Sunday, November 17, 2019

Milk Punches and Dragoons - Three Historical Punch Recipes for the Season!

With Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons literally right around the corner, the Nerds thought it would be an appropriate time to introduce a trio of historical brandy and rum based punch recipes from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries for your enjoyment.

Without further hesitation, here are three recipes for the late Fall and early Winter seasons!!

Clarified Milk Punch (18th Century)


8 lemons
1 pineapple
1 pound sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
20 coriander seeds
1 ounce Peychaudís bitters
2 ounces absinthe
1 cup arrack
2 1/2 cups rum
2 1/2 cups cognac
2 1/2 cups brewed green or black tea
2 cups boiling water
5 cups whole milk


Zest the lemons (removing only the yellow part of the peel) and juice them. Peel and cut pineapple into large chunks. Put them in a large bowl. Coarsely grind the cinnamon, clove, and coriander seeds into the bowl. Add the lemon peels, lemon juice, pineapple chunks, ground spices, and sugar. Muddle the mixture using a potato masher or large fork.

Add the bitters, absinthe, arrack, cognac, and rum. Stir to combine. Add the green tea and boiling water. Cover and let sit overnight in the refrigerator to infuse the flavors.

Once infused, strain the mixture into a pitcher or other vessel. Discard the solids.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add to the strained mixture. The milk will begin to curdle. Gently stir to combine.

Slowly strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Repeat straining two or three times. You want a clear liquid.

Serve immediately or store the clarified punch in a sterilized glass bottle in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

To serve, pour 3 ounces of milk punch over a large ice cube and garnish with a lemon peel and freshly grated nutmeg.

Brandy Milk Punch (Late 18th or Early 19th Century)


2 ounces brandy
1 ounce rum
1 ounce simple syrup
4 ounces milk
Garnish: nutmeg (ground)
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1 egg white


Gather the ingredients.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour the brandy, rum, simple syrup, milk, and optional vanilla extract and egg white.

Shake well (if you choose to add egg, shake until it hurts).

Strain into an old-fashioned glass with or without crushed ice.

Dust with grated nutmeg for garnish.

Serve and enjoy!

Charleston Light Dragoon Punch (Late 18th Century)


4 quarts of black tea
4 cups sugar
1 quart and one cup lemon juice
1 quart dark rum (Jamaican)
4 quarts California Brandy (any non-gourmet brandy)
½ pint peach (or apricot) brandy
Equal parts Club soda


Make the black tea/lemon juice mixture, stirring in sugar when hot. Add the alcohol. Set aside or bottle for later use.

In a punch bowl place blocks of ice and garnishes of lemon and orange peels. Pour in equal parts of the tea-brandy-rum mixture with club soda.

In the tradition of our favorite bad-ass smuggler, Sarah Smith Emory of Newburyport, we hope your next social gathering will include “case bottles replenished with choice liquors, and a good supply of New England rum provided for the refreshment of the more humble class of visitors.”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"Retreat! Retreat! Or you all be cutt off!" - The Misfortunes of Colonel Gerrish and the 25th Massachusetts Regiment of the Massachusetts Grand Army

In the days following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the British army found itself trapped; surrounded by an army of Massachusetts Yankees. Unbeknownst to General Gage and his officers, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety were confronted with their own dilemma. In the days after April 19th, the provincial forces surrounding Boston began to slowly disappear. At first, militiamen left in small groups, and then by the hundreds, as lack of provisions along with the tug of responsibilities back home weakened their sense of duty. Artemas Ward, the overall commander of the American army besieging Boston, opined that soon he would be the only one left at the siege unless something was done.

To meet this problem, the Provincial Congress agreed to General Ward’s requests that the men be formally enlisted for a given period of time. On April 23, 1775, the legislative body resolved to raise a “Massachusetts Grand Army of 13,600 men and appoint a Committee of Supplies to collect and distribute the necessary commodities.

In accordance with these beating orders, one such regiment raised was Colonel Samuel Gerrish’s Regiment. In exchange for enlistment, each man was paid £5 and promised a bounty of a coat. Designated Colonel Gerrish’s 25th Regiment of the Massachusetts Grand Army, the regiment was composed of 421 men from the Massachusetts towns of Lexington, Woburn, Wenham, Ipswich, Newbury, Manchester, and Rowley and was assigned to the left-wing of the besieging army. Three companies were stationed in Chelsea, two at Sewall’s Point and the remaining three were stationed in Cambridge.

A map showing Boston and vicinity, including Bunker Hill, Dorchester Heights, and the troop disposition of Gen. Artemas Ward during the Siege of Boston. From "Marshall's Life of Washington" (1806)

As the weeks passed after the regiment’s formation, the men of the unit quickly discovered that their regiment was plagued with misfortune and mismanagement, both of which were directly attributable to its colonel. Although Gerrish reported his regiment was at full strength on May 19, 1775, the reality was it was only at half strength. Worse, his soldiers were poorly supplied and in desperate need of additional clothing, equipment, and ammunition. 

