War Between the Beards

Blog: 04.07.11

Thursday, April 07, 2011 - 06:00 AM

On this week's show marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, historian Adam Goodheart talks to Kurt Andersen about his new book 1861: The Civil War Awakening.  The book chronicles the events leading up to the first shots fired on Ft. Sumter and reveals how technological changes like the telegraph helped fuel the conflict.  But war wasn't the only thing that broke out between the North and South — so too did men's facial hair. 

Goodheart, who sports his own "spiffy goatee," told Kurt that most Civil War scholars looked at him askance when he started questioning the beard phenomenon. "One or two said 'well it's because they were out on the battlefield and it was too hard to shave,'" Goodheart says.  But actually the beard boom began much earlier and is attributed to the popular uprisings that swept Europe in 1848.  Manly facial hair was the prevailing fashion there and became associated with a kind of romantic nationalism and uncompromising masculinity.

When Abraham Lincoln let his whiskers grow long after being elected, it was a sign that beards had officially arrived in the states.  According to Goodheart, beards were one of the few things that the Yanks and the Rebels actually agreed on: "Both sides had those kind of passionate, militant, patriotic feelings that were expressed on their faces."

Hear more of Kurt's conversation with Adam Goodheart in our episode, "The Civil War: Then and Now."

Presidential beards: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield



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Comments [1]

Connie from Kansas

Fascinating. . . .

Apr. 12 2011 08:43 PM

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