The Origin of Sideburns

“No Siree, Bob!” is what Ambrose Burnside’s bride-to-be yelled at the altar when asked if she would take Ambrose as her lawfully wedded husband. Lottie Moon turned and ran, leaving him there, bushy sideburns and all, without a wife. Later, as a Union Army General, Burnside would arrest Lottie and her sister, Ginnie, after it was discovered they were spying for the Confederacy. The fact that General Ambrose Everett Burnside had to keep Lottie, the woman who left him at the altar, under house arrest for espionage, is not even the most interesting thing about this very hairy man.  

Ambrose Burnside is the origin of sideburns

The life of Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose had a colorful military career, with epic wins and devastating losses during the American Civil War. He was always aware of his own limitations, though, and on more than one occasion, he turned down the opportunity to command, citing his own lack of skill. Ambrose was no war hero but he certainly contributed to the Union effort. When he resigned his post in the military, it was because he wanted to focus all his time and energy on the production of a weapon he, himself, patented. The Burnside Carbine. He would later take his love of weaponry to a whole new level when he became the founding president of the National Rifle Association. 

When Burnside’s munitions plant burned down, though, he set his sights on politics, eventually serving as the Governor of Rhode Island and a United States senator for the same state. He would have a long and lucrative career working for the railroads where he brushed shoulders with big names like the future president, Abraham Lincoln. 

Burnside eventually married, this time his bride-to-be said, “I do” and remained at the altar for the duration of the ceremony. Mary Richmond Burnside would die after 24 years of marriage, leaving Ambrose childless.  

Civil war map noting General Burnsides

The origin of Sideburns

However, Ambrose left a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten. Beyond his post as the founding president of the NRA, beyond his terms as Governor and Senator and well beyond the battles fought for the Union. Ambrose will leave a legacy in facial hair. Specifically, Kingsmen, in your sideburns. It’s no mistake that your chops go by his last name slightly reversed. Ambrose Everett Burnside had the furriest, fluffiest and most bushy sideburns you’ve ever seen. They weren’t just mutton chops, they were the mutton chops to lead all mutton chops. The man sported a freshly shaved chin that perfectly split his sideburns down the middle and it would seem, if one were to look at his picture and ponder, that this man probably trimmed those chops fewer times than he was left at the altar.  

His unique look wasn’t quite a beard and it wasn’t quite a mustache, and so, a new term was coined. Sideburns, named for General Ambrose Everett Burnside, civil war veteran, United States Senator, NRA president, weapons entrepreneur and inventor, and hardworking railway man who once stood, broken-hearted at the altar, watching his bride-to-be take off to join the enemy. Who knew your chops had such a history?

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