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COLUMN: Was General Burnside a pioneer in male grooming? | Around the city

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Historians generally agree that Union General Ambrose Everett Burnsides’ performance as a Civil War military leader has seen its ups and downs.

He gained some early on, mainly in North Carolina marching from Roanoke Island to occupy Elizabeth City, South Mills, New Bern, Newport, Morehead City, Beaufort, and Fort Macon. But later in his career, Burnside lost crucial battles in Virginia.

However, General Burnsides’ unusual facial hair presentation was quite fashionable and a bit trendy at the time. So much so that the Burnside look is described in the world today as iconic.

The growth of General Burnsides’ whiskeys was originally nicknamed burnsides, which evolved into paws. Thick bands of facial hair grew down his cheeks and connected with a full mustache. It contrasted with a clean shaven chin and neck.

His head was bald, which added to the character of Burnside.

Charles Bruce Catton, an American Pulitzer Prize-winning author, once remarked that Burnside had possibly the most artistic and impressive set of mustaches of all … in an army of mustaches.

Journalist Shaunacy Ferro, who supports Cattons’ motion, said General Burnsides wrapped around his face like a cat’s tail.

Writing for the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham commented: There are only two types of men who look really good in the beards of Union and Confederate Civil War generals.

The National Science Institute journal once playfully determined that over 90% of all Civil War commanders had some sort of facial hair, but the more barbarous wore Yankee blue.

Ambrose Burnside, who lived from 1824 to 1881, became a popular hero. He won the popular vote of the American public in a 2019 just for fun playoff series hosted by staff at President Lincolns Cottage at the Soldiers’ House in Washington, DC, which is now a popular tourist spot.

They nicknamed it Cottage Madness. Voters online have filled their brackets for Civil War facial hair. There were 16 contenders and General Burnside was number one.

Burnside went through the first three rounds and faced General Ulysses S. Grant (the number 11 seed), one of the losers, in the Championship game.

Beard bracketologist Johnny Di Lascio said: Grant was the Cinderella of the tournament. He was once clean shaven, but his wife had a dream in which his Ulysses appeared with a beautiful beard. Five months later, Grant wrote to a friend, you would never recognize me … I have a beard over four inches long and it’s red.

Burnside smoked Grant in the championship round. It was a landslide, as Burnside collected 72.5% of the vote.

Among the Confederate generals, Di Lascio preferred the facial hair of Jubal Early whose scruffy beard, salt and pepper was a remarkable specimen.

It seems those long raid nights in Maryland towns didn’t leave much time to shave, Di Lascio said. In the summer of 1864, Early launched an assault on Fort Stevens in Washington which brought him within a mile of Lincolns Cottage.

When Lincoln came to visit the fort the next day, early forces were still attacking, exposing Lincoln to enemy fire. The first armies never made it to Lincolns Cottage, said Di Lascio, which is great news for those of us who work here today!

At first lamented in 1864: We didn’t take Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln.

Just for the record: Confederate General Albert Jenkins grew the longest beard among all Civil War commanders. Before engaging in battle, he tucked his beard into his belt.

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