The other day a friend of mine hit me with an interesting research question. I thought I would share the question and my initial reply. Read on.
I have a question for you. I am doing research for the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, VA, and there is a reference in a ledger stating, after the battle of 1st Manassas, soldiers stood in line outside the apothecary shop to obtain a dose of hot drops. Do you know what hot drops are? Your help would be greatly appreciated, thanks a lot.
Here is a link to a search on Google Books. Hot drops shows up a lot; bear in mind many of the sources are very post war.
The fourth hit down gives a receipt (recipe) for hot drops. The fifth one down, dated 1897, describes how they were administered.
Myrrh was a powdered resin, cayenne peppers are self -explanatory, and the other ingredients are fillers. The whole thing probably tasted nasty but the brandy going down the throat, the cayenne providing just the right zing, and the myrrh acting resinous probably set off the placebo effect and helped them feel "better". It may also have been a very cheap "remedy", than say, buying laudanum or one of its most powerful derivatives, "black drop".
Based on those two descriptions and further analysis, it would be safe to say that a lot of terrified troops lined up for a dose of hot drops to settle queasy stomachs, nausea and diarrhea endemic to panic. Sort of like someone who just survived a car crash taking a powerful painkiller they had onhand to help calm them down.
It seems hot drops could be administered externally on sores (and unfortunate dogs, if you feel especially sadistic; see the entry on hot drops in a court case) but its primary use was internal.