Time to break out the punch bowl—not for any ordinary punch, but for Savannah’s famous southern concoction, Chatham Artillery Punch. It is steeped in historic lore with the ability to “vanquish hardy men” if not consumed with care, not to mention that it truly is delicious.
We can never really know the circumstances around the first appearance of this punch, but we do know a local Georgia militia, known as the Chatham Artillery, created it.
As told by one of Savannah’s restaurants, River House, the recipe has been around for about as long as the Chatham Artillery—which was formed in 1786. When George Washington visited the city in 1791 during his Presidential Tour, he gifted the Artillery with two cannons his troops had captured during the decisive Battle of Yorktown. In return, they celebrated with dinners and toasts that involved this potent punch. However, skeptics view this account as one of many “George Washington Was Here” stories.
Another version courtesy of “Paste Magazine” goes like this: After returning to Savannah from a drill in Macon, Georgia, in the 1850s, the Republican Blues were welcomed back by Sergeant A.B. Luce and the Chatham Artillery. Luce concocted a punch using a horse bucket filled with finely crushed ice to which a quart of brandy, whiskey and rum were poured and lemon and sugar added. The bucket was filled with champagne and stirred to “delirious deliciousness.”
Chatham Artillery Punch has been called the strongest punch in history. It is a delicious, seductive and powerful mix known to vanquish decorated admirals and generals in ways that battle gunfire could not.
One famous victim, war hero Admiral George Dewey of the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, surrendered to Chatham Artillery Punch during a visit to Savannah in 1900. Horrified by this humiliation of a national hero, journalists of the day chose to soften the blow to the American public by calling his drunken evening nothing more than a bout of indigestion from the mixture’s acids and a bad salad.
So, this holiday season, enjoy this punch with good cheer, but use caution!
Written by Georgene Mortimer of Island Winery, located at 12 Cardinal Road on Hilton Head Island. For more information about Island Winery, call (843) 842-3141.