full of sugar to every egg, beating all the time.” When very light stir rapidly in 1 pint of brandy and 1 pint of whiskey… Now stir in half of the well beaten whites, then 3 pints of rich cream or 1 pint of milk and 2 of cream, then stir in lightly the remaining whites. A little nutmeg grated is an improvement. Be careful never to add liquor after cream.”
That first winter of the war found the Southern forces mostly well provisioned, but not as much as they wanted. A member of the 7th Louisiana Infantry, writing from Camp Carondelet in Virginia, told his mother that Christmas had been dull: “the poor private had to content himself with one drink [of eggnog] around which was given in the morning.” A soldier in the 17th Mississippi Infantry, also in Virginia, recalled having eggnog, but no ladies to enjoy it with. “Several boys a little tight in camp & some have been sent to the guardhouse.” Various generals often sent out regulations against alcohol in camp. Yet according to a member of the 4th South Carolina, there were still ways to acquire “the worst kind of ‘rot skull’” at a price. Stationed at Fort Gaines, a soldier in the 21st Alabama wrote of having two glasses of eggnog before breakfast on December 25. Others undoubtedly followed through the rest of the day. Eggnog first thing in the morning was mentioned by more than one soldier. A member of the 7th Tennessee Infantry wrote that their captain gifted eggnog on Christmas morning. “One-half of the boys very tight by nine o’clock. Another member of the same regiment wrote that they had so many drunk men, a wagon was employed to haul them around.
Christmas 1862 was a different affair. The Army of Tennessee was poised to fight the battle of Murfreesboro, while the Army of Northern Virginia had just fought the battle of Fredericksburg, and watched the Federals, expecting them to pick up the contest soon. But even with tensions high, there was still time for gaiety. A ball was hosted by the 1st and 2nd Louisiana in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the town hall, attended by many officers. The officers of the 20th Tennessee gave their men a barrel of whiskey, while in the 154th Tennessee, “Eggnog was fashionable and Captains, Lieutenants, and Privates was drunk and very troublesome.” Supplies were much harder to come by in Virginia around Fredericksburg. A member of the 5th Alabama wrote of their sutler arriving, and the mess being able to purchase sugar cakes, ginger bread, candy sugar, Confederate coffee, pepper, and butter. “He was to bring us the materials for an Egg Nog—but he sorely disappointed us in that—about the first Christmas ever spent without nog…” The complaint went even further with a member of the 12th Virginia: “Christmas [was] the poorest ever spent, no egg nog, no turkey, no mince pie, nothing to eat or drink but our rations. We all talk of home today and wish to be there.” Soldiers stationed away from Fredericksburg were a little better off. Writing from camp near Dumfries, Virginia, a Texas soldier told his wife that “Every mess had its egg-nog or a first-class substitute for it, the first thing in the morning, and something better than common for dinner.”
Both principal armies were well encamped during Christmas 1863. It had been a hard year, with the death of Stonewall Jackson and Confederate losses at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. The Army of Tennessee was north of Atlanta, and the Army of Northern Virginia was in and around Orange Court House. Mentions of eggnog seem to be sparse in the army in Georgia, although there were undoubtedly a few soldiers and officers who were able to enjoy their Christmas concoction. In Virginia, an officer in the 5th Alabama wrote that he was invited by his colonel “to drink eggnog with him & had a very pleasant time indeed.” Yet a member of JEB Stuart’s staff was disappointed. He had promised his friends a bowl of eggnog, “but the spirits did not arrive-- And consequently I passed a quiet and a sober day in my tent.” The same was almost true for an officer in the 1st Louisiana, on picket duty near Raccoon Ford on the Rappahannock River. He had concluded that they would be eggnogless for the evening, and had retired to bed, when they heard “horses hoofs on the crisp snow.” They found a camp servant they had sent to Lynchburg with a demijohn. They beat the eggs, stirred in the sugar, and added the whiskey (no mention of milk or cream). “[W] had one of the most delicious noggs that ever mortal man quaffed. Taking a couple of glasses apiece, we retired to bed—to forget the hardships of a soldier’s life, and dream of a joyful reunion with the dear absent ones far away in the Southland.”
The last winter of the war, 1864, found the wrecked Army of Tennessee in northern Alabama and the Army of Northern Virginia in the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond. A soldier in the 24th Texas Cavalry, Granburry’s Texas brigade, recalled buying whiskey locally to celebrate the holidays, but made no mention of eggs, cream, or sugar. “[A] wee drop makes an old soldier forget his troubles and hardships for the present” he scribbled in his diary. There was still some eggnog to be had. An officer in the 49th North Carolina, thanks to the people from back home, had eggnog. A member of Poague’s battalion recalled a fine Christmas dinner that included eggnog. A friend had a friend that operated a blockade runner and “obtained many good things.”
Christmas was hard on the soldiers in the field, as well as on the families back home. So many of those hearthsides would lose loved ones throughout those four years. While many were undeniably happy to be home for Christmas in 1865, many reflected back on all that had been lost. Slowly, the eggnog, which had accompanied so many Southern Christmas celebrations, eventually faded from the menu.
 Smith, Famous old Receipts used a hundred years and more in the kitchens of the North and South, 184.
 Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 40, 43, 46.
 Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 62, 70, 71; Polley, A Soldier’s Letters to Charming Nellie, 21.
 Hubbs, Voices from Company D, 207; Trout, With Pen & Saber, 218; Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 109.
 Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 124; McCaslin, Diary of Captain Henry A. Chambers, 168; Poague, Gunner with Stonewall, 109.