Long Haired Sixties Radicals

Long Haired Sixties Radicals

Louisa was fifteen when the revolution began, and her enthusiasm was undimmed when she wrote her memoirs sixty years later. She recalled the spectacle: houses illuminated with candles, bells ringing, tar barrels burning, flags waving. Most of all, she remembered the people. “I can never forget how those men used to look standing on some impromptu platform,” she wrote, “with the wild light of the bonfires on their faces, and their hair which men wore longer in those days, blown back from their faces by the wind, or the energy of their own movements.” Their vitality still thrilled her: “such light in their eyes! So much hope and so much courage.”[1]

These stirring scenes might evoke a campus protest in 1968, but they came from South Carolina in December 1860. Louisa McCord Smythe was the daughter of writer and lawyer David J. McCord and Louisa McCord, an accomplished author, fierce proslavery theorist, and ardent secessionist. Smythe’s recollection reminds us that secession was especially popular among younger southern whites.[2] It demonstrates that although secession was a defensive, reactionary move, it also inspired hope among those who saw the Confederacy as what historian Michael T. Bernath has termed a “moment of possibility” – an opportunity for change of all sorts, from improving women’s education to stemming the tide of democracy.[3]

“Edmund Rubbin [i.e., Edmund Ruffin].” Born in 1794, Edmund Ruffin was an early and vocal proponent of secession and fired one of the war’s first shots in April 1861. Although much older than many other long-haired secessionists, Ruffin’s hairstyle marked his identification with their cause. As the Confederacy collapsed around him in 1865, the luxuriantly-maned fire-eater committed suicide. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It also illuminates a largely neglected visual signature of secessionist politics, a hirsutal affirmation of everything Smythe’s neighbors were celebrating: long hair.

Trimmed, wavy hair was fashionable for white men in late antebellum America, so those with longer locks stood out.[4] Not all were fire-eating disunionists, of course, but during and after the 1860-1861 secession crisis, particularly in cities along the troubled Union-Confederate border, long hair marked the class, section, and ideology associated with secession. From Virginia to Arkansas, secessionists, many in their twenties and thirties, sent a political message just as powerful as that of a century later. In the 1960s, long hair signaled a provocative, bodily challenge to behavioral norms and political elites.[5] In the 1860s, secessionists’ long hair made a comparably defiant statement, albeit on behalf of preserving, not subverting, the South’s peculiar social and political hierarchies. Unionists and secessionists alike identified long-haired men as members of the “chivalry”: the notoriously radical and vehemently proslavery southern elite. The image became a stereotype familiar to reporters, law enforcement officers, and anyone seeking to clarify regional difference.

Northerners regularly associated long hair with southerners, especially those of elevated rank and extreme politics. In his autobiography, Bostonian Charles Francis Adams, Jr., recalled that Lucius Q.C. Lamar, a fierce secessionist congressman from Mississippi, “looked the Southern college professor – lank, tall, bearded, long-haired, and large-featured.”[6] A newspaper correspondent covering Abraham Lincoln’s March 1861 inauguration described the audience as a massive crowd of “old and young, of male and female,” with “but few Southerners, judging from the lack of long haired men in the crowd.”[7] A wartime passenger on an Ohio River steamboat looked askance at a “very Southern looking young man with long hair, and an extensive display of very suspicious looking jewelry,” who was denouncing Lincoln as a racial egalitarian.[8] To a Union prisoner of war, Confederates in Charleston were “long haired secession devils.”[9] Perhaps no one epitomized the secessionist image better than Roger A. Pryor, a Virginia politician and newspaper editor who traveled to South Carolina to press for an immediate attack on Fort Sumter in hopes that this would propel his own state out of the Union. Contemporaries regarded the long-haired and heavily armed Virginian as “the very embodiment of Southern chivalry.”[10]

Roger Atkinson Pryor, 1828-1919. A generation younger than Ruffin, Roger A. Pryor was an equally ardent secessionist who worked as a newspaper editor and diplomat before serving in Congress and later in the Confederate Army. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Authors used the long-haired secessionist image to spice their narratives or vent their anger, but for Unionists who risked imprisonment or execution to ferret out information along the dangerous border, identifying friends and foes was deadly serious. Albert D. Richardson, a New York Tribune correspondent who was later captured and then escaped from a Confederate prison camp, read Kentuckians’ loyalties in their appearance – including their hair. The “sinewy, long-limbed mountaineers” passing through Louisville were likely on their way from eastern Kentucky to Indiana to enlist in the Union army, while the “pale, long-haired young men” heading the other direction were obviously Confederate recruits.[11]

