At War with King Alcohol

Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War

By Megan L. Bever

260 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6954-0
    Published: September 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6953-3
    Published: September 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6955-7
    Published: August 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5554-1
    Published: August 2022

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Liquor was essential to military culture as well as healthcare regimens in both the Union and Confederate armies. But its widespread use and misuse caused severe disruptions as unruly drunken soldiers and officers stumbled down roads and through towns, colliding with civilians. The problems surrounding liquor prompted debates among military officials, soldiers, and civilians as to what constituted acceptable drinking. While Americans never could agree on precisely when it was appropriate to make or drink alcohol, one consensus emerged: the wasteful manufacture and reckless consumption of spirits during a time of civil war was so unpatriotic that it sometimes bordered on disloyalty.

Using an array of sources—temperance periodicals, soldiers' accounts, legislative proceedings, and military records—Megan L. Bever explores the relationship between war, the practical realities of drinking alcohol, and temperance sentiment within the United States. Her insightful conclusions promise to shed new light on our understanding of soldiers' and veterans' lives, civil-military relations, and the complicated relationship between drinking, morality, and masculinity.

About the Author

Megan L. Bever is associate professor of history at Missouri Southern State University.
For more information about Megan L. Bever, visit the Author Page.


“Recommended . . . this well-researched, well-written monograph . . . is both a contribution to the story of drink and temperance in the 19th-century US and a rare historical study of drinking in the American military."—CHOICE

“In At War with King Alcohol, historian Megan L . Bever provides a long overdue study of alcohol’s contested, yet essential role during the American Civil War. . . . a holistic yet finely detailed account of alcohol’s contentious place in American society and culture during the Civil War era.”—North Carolina Historical Review

"A well-researched and well-written study that succeeds in demonstrating how Union and Confederate soldiers’ drinking represented a consequential and contested element of military life that came under the scrutiny of numerous 'stakeholders.' It is a fascinating read and should be included on reading lists for courses on the Civil War, reform movements, and military history, to name a few."—H-Nationalism

“A useful reference for historians of nineteenth-century temperance and prohibition, as well as for military historians who examine ordinary soldiers' lives. . . . Bever's rich description of drinking practices and commercial networks will undoubtedly make [researching alcohol debates’ history] easier for a future historian.”—Journal of American History

"Bever's excellent study of liquor and its use during the Civil War leaves no ground uncovered. The author's wonderful research tells a compelling story; this study is a model for other authors."—Barbara A. Gannon, University of Central Florida

"The U.S. temperance movement was one of the largest reform efforts of the antebellum period. But when the Civil War broke out, the otherwise raucous disputes about temperance seemed to simmer. In this smartly conceived and wonderful book, Megan Bever reveals how the debates about alcohol actually continued during the war and how temperance reformers feared that the war would undermine their fastidious efforts. Nurses, chaplains, and military officers were constantly dealing with the effects of alcohol in camps, hospitals, and on the battlefield. This is a truly original study that offers a fresh new way of thinking about the Civil War and its discontents."—Jim Downs, Gilder Lehrman–National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Studies and History, Gettysburg College