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The greatest beards of the Civil War, in one chart

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There are only two types of men who actually look good in beards: Union Civil War generals, and Confederate Civil War generals. The epic facial hair of the Civil War has been an internet phenomenon for some time now. But nobody thought to undertake a rigorous quantitative analysis of the beards of North and South -- until now.

"The War Between the Barbates: Facial hair of the commanders of the United States Civil War" is an analysis of Civil War facial hair published this week in the semi-satirical/semi-serious online journal "Proceedings of the National Institute of Science." In it, journal editor Matt J. Michel analyzes the facial hair of 123 Union commanders and 95 Confederate commanders, classifying generals by the style (clean-shaven, mustache only, muttonchops, etc.) and quantity of their facial hair.

For that latter measure, Michel created a hilarious metric he calls the "Beard:Face Ratio" derived from the best photos he could find of the various commanders. I'll let him explain:

For each photo, we measured the total area of facial hair (excluding eyebrows) and the total area of the face not covered by facial hair using the magnetic lasso tool in Photoshop. We then obtained a Beard:Face ratio (i.e., divide beard area by face area). A B:F ratio of 0 indicates clean shaven, and a ratio greater than 1 indicates facial hair larger than the face.

As you might suspect, this methodology is not quite 100% scientific. Still, in the absence of any actual studies of beardedness it's probably one of the best measures we have for quantifying historic beards. Here's what he found out.

First, and not surprisingly, more than 90 percent of the generals in his sample had some time of facial hair. The long beard was the most popular style, followed by the short beard, the plain mustache, and the "French cut," a type of goatee.

Scruffy rebel stereotypes aside, Michel found that clean-shavenness was more heavily concentrated among Confederate generals in his sample, as the chart above shows. One possible reason? "Abraham Lincoln was the first US President to have a beard (having, at times, a chin curtain and a goatee)," Michel notes. "Maybe clean-shavenness was a subtle protest by Confederate commanding officers."

Another distinction between North and South: Northerners tended to keep more elaborate beard styles, like muttonchops and short beards, that require more upkeep -- perhaps a reflection of the availability of barber services in each region.

Overall, Union officers in Michel's sample had a higher average Beard:Face ratio (0.55) than Confederate officers (0.38). But the title of Biggest Beard in the Civil War goes to the Confederacy's brigadier general Albert Jenkins, whose chest-length long beard gave him a Beard:Face ratio of 2.86 to 1 -- a beard nearly three times larger than his face.

In an upcoming second part of the analysis, Michel plans to investigate whether beard volume was related to battle outcomes in any way.