Civil War General Amrbose Burnside, whose unusual facial hair led to the coining of the term “sideburns”

Civil War Major General Amrbose Burnside, whose unusual facial hair led to the coining of the term sideburn

Sideburns are patches of facial hair grown on the sides of the face, extending from the hairline to below the ears and worn with an unbearded chin. The term sideburns is a 19th-century corruption of the original burnsides, named after American Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, a man known for his unusual facial hairstyle that connected thick sideburns by way of a mustache, but left the chin clean-shaven. “Burnsides” became “sideburns” because of their location on the face and for the somewhat incompetent Burnside’s tendency to “get things the wrong way ’round”.

He also instituted the playing of “Taps” at dusk. Which was (traditionally) named for the “last drink” of the evening at Bennie Havens’ tavern near West Point, which was known as “heeltaps.” Burnside was a regular at the tavern when he was an officer at the Academy.

His shirt/tunic is unbuttoned (look at the photo) at the chest because that was the style. He likely has a chest pocket that he liked having easy access too. According to the etiquette of the time, to have your top jacket button buttoned was to be dressed. All of the other buttons are optional.

Some interesting quotation that has erroneously been attributed to Abraham Lincoln for years in regards to Burnside: “Only Burnside could have managed such a coup, wringing one last spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory” and Burnside, “so versatile in his stupidity as to defy categorization, pulled a masterpiece of ineptitude during the Peninsular Campaign.”

Ambrose Everett Burnside (May 23, 1824 – September 13, 1881) was an American soldier, railroad executive, inventor, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island, serving as governor and a U.S. Senator. As a Union Army general in the American Civil War, he conducted successful campaigns in North Carolina and East Tennessee but was defeated in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg and Battle of the Crater. He was a general that history has been overly cruel towards. He had been instrumental in securing early victories for the Union on the Atlantic coast. He was a fair administrator and had a decent strategic sense. He was not perfect but he was better than generals like Pope or Fremont.

Interesting fact
This photo was taken by Mathew Brady, c. 1861-1865. Probably you are amazed by the resolution of this photo, a photo more than 160 years old. So why such an old photo is presented in such high resolution?

Because PPI is a new newfangled concept. Old school cameras were limited by the crystal size of the chemicals coating the photographic surface and the size of the plate of glass (and aperture, and focal length to properly expose and focus) for the negative. Mathew Brady, the man who took this photograph, was an American photographer who coordinated and sent out photographers to document the war. The process of choice at that time was a wet plate process, which used glass plates for the negatives. Glass plates could be anywhere from 3 x 2 inches (7 x 5 cm) to over 10″ on one side. A side effect of this process results in what seems to be an incredibly high resolution photograph. Many of these glass plate negatives are part of the Library of Congress and National Archive collection, almost entirely due to Brady’s efforts. The Archive and LoC have graciously scanned the negatives and paper positives in their archive at a high resolution, and made the digital images available to the public.

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