The Great Whiskey War

New York Times, December 4, 1869

The Whiskey War.

A Military Expedition to "Irishtown."

Seizure of Thirteen Illicit Distilleries.

The denizens of the Fifth Ward of Brooklyn while cooking their early breakfast, yesterday morning, were somewhat astonished at hearing the tread of an army under their windows, and the rather unusual sounds peculiar to the deploying of armed forces. And when the long-drawn-out sound of "halt" was echoed, up went hundreds of windows and out went hundreds of heads to see what was the matter. What could it mean? Was the question with many, while with the devoted whiskey distillers there was a suspicion that the extraordinary military display had something to do with them. The Democracy had preached to them that General Grant's Administration was wasting the public money; that Radical officeholders were swallowing the taxes, and that as for them it was their duty to pay no taxes for the support of an Administration they didn't like, and which they didn't elect. As taxpayers, they were determined to resist all encroachments upon their liberties as freedom-loving citizens, (freedom always meaning the kind that the Fifth Ward

Democrats are willing to enjoy but not to extend to others). To make whiskey, and to sell whiskey and to drink whiskey, and elect John Clancy Alderman, are the only things that save the Fifth Ward – the Gibraltar of the Brooklyn Democracy. Long have the illicit distillers of this region enjoyed immunity from interference, and they have manufactured untold quantities of the stimulating fluid without paying the Government the taxes due thereupon. True, stills had been captured and carried away by indefatigable internal revenue officers and United States Marshals in times gone by, but other stills took the place of the old ones, and whiskey making went on just as before. The Fifth Ward must have whiskey, even if they had to make it themselves. If not it would be impossible for them on great election occasions to have the votes counted "straight" for their side. They must have whiskey, and they would make it in spite of the Government, which might pay its national debt as it liked, but no whiskey tax for them.

This much is necessary to be said to announce why the United States authorities combined yesterday morning to execute the laws that have been framed for common weal. It ahs been demonstrated so often in the Fifth Ward, adjacent as it lies to the Naval Yard, that the illicit whiskey makers whose name is legion, hold the Government and its officers in utter contempt: that the authorities have resolved upon the plan of taking a summary course in order to execute the laws and collect the revenue – hence the descent which was made upon the distillers yesterday. Being determined to root out these vile dens, General Pleasonton, Collector of the Fourth Internal Revenue District, New York, made one of the greatest whiskey raids on record. Thirteen distilleries were utterly demolished from which were taken and stored in the Navy Yard several pumps, stills worms of various dimensions, a doubter, worm tub, thirty-five barrels of whiskey, worth altogether several thousands of dollars.

In view of the desperate character of the men in the neighborhood, and in remembrance of the former difficulties in the same field, General Pleasonton applied to the Government for military aid, which was freely accorded. Major-General McDowell having commend of the Department of the East, ordered out the regulars of the harbor garrison to cooperate with the revenue officers. The force consisted of 500 men of different arms of services, commanded by Generals Vogdes, Kibboo, and Abbott with 200 of the First United States Artillery, from Forts Hamilton and Wadsworth, and 250 infantry from Governor's Island and Fort Schulyer. These were taken to the Brooklyn Navy Yard at 4 A. M. yesterday by the steamers Pope Catlin and Henry Smith. At the same hour fifty men in citizen's attire – veterans and members of the Grand Army of the Republic – mustered outside the Revenue office, No. 61 Chambers street, in this city, where they were joined by Colonel Clifford Thompson, General Pleasonton's deputy, who commanded the expedition. At 5 o'clock column was formed and the men marched to the foot of Chambers st., East River, where they embarked on the Navy Yard tender Katalpa and started to meet the regular troops. It was snowing very hard at the time of departure, but the men, mostly Germans were evidently in excellent spirits and seemed to enjoy the affair as a reminder of their former campaigning. General Pleasonton and Vogues, Colonel Willard Ballard, R. M. Cooney, Malcolm Wallace and Colonel Jab. H. Stevens with a few members of the press, took passage on the vessel. At 6 A. M. she reached the Yard, where the military already were drawn up in line. A council of ward was held by the officers, and Colonel Thompson's party received their axes and crowbars. It was resolved to divide the troops and working party into three detachments, each of them to be assigned respectively to the command Colonels Thompson, Willard Bullard, R. M. Cooney. The consolidation of forces having been satisfactorily consummated and the commander of each detail having received specific orders the troops moved in column through the train gate of the Navy Yard, and treated the denizens of that portion of the Fifth Ward contiguous to the Navy Yard to a thorough surprise by deploring in Water street, Little street, Hudson avenue, and other adjoining thoroughfares, where illicit distilling is actively prosecuted, metaphorically speaking, beneath the acute and generous olfactory organ of Uncle Sam aforesaid. When the troops were in position Colonel Thompson and party proceeded to a distillery in Little Water street, which was being worked at the moment. The Colonel ran rapidly to the door with the hope of intercepting the distillers, who made a rapid retreat from the premises. Calling his gang, he set them to work vigorously and ere long brought to light a number of vats filled with the boiling liquid, and two complete sets of distilling apparatus. The den was situated in the centre of a lot surrounded by shanties, whose inmates startled by the noise of axes and sounds of general demolition, poured into the open space and indulges in the bitterest invectives against the officers. There were many men among them who were not at all careful to use chose epithets, but were by far too free with their threats of violence. Seeing danger ahead if these fellows were permitted to remain near the workmen. Colonel Thompson stepped up to the ringleader and ordered him off the premises. The man refused to go and gave evidence in the most insulting manner of his determination to resist the authorities and get up a riot. With coolness and promptitude, the Colonel seized man by the nape of the neck and ran him out of the alley. Here, then seemed to be every prospect of trouble, but on being reinforced by a Sargent and guard from the artillery on Water street, Colonel Thompson resumed operations immedately. The reinforcements were posted in and around the scene of the conflict. On the other streets in the like manner, Colonel Bullard, R. M. Cooney and Jerome D. Ware aided by Generals Kibboo and Abbott and Colonel Best made short work numerous distillers in like manner. These gentlemen, like Colonel Thompson, personally directing the movements of the stalwart men with the extra insignia of authority, who were armed with axe and crowbar and who despite all revolutionary and riotous ramblings made under the awe-inspiring presence of the regulars, the following seizures of stills:

