How a wig stopped a fight

NH Civil War Gal

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#1
This was just before the war but it is such a good, true story, I wanted to put it in here.



10-house-slavery-brawl-1858.jpg


Photo credit: history.house.gov

In 1858, the US Capitol gave the world an early preview of the war to come. Congress was debating the statehood of Kansas. Their proposed constitution permitted slavery and forbade free blacks from living in the state.

The Northern Republicans were furious. Congress spent days arguing about it. As the debate went on, extending past midnight, they started drinking heavily just to keep from falling asleep.

It was 1:30 AM when Laurence Keitt, a Democrat who was drunk out of his mind, stood up, pointed in Republican Galusha Grow’s face, and slurred out, “You’re a black Republican puppy!” Grow snapped back, “No Negro driver shall crack his whip over me!” Lunging at Grow, Keitt yelled that he was going to choke Grow, and the whole building erupted into a vicious brawl.

There was an effort to calm it down. The Speaker of the House tried banging the house mace, but it only made things worse. Another congressman, misunderstanding what the Speaker was trying to do, thought this meant that weapons were fair game. The congressman grabbed a metal spittoon and smashed it into someone’s head.

The fight didn’t stop until someone grabbed William Barksdale in a headlock and started punching him in the skull. Barksdale broke free, but his hairpiece didn’t come with him. Embarrassed, he picked it off the ground and put the wig on his head backward.

The politicians burst into laughter, and everyone finally calmed down. The fighting stopped, and they managed to come to an agreement—pacified by a man’s wig.
 

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Cavalry Charger

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#3
Here's another wig story from the memoirs of Julia Dent Grant. It didn't stop a fight, but it did stop a gentleman from annoyingly putting his head out of the window of a carriage and obstructing the view of others!

"Once at a review in Cairo, when accompanied by some friends from Galena who had come to see the army, a gentleman with us kept putting his head out of the carriage window, much to his inconvenience and greatly obstructing the view of the rest of the party. As he drew his head in for the twentieth time, a malicious puff of wind took off his hat, with it his wig, leaving the poor horror-stricken man's head as bare as a billiard ball. I shall never forget the consternation depicted on that kindly old face as he anxiously watched the pursuit, which was long, and the final capture of that hat and its treasure. My regard for this Galena friend kept me from shouting with laughter. I simply remarked as the hat was handed to him, 'Oh! Mr. H, you cannot now lay all the vanities at the door of the ladies. If you do, I will tell on you.' This little sally seemed a great relief to the nice old man, and he did not put his head out the carriage window again."

:smile:
 

lelliott19

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#5
1548635173012.png

Laurence M Keitt. I've always felt sorry for him. Not for his improper conduct in Congress, but at Cold Harbor.

Keitt was the Colonel of the 20th South Carolina Infantry. The regiment was organized in the winter of 1861/62, but their time had been spent around Charleston. They had endured the bombardment of Battery Wagner, but they had no actual battlefield experience - facing opposing lines.

In the Spring of 1864, Keitt's regiment was sent to reinforce Kershaw's brigade during the Overland Campaign. Kershaw had been promoted to command the division and for reasons unknown, Colonel Laurence M. Keitt was placed in command of Kershaw's old brigade at Cold Harbor. Because of their assigned service, the 20thSC had not suffered the attrition that other regiments in the division had. The 20thSC was much larger than the rest of the regiments in Kershaw's division. So large, in fact, that the veteran soldiers of Kershaw's division jokingly nicknamed it the "20th Corps."

Anyway, on that day, being unaware of the inadvisability of it, Keitt mounted his iron grey horse and led his 20thSC at the front of the assaulting column, toward Merritt's entrenched (dismounted) cavalry. Merritt's men were armed with Spencers (7 shot.) A well-timed volley stunned the Confederate line. The regiment gave way and in trying to rally them, poor Keitt was riddled with bullets and mortally wounded.

