By Rachel Cox
Have you ever been punched in the face and said thank you? If you want a chance at that experience, try Chatham Artillery Punch.
This boozy concoction from Savannah, Georgia may have many origins and variations, but one thing is certain: it ain’t called a punch for no reason.
Rumor has it that Chatham Artillery Punch knocked out a U.S. president
It is one of the oldest American punch bowl recipes
It was first created in a horse trough
It might have saved Savannah from being burned down
What is Chatham Artillery Punch?
Back in the day, punch was the thing served at every party. It’s an easy way to prevent waste from bottles or cans and looks fancy in those punch bowls. But nowadays, punches are synonymous with fruit cocktails of nothing but sickeningly sweet juices served at high school dances.
This wasn’t always the case, made evident by one of the oldest punch bowl recipes in America: The Chatham Artillery Punch. This thing packed, well, a punch.
Referenced in the film adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the punch is said to be
three parts fruit, seven parts liquor, whatever’s available on both counts.
While the official inventor of the drink is unknown, it was believed to have been created by the local militia, the Chatham Artillery, to welcome the Republican Blues back from a military drill in Macon in the 1800s, but some references date it even earlier.
It was mixed in a horse trough, presumably by women, but these military men didn’t think it was strong enough, so throughout the night, they would sneak off to add alcohol.
That led to a
delightfully palatable and insidiously strong concoction.
There are many variations of this drink. A very old recipe from the 1780s included ingredients such as catawba wine, 4 different liquors, strong tea, brown sugar, and orange and lemon juice.
But those who have studied the drink claim the original was simply just lemon juice, sugar, rum, brandy, whiskey, and Champagne. Either way, that’s enough alcohol to bring an elephant down.
Knock ‘Em Out!
There’s a reason this punch was called the
killer of time and
vanquisher of men with all those liquors. It’s basically the Long Island Iced Tea of the past.
Now, with any good drink, there are going to be legendary blackout stories, but none compare to those of the Chatham Artillery Punch.
It may have been named after a military regiment, but this stuff was destructive on its own, taking down everyone from presidents to journalists to General William T. Sherman.
One of the more famous stories comes from a Southern journalist convention held in Savannah.
While the journalists were there, they went on a riverboat cruise, where the infamous Chatham Artillery Punch was served. Let’s just say that the river wasn’t the only thing flowing freely on that cruise.
The unfamiliarity of the drink led to bets on what was in the mixture, inspiring even more potent recipes.
devilish concoction, as they called it, got them so drunk, they couldn’t report on anything they originally went to write articles on. So, they all decided to report on their run-in with Savannah’s
mortal enemy of despair: the punch itself!
This event is said to have put Chatham Artillery Punch on the map and out of the small regiment’s headquarters.
Many know that President George Washington gifted the Chatham Artillery two cannons in the 1790s. They’re still proudly on display in Savannah, along Bay Street.
What many don’t know is that shortly after, he was supposedly presented with many cups of Chatham Artillery Punch. Could this drink have been so good, he felt the need to leave behind a gift? Or did he get so drunk that he just gave away two cannons?
Keep your credit card under lock and key if you go near this punch.
President Chester Arthur is another man claimed to have been bested by this beverage. But this type of news didn’t scare people off, it only added to the drink’s infamy.
Military men are known for being tough guys, and also for never backing down from a challenge. But no one stands a chance against the Chatham Artillery Punch.
Admiral George Dewey of the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay had quite the unpleasant meetup with the punch in 1900 the day before the parade to honor him.
Now named after him, this variation was allegedly made of 2 gallons of catawba wine, one gallon of Santa Cruz rum, a half-gallon of tea, six bottles of Champagne, three dozen lemons, three cans of sliced pineapples, six oranges, and a bottle of Maraschino cherries.
I’m drunk just reading that recipe.
Journalists, not wanting to ruin his war hero reputation, reported that he had a bout of indigestion from a bad salad. Admiral Dewey did somehow recover and make it to the parade the next day.
Another legend claims that this punch could have saved Savannah from a fiery end during the Civil War.
When General Sherman decided to start his March to the Sea in 1864 and burn down all of Georgia’s Confederate economy and transportation networks, one notable city was spared: Savannah.
There are many theories as to why Savannah was excluded from this raid. These include that General Sherman had a girlfriend in Savannah and it forced him to practice restraint, or that a mason begged for leniency since Sherman was also part of that brotherhood, or simply that Savannah was too beautiful to burn down.
But some think that Savannah did what Savannah does best: threw a rocking party. With gallons of Chatham Artillery Punch and as many Yankees as they could muster, the city got General Sherman so drunk that maybe he forgot to burn it down. This is why we always say drink responsibly, folks.
But Savannah’s great hospitality is one potential reason they were spared and were instead gifted to President Lincoln.
So, if you find yourself in a pickle, whether you forgot an anniversary or you’re in a hostage situation, whip up some Chatham Artillery Punch and that just might get you out of trouble.
If you’re taking a trip to Savannah and want to try this notorious drink, several places claim to have the best and even the original recipe.
While no one can say which local spot does the punch best (as a taste test of them all would prove deadly) stop by Alleycat Lounge, RiverHouse Seafood, Pirate’s House, or Shrimp Factory to take a sip or two!
Chatham Artillery Punch Recipe
8 ripe, yellow lemons
1 ½ cups sugar
1 pint of brandy
1 pint of rum
1 pint of whiskey
2 bottles of Champagne
The night before, thinly peel 8 lemons and muddle with sugar in a jar
Fill a large bowl with ice
Pour in the brandy, rum, and whiskey
Juice lemons until you have 1 ½ cups of juice
Add juice to the lemon peel and sugar mixture, stir to dissolve remaining sugar
Strain out peels and pour lemon juice and sugar into the large bowl
Add 2 bottle of Champagne
Hint: Cheap or crushed ice is fine as it will dilute the mixture