Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Civil War Facial Hair - Who Wears It Best?

This one is probably a little weird. I’ve been a Civil War buff pretty much my whole life. So, I know, you’re supposed to pay attention the battles, the generals, the armies – that sort of stuff.

One thing that has stuck out for me over the years, though, is how differently coiffed the different armies were. Huh? What the heck am I talking about? Well, here, let’s look at these guys:

It’s a pretty well-known photo from Matthew Brady – basically, three Confederate captives after the Battle of Gettysburg. What’s interesting about this pic, though, is that these guys could have basically started their own 1970s-era Southern rock band.  The goatees, the beards, the hats … Could it be any more classic than that?

On the other hand, I’m also vaguely remembering Yankee dudes who were clean-shaven, or with a nice simple mustache, or with a nice trimmed beard.

So, what I’m wondering is, am I crazy? Is it really the Allman Brothers v s. the E Street Band? Is it that simple? Am I just making this all up?


Wikipedia has a nice list of all the Union and Confederate generals (I don’t know, a thousand?), so here’s what I did:
  1. Randomly took 100 Union dudes & 100 Confederate dudes
  2. Looked at their pix
  3. Made sure those were actually in uniform (and not sporting their pre-war or post-war facial hair)
  4. Determined if they were clean-shaven, had a mustache, sported a goatee, were fully bearded, whatever … (though do see below)
  5. Made sure I could actually tell from the pic what it was we had
  6. Added up the numbers


Well, can’t do this without establishing our terms now, can we? 

So, there are basically four places where you can grow facial hair – your jaw (sideburns), your chin, under your nose (mustache), and between your lips and your chin (the famous soul patch). Got ‘em all? Well, that’s a full beard. Ain’t got none? Clean-shaven.

That’s 16 different combinations in all. Fortunately, some of those don’t appear ever. Think, for example, of a full beard but without a soul patch! All in all, that still gives us 12.

Oh, by the way, no extra points for length. There is a big difference, but it really just doesn’t affect the basic type. It’s also really hard to come up with way to distinguish between short, medium, and long. Yeah, we know it when it see it, but coming up with actual metrics is just super tough.


Interestingly, there were some results that were pretty darn close. They don’t call it the Brother’s War for nuthin, right? On the other hand, most definitely showed a difference. Let’s take a look …

Slight Union Lead: Full Beard

This is the thing that starts growing when you stop shaving, basically just covering your whole face. Think Lee. Think Grant. Think half of the guys from both officer corps. 

Actually, the Union has over half of their guys with a full beard (54%, to be exact). The South has only 41%.


You probably know the above two. How about this guy though:

Albert G. Jenkins, a Confederate cavalry officer from what is now West Virginia, gets our award for longest beard. 

Slight Confederate Lead: Mustache

Wow, there is so much variety here. I thought about separating them out, but that would have been just too much work. I have a funny feeling the South would have the more flamboyant ones and the North the more staid, prosaic ones. But who knows?

If you add ‘em all together, though, the South has a slight lead. About 19% of the Confederates wore a ‘stache, versus about 13% of the Federals.

Phil Sheridan was the Union’s answer to JEB Stuart – a decent cavalry leader (and dapper dresser to boot).

Albert Sidney Johnston might have made a difference to the CSA if he hadn’t been killed at Shiloh.

There was plenty of competition, but our most outrageous ‘stache goes to:

Though born in Virginia and educated in South Carolina, John Dunlap Stevenson actually fought for the North.

Slight Confederate Lead: Clean-Shaven

Wow!  Where did these guys from? I thought the Civil War was all about facial hair. Not too surprisingly, only a small percentage of either army went this route – 8% for the Rebels and 5% for the Yankees.

Robert Anderson was the commander of Ft. Sumter, on the receiving side of the bombardment.

Martin L. Smith was one of those Confederate generals who were born in the North. Like most of them, Smith married a Southern girl and settled in the South.

And here’s a guy who obviously is clean-shaven … In fact, I’m thinking he might have been about 4 years too young to even pick up that razor.

That’s Union boy general Francis Barlow (age 28 when promoted).

Confederate Blowout: Goatee

Now, this one has got to be Southern, right? Just think Col. Sanders for gosh sakes. 

Sure enough, the Confederacy dominates here, by a rough margin of 2 to 1. That’s 1 outta almost 4 Rebels, but a little over 1 out of 10 Yankees.

(By the way, I am opting for the common definition of the goatee here. Beard aficionados will disagree but I think you all know what I’m talking about.  I am also including that wonderful creation, the Napoleon / Imperial here as well.)

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a cavalry genius, and looked pretty much like your prototypical Southern officer.

Union general Alfred Terry rocks a more lengthy variety. He’s famous for capturing Ft. Fisher at the end of the war, pretty much sealing off Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from supplies, and thus ending the war.

And here's a look at a particularly nice Imperial:

The owner is Adalbert Ames, known more for his role in Reconstruction - in particular, as a Mississippi senator and governor (on the carpetbagger side, that is).

Union Blowout: The Hulihee

The whuh? This is also known as “friendly muttonchops.” All it really is mutton chops (lengthy, bushy sideburns) connected by a mustache. 

It was surprisingly popular during the Civil War, with 10% of Union generals sporting them and 5% of Confederates.  

Ambrose Burnsides, the source of the term “sideburns,” actually wore a hulihee. He also lost the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Henry Hopkins Sibley was most famous for creating a tent, used by both sides in the Civil War, and looking a lot like a teepee (the tent, not Sibley).

Honorable Mention

There were several styles that only 1 or 2 generals sported. Let’s go out with a couple of looks at those:


Fightin’ Joe Hooker is most famous for getting absolutely trounced at Chancellorsville by Lee and Jackson.


William “Bull” Nelson was a Union general most famous for being murdered by a subordinate officer. (BTW, a dutch is simply a full-beard without a mustache.)


George B. McClellan was an excellent organizer and beloved by his troops, but also well known for his timorousness on the battlefield. BTW, a very prominent Confederate general, PGT Beauregard, also went for this rather unusual style.

Neck Beard

Gustavus Smith’s main claim to fame was leading the Army of Northern Virginia before handing over the reins to some guy named Lee.

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