Thursday, February 09, 2012


Many understand what this term refers to today by simply looking at anyone with facial hair. This term has a tragic and somewhat humorous origin.

General Burnside
The term originates from the U.S. Union General Ambrose Burnside (1824-81). Burnside stood out for two reasons: his enormous and hilarious side-whiskers and his military incompetence. One of Burnside’s major failures as a general came in 1864 during the American Civil War. While in Petersburg, Virginia, the general had the brilliant idea to dig a 150 metre long shaft leading to a point some six metres under the enemy’s position. After the digging was complete over 300 kegs of gunpowder were placed at the end of the tunnel.

On the surface this sounds like a brilliant tactical manoeuvre but when the explosives went off and Union troops rushed into the massive crater (which still exists today) they found themselves in a killing zone. Confederate troops took-up positions along the edge of the crater and began picking off the unfortunate Union troops. As many as 3,500 Union troops were killed, wounded or captured. The Battle of the Crater was the worst incident of the war.    

Originally, the mutton-chop side-whiskers had been known as “Burnsides” but after General Burnside’s very public fall from grace the term became reversed. Sideburns received their name because of the location on your face and for the general’s reputation for getting everything the wrong way around.

When you see someone with sideburns make sure you remember the Battle of the Crater and the hilariousness of General Burnside’s side-whiskers.  


  1. Ahh, best background story yet Justin. Good work.

  2. And here I thought they were called Sideburns because when you shot a musket, the sparks would burn it off. Now I know.

    Great post!