Some of the greatest beards in American history graced the faces of Civil War badasses. This fact has been noted by the majority of the internet. Everyone from Anna and Julia Hider – the brains behind Badass Civil War Beards – to editors at Smithsonian Magazine have researched this subject. There was even a study about Civil War beards published by online journal Proceedings of the National Institute of Science. We’ll talk more about that PNIS research in a bit.
In compiling our list of badass Civil War beards, we followed one rule: Every entry had to be a military figure who’d seen combat. Many lists include politicians, or activists, or something that didn’t typically involve shooting guns at people. But we wanted to focus on the guys who saw the worst of it.
We also looked for qualifying bearded ladies, but unfortunately were unable to locate a single female soldier with whiskers.
Speaking of whiskers, there was an interesting distinction between beards and whiskers during Civil War days. It’s all beards to us, though.
10. John Lorimer Worden
The first badass Civil War beard on our list belongs to John Lorimer Worden, who commanded the USS Monitor during its standoff with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862. Yep, history’s very first battle of floating tanks starred a Union captain with a full beard and ‘stache.
While bombarding the Virginia, Worden was temporarily blinded by an explosion. Fortunately, his beard, knowing how important good eyesight is to proper grooming, gathered itself into a shield and blocked the worst of the blast. Both of the ironclads eventually withdrew from battle, battered but somehow still afloat. Worden continued his successful navy career until finally retiring as a rear admiral in 1886.
In gratitude for his service at Hampton Roads, New York State presented Worden with the Tiffany’s ceremonial sword you see above. We believe he probably used it to trim that glorious beard.
9. William Harvey Carney
William Harvey Carney was a member of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the North’s first African-American units. The 54th famously saw action at Fort Wagner in 1863, where the outnumbered Union forces attacked the fort but were repelled with massive loss of life and beard.
During the melee, the regiment’s color bearer was shot down. Seeing this, and being close enough to act, Carney tossed his gun and hoisted the flag through heavy fire all the way back to Union lines, taking four bullets in the process. “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!” he said as his balls turned to steel and his body gushed the manliest blood in history. For his bravery in battle, Carney received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Believe it or not, Carney wasn’t the only African-American soldier who received the Medal of Honor for that same feat. Alexander Kelly of the 6th U.S. Colored Regiment and Andrew Jackson Smith of the 55th Massachusetts both saved flags, too, and both were decorated accordingly.
8. Francis Jefferson Coates
We have no choice but to include Francis Jefferson Coates. Not only because of his outstanding beard but also because of his bravery while fighting superior Rebel forces at Gettysburg. As a member of the 7th Wisconsin, Coates was part of the famous Iron Brigade. Those men were known for standing strong under fire. Well over half of that brigade were casualties on July 1, 1863. Coincidentally, that was the last time Coates saw the light of day. In the middle of a Rebel flanking move he was shot in the face and blinded.
Coates wasn’t about to let lack of vision stop him from leading a normal life. After the war, he took up broom-making. He got married, too, and managed to rack up five kids before pneumonia ended him in 1880.
For “unsurpassed courage in battle, where he had both eyes shot out,” Coates received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1866. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has a couple additional pictures of Coates available, including one post-Gettysburg pic in which he’s wearing neither beard nor glasses.
7. Stonewall Jackson
“Look, men! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer!”
That’s one version of what Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee Jr. shouted to his men, announcing Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s arrival at the First Battle of Bull Run – right before getting shot. That’s how legendary nicknames are born, friends.
Easily one of the most famous Confederate generals, Stonewall Jackson was a cunning tactician and leader who enjoyed his lemons. And didn’t give a damn about appearance either. His brilliant flanking movement at the Battle of Chancellorsville, which caught the Feds off guard and led to their defeat, is still admired by students to this day.
It was at Chancellorsville, victorious, where he met his end, not long after routing the Yanks. While scouting ahead, he and his men were seen and mistaken for Union troops, and Jackson was shot down by fellow Confederates. One bullet found his right hand and two his left arm, which had to be amputated. He died after contracting pneumonia a few days later.
6. Bethel Coopwood
What a crazy character Bethel Coopwood was. That great white beard you see up there was red at one point. However, when you live a life like Coopwood did you don’t get to keep the melanin in your hair.
Originally from Alabama, Coopwood moved to Texas and saw action on horseback in the Mexican-American War. He was later a Confederate captain in General Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. During which time he survived smallpox. He once got into such a pickle of a firefight that he and his cohort had to shoot their own horses for breastworks.
As Sibley’s Brigade retreated in 1862 after being outwitted by the Feds and deprived of supplies, Coopwood was tasked with leading the ragged army through the mountains to avoid Union forces. It worked, kind of. While they did avoid their human enemies, the harsh, arid land was a whole new enemy for them. Many of those men died of thirst during the retreat.
There’s a whole lot more crazy in Bethel Coopwood’s life, but we’ll just include one more tidbit for you. Coopwood sired a grand total of 14 kids with his wife, Josephine. Fourteen. Clearly, she was just as crazy as her husband. (And she probably had a beard, too).
