Sunday, April 15, 2018

Whiskey Men Fighting for the North

Foreword:  The Civil War that raged between 1861 and 1865 was a defining event in American history.  An increase in alcoholic consumption among the public during and after the conflict has been attributed to it.  The war also has been credited with spurring the temperance movement in the country that ultimately led to National Prohibition in 1920.  Many who fought on both sides had an interest in the liquor trade.  Often their stories are compelling.  This post on Yankee combatants features four men who in the post-war period found success in the liquor trade. 


No author in America was more famous in the late 19th Century than Lew Wallace, best known as the author of the novel, “Ben Hur" and shown above.  Wallace forever enshrined James R. Ross as the ideal Indiana soldier by penning a biography that extolled his military record in the Civil War and after.  Ross’ career as a successful liquor dealer in Indianapolis, by contrast, was kept almost totally secret. 

With Indiana-born Ross among them, the fancy-dressed 11th Indiana Regiment was sent to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s expedition into Tennessee and saw hot combat at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  During this period Lew Wallace was raised to brigadier general and Ross promoted to captain of Company C.  Ross subsequently transferred to Wallace’s staff which seems to have cemented the bond between the two men.  An 1862 magazine illustration of Wallace in battle shows him among aides.  One of them likely was Ross.


After the war, Ross entered the liquor trade, eventually moving to Indianapolis.  There in 1877, he and two partners formed a company called James R. Ross & Co., Wines  & Liquors,  located at 184-188 South Meridian Street, the primary north-south street in the city.  He was hailed during his lifetime as: “Bro. Ross has reflected credit upon every position he has ever filled; as a soldier, he was brave, as a citizen exemplary.”  After Ross’s death in 1900, Wallace published a tribute to him entitled, “An Ideal Indiana Soldier.”  The famous author made no mention that Ross had been a liquor dealer for much of his life.

The unsmiling, almost angry, visage shown below is that of Jeremiah “Jere” Rohrer, an officer of the 127th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, a post-war civic leader, and the leading liquor dealer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A wartime biography of Rohrer noted that:  “While he sometimes assumed a stern look, he had a big and kind heart, which was always throbbing in unison with his command.”  Whether in battle or in booze, Jeremiah clearly was a force to be reckoned with.  

Major Rohrer and the 127th Pennsylvania would see plenty of hot action.  The regiment sustained multiple deaths and woundings.  Its first major battle was the December 1862 Fredericksburg campaign that proved disastrous for the men in blue.  In his diary,  Jeremiah wrote of “the tremendous and unavailing slaughter, with its frightful loss of brave Union solders….”  The next major conflict for the 127th was the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, once again a bloody Union defeat.  In this confrontation Rohrer was commended for rendering gallant service.  A month later, with his enlistment ended, Rohrer was honorably discharged.  He did not re-enlist. 

Rohrer almost immediately moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in April 1864 opened a liquor dealership there.  Initially he located the business at 35 North Queen Street but soon found his volume of sales required larger quarters and about 1881 moved to Centre Square, later renamed Penn Square.  The square would be the home of his liquor business for the next 38 years.  It was a entirely fitting location for Rohrer; it was the site of Lancaster’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a memorial dedicated in 1874 to pay tribute to the city’s Union soldiers killed during the Civil War.

Lancaster's Penn Square with Monument

The life of Frank G. Tullidge was unalterably changed by his service in the Union Army during the Civil War during which he was engaged in many major battles.  In his early 20s Frank overcame his mother’s opposition and in 1861 enlisted for three years in the 8th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry.  Tullidge was made a lieutenant and second in command of his company.  In that role he saw action at many major battles, including Chickamaugua, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain and the siege of Atlanta. Eventually he was promoted to captain and released from command to join the staff of General George Henry Thomas as an inspector.

Upon the war’s end, Tullidge moved to Cincinnati. He may have been drawn there by another former soldier, William H. Richardson. Together about 1868 they founded a liquor business under the name Richardson & Tullidge.  The partnership, although it encompassed three moves in Cincinnati, lasted only eight years. In 1876 Richardson departed and Tullidge renamed the firm Frank G. Tullidge & Co. and advertised as a wholesaler and distiller.


Tullidge prospered in part by providing fancy giveaway items to his saloon customers, including a large framed picture of a lightly clad aristocratic damsel being attended by a half-nude slave girl. It was styled to hang in a bar and bore his name at the bottom.  

Throughout his career, Tullidge continued to be involved in Civil War veterans affairs. When Civil War General Andrew Hickenlooper died in Cincinnati in 1904, the press recorded that Frank was among the generals, colonels and other high-ranking officers who acted as pallbearers. As a mere captain, Tullidge must have earned his place escorting the hero’s casket because of his prominence among local veterans.  

As he looked back on his life, Kentucky whiskey man Wiley Searcy probably fixed on the  years of his service in the Union Army during the Civil War as perhaps the most memorable times of his life.  Few soldiers on either side saw as much action as Searcy did, in the process rising from a lowly private to the rank of captain.  

Kentucky citizens were torn between North and South in their loyalties.  For unrecorded reasons, the Searcys chose the Union side. Wiley, age 19,  joined Company  E of the 21st Kentucky Infantry, serving as a private in the ranks.  Searcy saw action in several battles, including Perryville in October 1862, shown here.  During that period Searcy advanced to sergeant.  Early the following year he was discharged from his infantry unit and accepted a commission to become a 2nd lieutenant in Company L of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry.   With this unit Wiley rode in pursuit of Col. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry raiders.  There were skirmishes at Marrowbone and Burkesville, Kentucky;  Buffington Island, and, at last, the capture of Morgan at New Lisbon, Ohio, on July 26, 1863.  Several months later,  his enlistment period apparently over, Searcy was discharged and went home. 

Still restless for action, in March 1864 he enlisted again and helped to raise a troop designated as Company G of the 30th Kentucky Mounted Infantry.  This time he was elected by the men and served as the company commander with the rank of captain. The company saw action in central Kentucky,  southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, fighting many pitched battles.   According to his 1917 obituary,  Searcy had two horses shot from under him in one afternoon.   In October 1864 during the second battle of Saltville, Virginia,  Searcy was severely wounded.  When he had sufficiently recovered,  he rejoined his unit and as an officer saw action against guerrillas (called “bushwhackers”) in Central Kentucky until the regiment was mustered out at the close of the war.  


After returning home, Searcy in 1886 is recorded as having purchased a distillery, shown above, that had been established in Anderson County in 1818 by Joe Peyton, widely known as “Old Joe.”  Under Searcy’s leadership, the distillery flourished. He added structures and boasted two bonded warehouses and a third “free” (not under the Bottled-in-Bond Act) warehouse. Federal revenue records indicate his active inputs of raw whiskey into the bonded warehouses and subsequent withdrawal of aged liquor.   At one point the former soldier called the facility the Zeno Distillery Company but after 1898 dropped that name in favor of The Wiley Searcy Distillery.  After running the distillery successfully for decades, a fire in 1909 and advancing age caused him to sell it in 1911 and retire.

One thread connects all four of these men:  All were advanced from lower ranks  to captain during the Civil War, a position of considerable responsibility requiring intelligence and leadership qualities.  Perhaps these qualities offer a clue into their later successes in the whiskey trade.

Note:  More complete biographies of each of these men are available in posts on this blog:  James Ross, Sept. 23, 2916;  Jeremiah Rohrer, Oct. 16, 2015;  Frank Tullidge, Nov. 18, 2011; and Wiley Searcy, June 22, 2013.

















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