In his book, Four Years under Marse Robert, Robt. Stiles of the Richmond Howitzers artillery describes it this way: "....Thereupon the regiment (20th SC) went to pieces in abject route and threatened to overwhelm the rest of the brigade. I have never seen any body of troops in such a condition of utter demoralization; they actually groveled upon the ground and attempted to burrow under each other in holes and depressions."

Ive never understood why a regiment that had never faced an opposing line in battle, led by a Colonel with no military education or experience, was placed in such a position. Maybe someone here can provide some additional information?
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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This was just before the war but it is such a good, true story, I wanted to put it in here.

Since the brawl was over the future of Kansas, seems to be an ACW story despite the date. Great story, thanks for posting it! Added tags- anyone having a bad day would leave it behind reading this.
 

O' Be Joyful

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#7
The story that I have always heard was that the congress-critter that was a wrasslin' with Barksdale came away with his wig in his hand, and shouted, "Look boys! I've scalped him!"

But, sadly it appears that it is not true. A great story is always ruined :wink: by an eye-witness and good detective work.

In the early morning hours of February 6, 1858, a fight erupted between South Carolina Fire-Eater Laurence Keitt and Republican abolitionist Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. As Members from each side joined the fray, Wisconsin Representative John F. Potter, the “Western Hercules,” snatched the toupee from atop Mississippi Representative William Barksdale’s head and the House erupted in laughter at the absurdity. “Horray, boys! I’ve got his scalp!” shouted Potter with perfect rhetorical flourish.

Or so we thought!
Whereas: Stories from the People’s House
I've Scalped Him?
Edit: to insert correct link

 
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Carronade

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#8
for reasons unknown, Colonel Laurence M. Keitt was placed in command of Kershaw's old brigade
He was probably the senior officer, by rank or date of rank. Veteran regiments were often commanded by officers of lower rank than colonel, due to casualties or promotions. Also if Keitt had been in command of the 20th for some time, maybe even since its inception, he would be senior to someone more recently promoted to colonel.

I've read about this happening in the Union army; when the regiments in a brigade were depleted, a new regiment would be assigned, and its commander might now be the senior officer in the brigade despite his lack of experience. The Confederates (and some northern states) preferred to provide replacements to existing units, but also added new regiments when necessary.
 

lelliott19

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He was probably the senior officer, by rank or date of rank. Veteran regiments were often commanded by officers of lower rank than colonel, due to casualties or promotions. Also if Keitt had been in command of the 20th for some time, maybe even since its inception, he would be senior to someone more recently promoted to colonel. ....senior officer in the brigade despite his lack of experience.
Thank you so much! You're probably right.
 

Carronade

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#10
Another wig story, though not ACW - back in the days when people were executed by axe, it was customary to hold up the head and cry "Behold, the head of a traitor". Such was the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, but she had the last laugh - she wore a wig, and when the headsman made his announcement, all he had was the wig while the head rolled away on the floor.

As historian Garrett Mattingly put it, "Mary Stuart always knew how to steal a scene."

p.s. it was customary in those days to tip the executioner
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#13
Another wig story, though not ACW - back in the days when people were executed by axe, it was customary to hold up the head and cry "Behold, the head of a traitor". Such was the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, but she had the last laugh - she wore a wig, and when the headsman made his announcement, all he had was the wig while the head rolled away on the floor.

As historian Garrett Mattingly put it, "Mary Stuart always knew how to steal a scene."

p.s. it was customary in those days to tip the executioner

When that charming old hedonistic murderer Henry VIII was ridding himself of potential claimants to the throne, didn't poor Margaret Plantagenet's executioner just keep hacking away at the old woman? Took 7 hacks and still undone? Bet she didn't tip him. :angel: ( sorry, couldn't resist. )

From 19th century Washington D.C. to wigs to a Scots king's daughter to a rotund roué with a roving eye and disinclination towards fidelity to figuring out percentages on what to tip executioners- how'd we get here? I'm not off thread, am I?
 

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