I have seen pictures of Nathan Bedford Forrest with a dark beard and light hair on his head. Given that his head hair color does not match his beard color, did he wear a wig or dye his hair? I have searched around for dyeing hair, and it seems he did not live to see the day when this was practical. I have read about him, but I have not read he had a wig. It seems that he had a receding hair line. The black-and-white photos show a stark difference in his beard color and hair-on-his-head color. Given that he was the first Grand Wizard of the KKK, it seems like he would have liked lighter hair color. Here is an illustration of the different head hair and beard hair color.
Did Nathan Bedford Forrest wear a wig or dye his hair?
No wig, but more evidence than one might think suggests Forrest did dye his hair, probably with some sort of natural product, tree bark or herb product.
- Forrest was the right age to need the use of such a product.
- Hair dye products were commercially available before and during the Civil War.
- Evidence suggests dye was used by Civil War soldiers when sitting for photographs in the same theatre of the war where Forrest saw action.
- The photograph you reference suggests dye was present.
He didn't use synthetic hair dyes. The first synthetic dyes were created in the UK in 1863 by English chemist William Henry Perkin. Commercial products for these dyes were not available until 1907 when Eugene Schueller the founder of L'Oreal first introduced a synthetic hair dye product. So If Forrest was dying his hair he was using a natural mixture of plants and nuts which have been used to color hair dating back to Egyptian and Roman days.
Suggestive evidence that Forrest dyed his hair:
Forrest was born July 13, 1821 so he was 40 years old when the Civil War began. Modern men begin to turn grey as early as the age of 30. So if Forrest was vain enough to care, he could have had the motivation.
Natural non synthetic hair dye was commercially available during the Civil War.
New York c.1850 Hair Dye - Cristadoro
Dr. D. Jayne's Liquid Hair Dye
Dr. David Jayne and Sons were selling this preparation from around 1857 until the mid-1860s.
- During the Civil War there is research suggesting men sitting for photographs often for the first time, used hair dye. The evidence pertains to soldiers in Kentucky the same theatre as General Forrest fought, only on the Union side rather than Forrest's Confederate side.
- Men's beards typically grey first not their scalp hair as the picture in question clearly shows. This possibly suggests dye was used.
Why Do Beards Turn Grey First?
Greying is the result of a depletion of melanin in your hair follicles. As you age, the follicles produce less melanin, which causes either grey, silver, or white hair. Beard hair grows faster than hair on your head. This is why most people notice the depletion of melanin (or greying) in their beards first and then on their heads.
British Journal of Dermatology Greying of the human hair: a worldwide survey, revisiting the ‘50’ rule of thumb
I've seen no clear evidence either way, but the following anecdote from Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography by Jack Hurst may be of interest.
At a dinner during the war, to a society woman who inquired why his hair had turned gray while his beard remained dark, he replied that it was possibly because he tended to work his brains more than his jaws.