The Rebel Warrior Who Governed in Peace By STUART FERGUSON June 7, 2008; Page W9 Wade Hampton By Rod Andrew Jr. University of North Carolina, 616 pages, $40 After the Civil War, when one of Wade Hampton's former cavalry troopers asked how many of the enemy he had killed, Hampton matter-of-factly replied: "Eleven; two with my sword and nine with my pistol." Pressed, he admitted that he only counted the Yankees who had put up a fight, not the ones who had died while trying to get away. [Gen. Wade Hampton leads a company of Citadel cadets at the battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia in June 1864.] South Caroliniana Library Gen. Wade Hampton leads a company of Citadel cadets at the battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia in June 1864. Hampton (1818-1902) is known to history in part for his military exploits. As a Confederate cavalry general, he led soldiers at Trevilian Station in Virginia and at Gettysburg. In the famous 1864 "beefsteak raid" near City Point, Va., he returned from behind enemy lines with 2,500 head of cattle for the starving rebel army. In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett O'Hara's short-lived first husband even serves under him. But Hampton also built an influential postbellum career. He served as one of the first postwar governors of South Carolina -- his violent, fraud- ridden election in 1876 helped to mark the end of Reconstruction -- and also as a U.S. senator, though he would never recover his position as a Southern grandee. Rod Andrew Jr.'s "Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer" is, amazingly, the fourth full-scale biography of the man in five years, but no less welcome for that. Hampton is one of those larger-than-life figures whose actions repay close attention and whose careers match pivotal moments in America's history. Before the Civil War, Hampton was a gentleman-planter who, with other members of his family, owned vast, slave-labor plantations in Mississippi and South Carolina and lived most of the time at Millwood, a resplendent property near Columbia, S.C. True to his exalted status, he was keen on his ancestors, his horses and his hunting. In 1857, after some English aristocrats visited him in Mississippi, Hampton wrote to his sister: "Today I took them bear-hunting & we killed four. They are not accustomed to the sport. Lord Althorp . . . was with me & he literally had his clothes torn off. I had to furnish him with my drawers, as to enable him to come home decently." Mr. Andrew brings this antebellum South to life, but he describes Hampton's wartime experience with special vividness. (Mr. Andrews is himself a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, as well as a history professor at Clemson University.) Hampton was a bold, competent commanding officer -- whether supporting infantry with his daring charges or conducting long raids into enemy territory -- though not a brilliant one. In 1864, he succeeded Jeb Stuart as cavalry commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Hampton notably took pains to see that his men were well cared for, receiving adequate rations, shelter and home leave. This concern for the well- being of others fits Mr. Andrew's thesis -- that Southern concepts of paternalism, honor and chivalry formed Hampton's character. So, it may be said, did grim experience. Hampton buried two wives and five children. Both a brother and a son were killed in the War Between the States. Of the son's death, near Petersburg, Va., in 1864, one eyewitness wrote: Hampton "dismounted and kissed his [fallen] boy, wiped a tear from his eye, remounted and went on giving orders as though nothing happened." [hampto book cover] Such self-control had been required of Hampton two decades earlier as well, in 1843, when he learned that his four sisters had been molested by their own uncle by marriage, James Henry Hammond -- the sitting governor of South Carolina. It was a scandal that none dared talk about in the open for fear that it would lead to a duel. Hampton was not afraid to fight but knew that confirmation of the whisperings would ruin his beloved sisters. As it was, none was ever married. (Gov. Hammond's wife, incidentally, left him a few years later, when she learned that he had had sex with two of his slaves -- a mother and her daughter.) As Mr. Andrew shows, Hampton was a true conservative and, by our lights, a reactionary. He opposed universal suffrage for Southern white males, let alone black ones, and presumed himself to be part of a natural ruling class. He was also a devout Christian, believing every soul to be possessed of an essential humanity and thus worthy of respect, if not equality. According to Mr. Andrew, Hampton was among the last of South Carolina's elite to give up an opposition to secession. There was an economic logic to his position: Hampton and his near relatives owned some 3,000 slaves. If a violent revolution failed (as it did), they might well become penniless rather than receive the compensation for "lost property" that a peaceful settlement might have promised. As the war raged, and as Hampton saw his family and friends killed in what they believed to be the legitimate defense of their home, he became ever more committed to Southern victory and independence. Even when Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April 1865, Hampton urged Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, to carry on the struggle. To Hampton, surrender meant only that his loved ones had died needlessly and that his personal sacrifices had been in vain. After the war Hampton was indeed bankrupt and most of his property in ruins. He spent the next several years trying to restore his fortunes. He worked for the Southern Life Insurance Co., for instance, trading on his family's prestigious name when he could. And he provided for his dependents, both white and newly freed black. He saw his election as governor as both a personal vindication and as validation of "the Lost Cause." But he got some black votes, too, having urged racial harmony and promising to honor the postwar amendments to the Constitution that guaranteed voting rights and equal legal status to the South's new black citizens. For Hampton, such a promise was a matter of honor, since South Carolina had accepted the amendments as a condition of re-entering the Union. Though certainly a racist, Hampton was a moderate for his time and place and did his best to keep his word. At his death the Charleston News and Courier noted that "the People loved him because he represented them as they knew they should have been, rather than as they knew they were." Statuesquely, Hampton sits today astride a charger in front of the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia. In a 2006 lecture at "High Hampton," the site of Hampton's hunting lodge near Cashiers, N.C., historian Jane Nardy shared an anecdote, from a local family memoir, that illustrates Wade Hampton's dual relation to the world he inhabited. "One Sunday," the memoir read, referring to an incident in 1867, "the carriage of the General was driven up to the church. [He] alighted, with the baby in his arms, and assisted his wife to the ground. Then he offered her the babe to hold while he helped the negro nurse down. Mrs. Hampton drew herself up with great hauteur and refused." Mr. Ferguson runs the Historic Rossetter House Museum in Melbourne, Fla.
This is a review of the latest book from my thesis adviser, Rod Andrew, formerly of The Citadel and currently at Clemson University. The Rebel Warrior Who Governed in Peace - WSJ.com