The Hidden Hipsters of The Civil War


You may have noticed an influx of hoop skirts, and quizzical renditions of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” recently, especially if you live anywhere in the South. Yes, yes, it’s the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and the reenactors are out with a vengeance. But were the people of the 1860s really that much different than we are today? Well, for starters, you’ve got a shared predilection for odd facial hair, silly nicknames, and sticking it to the man. In honor of the newly-released commemorative edition of Ken Burns’ epic Civil War documentary, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 hipsters discussed in his film. Whose beard was bushiest? Who had an interest in artisan beer brewing? All that and more, after the jump.

“That which is not just is not law!” William Lloyd Garrison famously said. Beyond that, he published an anti-slavery newspaper called The Liberator. Pretty radical stuff in 1831. He was also known to say the following: “I will not retreat a single inch. I will be heard.” Those who defied this triple-named threat would feel the wrath of his gaze from beyond those wire-framed spectacles of his.

Wendell Phillips “The Golden Trumpet of Abolition,” he had great oratory. And great facial hair!

Robert E. Lee has to be one of the most hipster of all Civil War figures. Though he had as solid of an education as anybody at West Point, he courageously (but stubbornly) fought for the “lost cause” — that is to say, the South. Kind of like trying to say that clove cigarettes are the new menthols. Give it up, man.

If the name Erasmus E. Keyes wasn’t enough, this somewhat modern Major General of the 1st Brigade was from Massachusetts. Instead of becoming a surgeon like his father, Justus, he decided the army was the place to be. In the postbellum years, Erasmus moved to San Francisco, penned a few books, and owned his very own Mexican gold mine, most likely used to fuel a profound interest in fixed-gear bikes.

Edwin M. Stanton had a lot going for him, besides his out-of-this-world facial hair. For starters, he served President Lincoln and had the notably awesome title of Secretary of War. Many agree that his efforts led the North and the Union to win the war. Though he’s a more behind-the-scenes kind of guy, we’re sure the Ohio native would be great at making sure bands knew exactly what time they were playing at what venue, and if there would be booze waiting in their green room.

George B. McClellan, though he was a Major General during the war, had some issues with his army. He was politically disenfranchised, and said the President was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.” Lincoln had the perfect rebuttal: “If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.” Just goes to prove the guy liked his battles waged for him. We guess he would be the type to make a lot of Xanga account and hate on Lincoln in the forums.

Nathan Bedford Forrest, aside from having been the inspiration for Brooklyn’s hip Bedford Avenue stop (this is entirely not true), and the inspiration for Forrest Gump (true enough by Hollywood standards), was self-educated, and had the decidedly cool nickname “The Wizard of the Saddle.”

General Winfield Scott Hancock, aka “Hancock the Superb,” was a war hero at Gettysburg. This badass got shot in the pelvis during one particular battle, but wouldn’t rest until victory was assured for the North. He’s the kind of guy who would be first in line for concert tickets, and not budge an inch until he had those tickets in his grasping, slightly hypothermia-ridden hands.

We’re not quite sure who this young soldier is, but he (or at least his hair) has decidedly Bob Dylan-esque characteristics.

This matronly bunch of government hospital nurses were required to be over 30 and “very plain-looking.” Hoop skirts were also frowned upon. We like to imagine that they were gathered here for their weekly Etsy meeting, planning which one of them would make embroidered phonograph doilies that week, and who was in charge of found art.