Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Do Clothes Make the Man?

U. S. Grant
General Ulysses S. Grant is often criticized for his careless dress and lack of concern about his appearance.  This comment is often made in comparison with the more properly attired General Robert E. Lee.  The differences are quite legitimate and are tied to values formed during the Mexican War.  Like Grant and Lee, the two American commanding generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott placed different values on their appearance.  Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," was roughly dressed and cared little for appearances.  Taylor was described as "rough-hewn, folksy, direct, and at the outset self-effacing." Grant admired and emulated Taylor.  Winfield Scott, "Old Fuss and Feathers," was entrenched in the style and formalities of rank.  He was considered America's greatest military genius of the first half of the nineteenth century.  He was devoted to the details of strategy in contrast to Taylor's broad-brush approach.  Lee was on Scott's staff and would have been expected to observe the General's dress codes.  Lee retained much of what he learned from Scott including his dedication to proper appearance. 

Robert E. Lee
We are led to believe that fastidious dress is a reflection of an ordered and structured mind. Stated another way that sloppiness in appearance is a reflection of a lazy, disorganized mind. Hence, Lee gets added style points for his military bearing. The criticism of Grant may also fall into the category of "your ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

"Stonewall" Jackson
This all brings me to the greatest general in the Civil War - Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.  I recently learned that unlike his commander, Robert E. Lee, and his friend, JEB Stuart, Jackson was described as being "threadbare and disheveled."  This aspect of Stonewall's persona is seldom mentioned.  I can only conclude that as far as military issues are concerned clothes don't make the man.  Perhaps the lyrics of Trace Adkins' song are more appropriate: "All hat and no cattle, that boy just ain't real. All hat and no saddle... 'Cause all hat and no cattle ain't gonna get it done."

Sources: John Eisenhower So Far from God and Monte Akers Year of Glory.

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