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The Other John Pemberton Still Has An Effect On Our Lives

Most Civil War enthusiasts are familiar with General John Clifford Pemberton, Confederate commander of The Army of the Mississippi who surrendered Vicksburg. But have you ever heard of Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Stith Pemberton? 

John S. Pemberton was a cavalry officer in the Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion and received a painful slash wound across his chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia (a.k.a. Battle of Girard Alabama) on April 16, 1865, which is widely regarded as the last battle of the Civil War.  He, like many other wounded veterans, became adicted to morphine because of his painfully slow healing saber wound.  He became determined to find a way to remove himself from the drug addiction and, as a very capable pharmacist, began experimenting with coca and coca wines and even developed a kola version called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

When the temperance movement took hold in Atlanta in 1886 he was forced to find a non-alcoholic alternative to cure his addiction and its resulting depression.

He relied on an Atlanta druggist named Willis Venable to help him with the new formulation which they perfected by trial and error. The product they concocted was a syrupy mix which when added to carbonated water became a product that we all know today.  A gentleman named Frank Mason Robinson came up with the catchy name.

The tonic they invented was advertised as being particularly beneficial to “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusible stimulant”.  Pemberton also claimed that his tonic was “delicious, refreshing, pure joy, exhilarating, invigorating” and touted it as a “valuable brain tonic”.

The next time you enjoy a Coca-Cola think of John Stith Pemberton, the Civil War veteran who made it possible.


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