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Grant and Alcoholism

Much has been made over the years about Grant`s propensity for alcohol. Separating fact from fiction is difficult, if not impossible. However, most historians would agree on the following:

  • Grant did indulge in heavy drinking during the years when he was stationed on the West Coast (1852-1854). He deeply missed his wife and family, and was unhappy serving under an extremely difficult commanding officer.
  • For Grant, heavy drinking did not amount to large quantities. His fellow officers reported that he became unsteady and slurred words after a single drink. Grant drank very little later in life and never imbibed around his wife.
  • Grant did drink, sometimes heavily, during the Civil War. There is no credible report of drunkenness during periods of military engagement; he appears to have confined his drinking to lulls in the action.

A Grant biographer described his drinking as an appetite, not an addiction. It is reported that when someone told Lincoln that he should sack Grant due to his drinking, Lincoln replied that if he knew what brand of whiskey Grant was drinking, he`d order a barrel of it sent to all his other generals.

We should consider ourselves fortunate that modern medicine has paved the way for the development of alcohol rehabilitation programs that could have helped many of our ancestors with drinking problems had they existed back then.