When a militia company from Newbury learned it was to be annexed into the regiment, the men threatened to return home rather than serve under him. On June 2, 1775, six companies petitioned to leave Gerrish’s command and form a new unit under the leadership of Moses Little. Following the submission of the petition, the colonel was notified that “a number of gentlemen have presented a petition to this Congress in behalf of themselves and the men they have enlisted, praying that Captain Moses Little and Mr. Isaac Smith may be appointed and commissioned as two of the field officers over them. Six of said petitioners are returned by you as captains, as appears by your return, and the petition has been committed to a committee, to hear the petitioners and report to the Congress, and it is therefore Ordered that the said Col. Samuel Gerrish be notified, and he is hereby notified, to attend the said committee, at the house of Mr. Learned in Watertown, the 3d day of June instant, at eight o’clock in the forenoon.”

The Committee of Safety conducted a full hearing on the officer’s grievances and permitted the companies to depart and form Little’s Regiment.

On the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gerrish’s negligent conduct was so commonly known that it became the focus of commentary within several military circles on both sides of the conflict. In a letter to General Gage, Dr. Benjamin Church severely criticized the abilities of the inept colonel.

The regiment first saw combat on June 17, 1775. As the British army advanced on Breed’s Hill General Ward found it impossible to reinforce the American position. The militiamen on Bunker Hill were more than reluctant to join their comrades in the front lines on Breed's Hill; the majority categorically refused to move forward. Most militia companies simply walked away from the fight. An alarmed General Ward correctly surmised that if the desertions continued, not only would the British win the day, but they might sweep away the colonial left flank leaving the way open to an assault on the American headquarters in Cambridge. Ward called upon every available regiment to the fight. Gerrish’s Regiment quickly assembled and marched off towards Charlestown Neck.

The battalion arrived at Charlestown Neck shortly after the first assault on Breed’s Hill and immediately came under heavy fire from the Royal Navy. As the regiment’s major recalled, “[I] went with the recruits and met men from the fort or breastwork where there was a great number of cannon shot struck near me, but they were not suffered to hurt me.” Upon seeing the narrow roadway being raked from both sides by British warships, Colonel Gerrish was overcome with fear. “A tremor seiz’d [Gerrish]. He began to bellow, ‘Retreat! Retreat! Or you all be cutt off!’ which so confused and scar’d our men, that they retreated most precipitately.”

Don Troiani's "Bunker Hill".

Moments later, Connecticut’s General Israel Putnam arrived on the scene and found Gerrish prostrate on the ground, professing that he was exhausted. The general pleaded with Gerrish to lead his troops onto the field. Finding both the colonel and the entire regiment unresponsive, Putnam resorted to threats and violence. He cursed and threatened the men and even struck some with the flat of his sword in an attempt to drive them forward. Only Christian Febiger, the regimental adjutant, and a handful of men who rallied around him, crossed over the neck, climbed Bunker Hill and moved forward to take up a defensive position on Breed’s Hill. In the midst of the confusion, Thomas Doyle, a private in Captain William Roger’s Company, was killed. The remainder of the regiment scattered and fled back towards Cambridge, where they remained for the rest of the day.

Following the American defeat at Bunker Hill, “a complaint was lodged against [Garish], with Ward, immediately . . . who refused to notice it, on account of the unorganized state of the army.” Years later, General Putnam’s son would bitterly complain about Gerrish’s Regiment, stating “But those that come up as recruits were evidently most terribly frightened, many of them, and did not make up with that true courage that their cause ought to have inspired them with.”

In late July, a British floating battery attacked the American fortifications at Sewall’s Point. Colonel Gerrish, commanding the position, but made no attempt to repel the assault, arguing, “The rascals can do us no harm, and it would be a mere waste of powder to fire at them with our four-pounders.” As evening set in, he ordered the lights of the fortification extinguished. In the darkness, the British continued the bombardment, although the cannonballs flew wide of the fort. For his conduct, Gerrish was immediately arrested. On August 18, 1775, he was tried at Harvard University in the College Chapel for “conduct unworthy of an officer.” The next day he was found guilty.

As a result of the verdict, General George Washington ordered "Col Samuel Garish of the Massachusetts Forces, tried by a General Court Martial of which Brigadier Genl. Green was Presdt. is unanimously found guilty of the Charge exhibited against him, That he behaved unworthy an Officer; that he is guilty of a Breach of the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations of the Massachusetts Army. The Court therefore sentence and adjudge, the said Col Garish, to be cashiered, and render'd incapable of any employment in the American Army--The General approves the sentence of the Court martial, and orders it to take place immediately."

Surprisingly, many American officers, including the judge advocate presiding over the hearing, declared the punishment was too severe. Following his removal, Gerrish returned to Newbury. Despite his court-martial, the townsmen elected Gerrish to the General Court in 1776.

After Gerrish’s removal, command of the regiment was given to Lieutenant Colonel Loammi Baldwin of Woburn. On April 19th, Baldwin had been one of the first militia officers to bring a force to the aid of Lexington, and to see the bloody results of the engagement on the common. Afterward, he led two hundred Woburn militiamen against the retreating British and devastated their lines at the Bloody Angle in Lincoln. Upon his assuming command in August, the regiment not only experienced a complete reversal from the plague of blunders and mismanagement but quickly developed into a crack fighting unit.

In January 1776 many of the men reenlisted for military service in Baldwin’s successor unit, the 26th Continental Regiment. During that difficult year, Baldwin would lead his regiment across Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. In New York, the regiment fought like wolves to hold off a British amphibious landing at Pelham Bay. The regiment later comprised part of the force that crossed the Delaware River with General Washington on Christmas Night 1776 and routed the Hessian garrison at Trenton. Days later, an advance party of the regiment was given the honor of leading the march to Princeton.