One on Little street, said to belong to Samuel Warren; one in United States street near Little to Carey; one in United States street, near Little, to James Moran, and another to McMahon two in Plymouth street, said to be owned by Baydoks and Gaffney; one in Plymouth street near Gold, and one in Little street, the reputed owned of which are Orborne & Mullady, and Whiteford & Brady, respectively.

Among the rumors occasioned by the movements if the government officers was one of an organized resistance being contemplated. Among these were prominately mentioned. "The Rangers," one hundred strong under command of the valiant Captain Doughtey, and two target companies, something less than a thousand strong, marshaled by other valorous commandants. But no serious offensive demonstration was made. By 12:30 o'clock in the afternoon the excitement was at an end. The troops took up the line of march for the Navy Yard, guarding in their centre the working revenue force, which was the especial aversion of the populace. From 11 to 12:30 the carmen of the stills seized were compelled by the revenue officials to cart so much of the whiskey as they desired to be taken to the Navy Yard. A detachment of soldiers surrounded the cart, and were followed by a hooting and yelling crowd to the gates. Plymouth, Little and John streets were crowed with the inhabitants of the classic locality of "Irishtown," and they were not slow in expressing their opinion of the revenue officers.

The most extensive seizures of the day was made in United States, at the further end from Little street, and almost against the Navy Yard wall.

From the centre of a large wooden shed was tumbled out the largest and best apparatus yet seized. It was smoking hot, appeared to have been in full blast very recently , and was worth at least $2,000. Under this still in gigantic casks were thousands of gallons of dirty liquid, showing that the trade which was carried on here was not insignificant by any means. Buildings were ripped up, and tumbled down, floors were raised to find beneath more evidence and apparatus of the trade, and while all this was proceeding many curses, both loud and deeps, were showered on the curse-proof heads of the deputies. Men who lived with the square invested by the authorities were soon speaking in groups of twos, threes, and dozens, and with lowering looks and clenched teeth and fists, seemed to talk about sometime being able to destroy the enemy in detail.

As the troops were gathered on Little street, awaiting the order to return to the Navy Yard , they were surprised with a shower of bricks from some of the housetops and upper windows. After that the eyes of the soldiers were kept upon the roofs of the houses.

Finally the order was given to march, and the step taken amid divisive shouts, jeers and hisses of the crowd. The column formed with the artillery on the right, the workmen in the centre and the infantry under General Kibboo on the left. At the word it commenced its march along Little through Water street and down Hudson avenue toward the Navy Yard. The streets were literally thronged with men and women burning with a desire to wreck a summary vengeance upon the devoted heads of the Internal Revenue officers and men. As they neared the corner of Plymouth street a perfect shower of bricks and stones fell upon the centre; several men were struck. On head his head cut badly, another his nose, and not a few were more or less injured, "Close up!" rang out the order from the officers as the appearance of things grew more serious. At this moment Colonel Thompson was struck on the back with a brick, as were also Mssers. Wallace and Stevens. They turned immediately, drew their revolvers and faced the men determined not to be driven off any faster than they had concluded to go. There was every prospect of a desperate fight as doubtless there would have been had not General Kibboo faced his men about, confronted the infuriated mob and advancing in line upon them compelled them to retire. Their retreat being covered in this manner the men succeeded in getting into the Navy Yard without having sustained much injury. One of them, however, received a blow from an ax on the back of his head. He was badly cut and removed to the Marine Hospital. Some of the New-York reporters were mistaken for Revenue attaches because they wore similar badges and narrowly escaped with their lives. At 2:30 P. M. the party embarked for their several destinations, the soldiers to the forts and Revenue officers to their accustomed places.

Of course, there was much seen and heard during the morning which was of an extremely judicious character. Among the incidents were the following:

A still had been seized and placed on a cart ready for transportation to the Naval Yard. The soldiers, who had been placed to guard the horse, cart and driver were withdrawn. Several young men sauntering about seeing the still unguarded, leaped upon the cart, and at a rattling pace drove away, leaving the driver standing upon the sidewalk. When the guard returned, not being able to find the still, they took the driver in lieu.

A detachment of soldiers was guarding a small worm on Little street. Two young fellows, strolling along, quietly pulled it from under their legs and dashed off with it. One of the soldiers started in pursuit, but the youngsters had got into a crowd and the worm changed hands so quickly and the spectators were unconscious of anything unusual occurring that he was compelled to return without it.

The soldiers and revenue officers were compelled to take a good of deal of "chaff" from the sidewalk but as that broke no bones they paid buit little attention. They were advised of the existence of illicit stills in remarkably strange places and men with unheard of names were said to manufacture most singular whiskey from the queerest materials. No tongues were as loud as those of the women and their sallies provoked frequent laughter.

The number of stills seized is thirteen and as it is understood that these were more illicit stills in the same region it is not improbable until they are all unearthed. The quantity of whiskey poured in the streets in its pure state will surly go a great way toward disinfecting the Fifth Ward even if it falls in reducing the rate if mortality. The general opinion relative to the streams of whiskey is that pouring it was the quickest was to settle disputes.