Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cue the Queue

The other day at a used book sale, I picked up A Military Miscellany by Thomas Ayres. "The Battle over a Haircut" was the prime reason, a few brief paragraphs clueing me in as to the existence of hair queues, otherwise known as pigtails.

Author Ayres starts out by explaining that "in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, soldiers traditionally wore their hair braided in the back and secured by a ribbon." According to the Revolutionary War Journal, this practice was part of the uniform, born of the popularity of wigs in the 18th century. So important was it to the military uniform, if men didn't have hair long enough for a pigtail, they braided one out of leather.

Photo from the Revolutionary War Journal blog

The "battle" in question took place in starting in 1801, due to an edict by General James Wilkinson ordering all U.S. enlisted military men to cut their queues.

One Revolutionary War hero of record, a Colonel Thomas Butler, Jr. refused to follow orders. He got away with it for a while, because he had friends in high places -- George Washington, members of Congress. But eventually, in 1803, General Wilkinson refused to look the other way any longer, and put Butler under arrest.

Colonel Butler's friends stepped in, including Andrew Jackson, and pleaded on behalf of the recalcitrant Butler. Their objections gained the colonel a reprieve and restored his rank. But General Wilkinson couldn't let it rest. Again, he erupted in outrage and ordered Butler court-martialed for refusing to cut off his pigtail. The colonel was found guilty. Before he could serve his year in the brig, however, Butler came down with yellow fever.

According to A Military Miscellany, Butler then instructed his friends, upon his demise,
to bore a hole in the bottom of his casket. 'Let my queue hang down through it so that the damned old rascal may see that, even when dead, I refuse to obey his order,' he told them. Colonel Butler went to his grave with his pigtail dangling defiantly beneath his coffin. He would have been disappointed to know that Wilkinson was not there to see it.