5. J.E.B. Stuart
Another one of the South’s most admired generals, James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart made a name for himself as a cunning cavalry commander as well as an especially flamboyant dresser. Regarding the latter, he often decorated his uniform with “a gold sash and a large plumed hat accented by an ostrich feather.” (And, with a beard like that, why wouldn’t you?)
Regarding the former, Stuart excelled as a student at West Point and helped smash John Brown’s uprising at Harpers Ferry. When his home state, Virginia, seceded, he joined the Confederacy. He served under Stonewall Jackson and contributing greatly to the success at the First Battle of Bull Run. At Chancellorsville, Stuart temporarily assumed command of Jackson’s forces after Stonewall fell.
General Robert E. Lee considered Stuart his eyes and ears; Jeb was at the top of the game when it came to reconnaissance. He won the adoration of Southerners both military and civilian for circumnavigating General McClellan’s army in 1862. His orders had been to simply scout the right flank. However, he just kept right on scouting all the way around the entire Army of the Potomac. Taking prisoners and helping himself to supplies along the way. And later that year, he repeated the feat.
General Jeb went to the grave in 1864 after being wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. As the story goes, the man was up on his horse, yelling encouragement to his troops as Union soldiers streamed by in retreat. And then one of those retreating soldiers turned around and shot James Stuart in the side, and he died.
4. Daniel Lawrence Braine
Daniel Lawrence Braine was a Union naval officer whose command at Fort Hatteras is the stuff of legend. A career Navy man who’d been from Mexico to the Mediterranean to Africa on a boat, Braine was a lieutenant when the Civil War arrived. He was given charge of the steamer USS Monticello and performed blockading actions in the Atlantic.
In October 1861, he and his crew found themselves defending Fort Hatteras. Rebels had surrounded the 20th Indiana Regiment near the fort, and things were looking a bit, ahem, patchy. The Monticello sailed along the shore looking for the Rebels, found them, and then bombed the tarnation out of them “with shells that exploded with the utmost precision, scattering them in all directions, killing and wounding them by the hundreds.”
As Johnny Reb fled, the Monticello followed his flank, dealing out “a deadly hail of shot and shell” that saved the 20th Indiana from destruction.
3. Lucius Frederick Hubbard
Lucius Frederick Hubbard was a smooth-faced whippersnapper when he moved from New York to Red Wing, Minnesota, at the age of 21. He arrived with big plans to start a newspaper, which is exactly what he did. It was called the Red Wing Republican, and, as its editor, he spent plenty of time trading political words with the editor of the town’s other newspaper – the Red Wing Sentinel.
It’s unclear when exactly Hubbard went beardo, but by the time the picture above was snapped in 1865, his face definitely knew what it was doing. There must have been some magic in that beard, because Hubbard was wildly successful in basically everything he attempted. He joined the 5th Minnesota as a private in December 1861, and just three months later he was a lieutenant colonel. Soon enough he was commanding brigades and fighting with General Sherman in Tennessee, where his horse got shot out from under him and he was hit in the neck – but he didn’t die.
Hubbard and his Magical Beard of Good Fortune returned to Red Wing after the war, and together they pretty much cleaned house in grain, railroads, and politics. He became a senator and later the governor. He was rich and everybody loved him.
When the Spanish-American War kicked off in 1898, the president himself asked Hubbard to return to duty as a brigadier general – and, of course, back Hubbard went at the age of 62.
2. Albert Jenkins
Confederate Brigadier General Albert Jenkins gets a nod here for having what may have been the biggest Civil War beard ever. Just look at that thing – you could hide a couple of spare revolvers in there if you wanted to.
Remember that PNIS research we mentioned? It’s titled “The War Between the Barbates: Facial hair of the commanders of the United States Civil War.” In it, journal editor Matt J. Michel examined 123 Civil War commanders. He analyzed their facial hair, and of those 123 Jenkins won the Biggest Beard in the Civil War award. Michel records the man’s “Beard:Face ratio” at 2.86 to 1, making his beard the largest in relation to the surface area of his face. Science!
Jenkins was wounded at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain while fighting General Crook, and he died shortly after a Union surgeon amputated his arm. Michel notes that “the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain has one distinction to which no other Civil War battle can attest: its opposing commanding officers, Crook and Jenkins, had the most combined facial hair of any pair of combatants in the entire war.”
1. Chester Bidwell Darrall
No list about Civil War beards would be complete without a surgeon who probably got all kinds of blood and gore stuck in his facial hair, right? Sure. Introducing Chester Bidwell Darrall, whose weird neckbeard/goatee combo was actually quite the popular style back in the day.
Darrall, who was born in Pennsylvania, entered the Civil War on the Federals’ side in the 86th New York Volunteer Infantry. He started as an assistant surgeon and was later promoted to surgeon. Most likely because he used his terrifying beard to threaten a superior.
Anyways, Darrall ended up resigning his post after the war. He settled in Louisiana and spent quite a few years in Congress. Later, he moved to Washington, D.C., and wrote books about combat medicine and surgery. And beards, we imagine.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our little dive into one of America’s hairiest eras. There are far too many badass Civil War beards to feature all of them on one short list. So if you think we overlooked any outstanding candidates, please leave a comment. We’d love to add another great beard to our collection.
Oh, and if you’re aware of any bearded ladies who fought in the Civil War, do let us know.