Facial Hair Friday: Percy Wyndham, Soldier Extraordinaire

Today’s post comes from Megan Huang, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Today’s Facial Hair Friday is about a little-known Civil War Union officer, Col. Percy Wyndham, who has a perfectly pointed beard and mustache.

Col. Percy Wyndham, ca. 1861-65. (National Archives Identifier 528615)

An Englishman, Wyndham did not have the the usual path to participation in the American Civil War. Perhaps being born upon the ship Arab in the Downs area of the English Channel fated him for an exciting life, which he certainly had.

He was only 15 when joined the Student Corps in Paris and got his first taste of action during the 1848 French Revolution. After transferring to the French navy, he returned to his home country and served in the English, Austrian, and Italian armies. In 1861, he obtained a leave of absence from his Italian post to serve in America.

With the recommendation of Gen. George McClellan, Wyndham was given command of the First New Jersey Cavalry. In that position, he earned himself the particular contempt of Confederate leader John S. Mosby, who in 1863 attacked the headquarters of Union forces protecting Washington, DC, and capture Wyndham and the commanding general, Edwin H. Stoughton. The Confederates were successful in taking Stoughton by surprise, but Wyndham luckily was in the city and evaded capture.

Col. Percy Wyndham, ca. 1861-1865. (National Archives Identifier 527988)

Later, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Wyndham’s First New Jersey Cavalry joined in the cavalry charge that repulsed JEB Stuart’s attempt to disrupt the Union’s communications lines on the last day of fighting. When the war ended, Wyndham opened a military school in New York City but left it to return to Italy, where he became a member of the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi’s staff.

Wyndham’s last destination was Burma, where he died when the hot air balloon he was exhibiting burst. An Indian newspaper probably put it best when it said, “Thus ended a singular and adventurous career.”

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