Hairstyles even offered vital clues to Allan Pinkerton, the famous detective who uncovered a plot to assassinate president-elect Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore en route to Washington in early 1861. Pinkerton recalled that Barnum’s Hotel was the “favorite resort” of Baltimore’s southern sympathizers, and he identified them by their hair. During the evenings, “the corridors and parlors would be thronged by the tall, lank forms of the long-haired gentlemen who represented the aristocracy of the slaveholding interests.”[12]

“The rebel chivalry as the fancy of ‘My Maryland’ painted them; as ‘My Maryland’ found them.” This cartoon was printed in the pro-Union magazine Harper’s Weekly in 1862. It mocks the ostensibly exaggerated pretensions of the secessionist “chivalry” and depicts two stereotyped images: the secessionist as flowing-haired cavalier and the secessionist as mangy ruffian. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Pinkerton believed that the plot’s mastermind was Cypriano Ferrandini, a Corsican barber who worked in the hotel basement. Allegedly, Ferrandini had proclaimed that the “hireling Lincoln shall never, never be President,” and declared his readiness to die “for the rights of the South and to crush out the abolitionist.” Pinkerton depicted Ferrandini as “a fitting representative of so desperate a cause,” complete with “black eyes flashing with excitement, his sallow face pale and colorless and his long hair brushed fiercely back from his low forehead.”[13] Ferrandini was never charged with a crime, but Lincoln passed through Baltimore under cover of night to evade his long-haired would-be assassins.

From flappers’ bobbed hair to the forced haircuts inflicted at Indian boarding schools, hairstyles are closely tied to our identities and our ideals. After the Civil War, secessionists’ hairstyles were largely forgotten, though they are echoed in the southern outlaw image which, like other recent long-haired figures, emerged in the 1960s.[14] Ironically, the style of the chivalry was reborn among the rural working class.

[1] “Louisa McCord Smyth Recollection,” South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

[2] Peter S. Carmichael, The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); William L. Barney, The Secessionist Impulse: Alabama and Mississippi in 1860 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974); Henry James Walker, “Henry Clayton and the Secession Movement in Alabama,” Southern Studies 4, no. 4 (Winter 1993): 341-360.

[3] Michael T. Bernath, “The Confederacy as a Moment of Possibility,” Journal of Southern History 79, no. 2 (May 2013): 299-338; John F. Kvach, De Bow’s Review: The Antebellum Vision of a New South (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013).

[4] Amy D. Scarborough, “Hairstyles and Head Wear, 1820-1859,” in José Blanco F., ed., Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe, 4 vols. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016), II, 151-152.

[5] David Farber, The Sixties: From Memory to History, new ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 274-276, 281-282; Gael Graham, “Flaunting the Freak Flag: Karr v. Schmidt and the Great Hair Debate in American High Schools, 1965-1975,” Journal of American History 91, no. 2 (September 2004): 522-543.

[6] Charles Francis Adams, Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 47.

[7] “Inauguration Ceremonies of the President Elect,” Cadiz (OH) Democratic Sentinel, March 13, 1861.

[8] Silas, “From ‘Down the River,’” Evansville (IN) Journal, December 24, 1862.

[9] Charles D. Duncan to Dear Father and Mother, March 31, 1865, in John E. Duncan, “The Correspondence of a Yankee Prisoner in Charleston,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 75, no. 4 (October 1974), 220.

[10] “Glorious Defense of Sumter!!” New York Tribune, April 19, 1861.

[11] Albert Deane Richardson, The Secret Service: The Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1865), 164.

[12] Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1884), 59.

[13] Ibid., 63-64.

[14] Kirk Hutson, “Hot ‘N’ Nasty: Black Oak Arkansas and Its Effect on Rural Southern Culture,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (June 1995), 185-211.

Michael E. Woods

Michael E. Woods is Associate Professor of History at University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is the author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (Routledge, 2016) and Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States (Cambridge, 2014), which received the 2015 James A. Rawley Award from the Southern Historical Association. His most recent book is entitled Arguing until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy (North Carolina, 2020).

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