Wade Hampton III (1818-1902)

Wade Hampton III (March 28, 1818 - April 11, 1902) was a Confederate cavalry leader during the American Civil War and afterwards a politician from South Carolina, representing it as governor and U.S. Senator.

Early life and career

Hampton was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the eldest son of Wade Hampton II (1791­1858), known as "Colonel Wade Hampton", one of the wealthiest planters in the South, an officer of dragoons in the War of 1812, and an aide to General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. He was grandson of Wade Hampton (1754­1835), lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the American War of Independence, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and brigadier general in the War of 1812.

Hampton grew up as a privileged boy, receiving private instruction. He had an active outdoor life, riding horses and hunting. He was known for taking hunting trips alone into the woods, hunting bears with only a knife. Some accounts credit him with killing as many as 80 bears. In 1836 he graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), and was trained for the law, although he never practiced. He devoted himself, instead, to the management of his great plantations in South Carolina and Mississippi, and took part in state politics. He was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1852 and served as a Senator from 1858 to 1861. Hampton's father died in 1858 and the son inherited a vast fortune, the plantations, and one of the largest collections of slaves in the South.

Civil War

Although his views were conservative concerning the issues of secession and slavery, and he had opposed the division of the Union as a legislator, at the start of the Civil War, Hampton was loyal to his home state. He resigned from the Senate and enlisted as a private in the South Carolina Militia; however, the governor of South Carolina insisted that Hampton accept a colonel's commission, even though he had no military experience at all. Hampton organized and partially financed the unit known as "Hampton's Legion", which consisted of six companies of infantry, four companies of cavalry, and one battery of artillery. He personally financed all of the weapons for the Legion.

Despite his lack of military experience and his relatively advanced age of 42, Hampton was a natural cavalryman‹brave, audacious, and a superb horseman. He merely lacked some of the flamboyance of his contemporaries, such as his eventual commander, J.E.B. Stuart, age 30. He was one of only two officers to achieve the rank of lieutenant general in the cavalry service of the Confederacy, the other being the legendary guerrilla and partisan fighter, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Hampton first saw combat in July, 1861, at the First Battle of Bull Run, where he deployed his Legion at a decisive moment, giving the brigade of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson time to reach the field. Hampton was wounded for the first of five times during the war when he led a charge against a federal artillery position, and a bullet creased his forehead.

Hampton was promoted to brigadier general on May 23, 1862, while commanding a brigade in Stonewall Jackson's division in the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Peninsula Campaign, at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862, he was severely wounded in the foot, but remained on his horse while it was being treated, still under fire. Hampton returned to duty in time to lead a brigade at the end of the Seven Days Battles, although the brigade was not significantly engaged.

After the Peninsula Campaign, General Robert E. Lee reorganized his cavalry forces as a division under the command of J.E.B. Stuart, who selected Hampton as his senior subordinate, to command one of two cavalry brigades. During the winter of 1862, around the Battle of Fredericksburg, Hampton led a series of cavalry raids behind enemy lines and captured numerous prisoners and supplies without suffering any casualties, earning a commendation from General Lee. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hampton's brigade was stationed south of the James River, so saw no action.

In the Gettysburg Campaign, Hampton was slightly wounded in the Battle of Brandy Station, the war's largest cavalry battle. His brigade then participated in Stuart's wild adventure to the northeast, swinging around the Union army and losing contact with Lee. Stuart and Hampton reached the vicinity of Gettysburg late on July 2, 1863. While just outside of town, Hampton was confronted by a Union cavalryman pointing a rifle at him from 200 yards. Hampton charged the trooper before he could fire his rifle, but another trooper blindsided Hampton with a saber cut to the back of his head. On July 3, Hampton led the cavalry attack to the east of Gettysburg, attempting to disrupt the Union rear areas, but colliding with Union cavalry. He received two more saber cuts to the front of his head, but continued fighting until he was wounded again with a piece of shrapnel to the hip. He was carried back to Virginia in the same ambulance as General John Bell Hood.

On August 3, 1863, Hampton was promoted to major general and received command of a cavalry division. His wounds from Gettysburg were slow in healing, so he did not actually return to duty until November. During the Overland Campaign of 1864, Stuart was killed at the Battle of Yellow Tavern and Hampton was given command of the Cavalry Corps on August 11, 1864. He distinguished himself in his new role at the bloody Battle of Trevilian Station, defeating Philip Sheridan's cavalry, and in fact, lost no cavalry battles for the remainder of the war. In September, Hampton conducted what became known as the "Beefsteak Raid", where his troopers captured over 2400 head of cattle and over 300 prisoners behind enemy lines.

While Lee's army was bottled up in the Siege of Petersburg, in January, 1865, Hampton returned to South Carolina to recruit additional soldiers. He was promoted to lieutenant general on February 14, 1865, and surrendered to the Union along with Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. Hampton was reluctant to surrender. His home in South Carolina had been burned, much of his fortune had been depleted supplying his soldiers, and his many slaves had been freed. Understandably bitter, Hampton was one of the original proponents, alongside General Jubal A. Early, of the Lost Cause movement, attempting to explain away the Confederacy's loss of the war. Hampton was especially angry upon the arrival of black Federal troops to occupy his home state.

Postbellum career

Hampton was a leading fighter against radical Republican Reconstruction policies in the South. Reentering politics, he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1876, the first southern governor to run on a platform in opposition to Reconstruction. He defeated his rival, incumbent governor Daniel Henry Chamberlain, by only a few votes, and it took a ruling by the state Supreme Court to resolve the election, defying Federal troops who barred him from the courthouse. Hampton became known as the "Savior of South Carolina." He was reelected to a second term in 1878, but he resigned in 1879 when he was elected to the United States Senate, where he served two terms, until 1891. His election victory was marred when he was thrown from a mule and fractured his right leg, required its amputation just before he left for Washington.

From 1893 to 1897, he served as United States Railroad Commissioner, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. In 1899, his home in Columbia, South Carolina, was destroyed by fire. An elderly man, he had limited funds and limited means to find a new home. Over his strong protests, a group of friends raised enough funds to build him one.

Hampton died in Columbia and is buried there in Trinity Cathedral Churchyard. Statues of him were erected in the South Carolina Capitol building and the United States Capitol. He is also memorialized in three geographic names: Hampton County, South Carolina, Wade Hampton, South Carolina, and Wade Hampton Census Area, Alaska.