29 December 2007 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

For years and years, there was only one full-length biography of Wade Hampton, written in the 1940’s by Manly Wade Wellman titled Giant in Gray: A Biography of Wade Hampton of South Carolina. Although it was an early biography and clearly biased toward the Southern perspective, it nevertheless gave full coverage to both Hampton’s military career during the Civil War as well as his long-running post-war political career. This book’s weaknesses are its obvious lack of objectivity, and its failure to take advantage of unpublished manuscript material.

The last few years have seen a sudden explosion of new biographies of Hampton. The first one, by Ed Longacre, is titled Gentleman and Soldier: A Biography of Wade Hampton, III. Longacre’s biography, published in 2003, provides the best coverage of Hampton’s military service of any of the books. It’s well written and well-researched (I gave Ed some material for the project). Its coverage of Hampton’s political career is not as strong, which is this book’s weakness. The second one, by Walter Brian Cisco, titled Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman, was published in 2004. Like Wellman, Cisco is a Southerner, and his book is a bit controversial. It has some focus on Hampton’s military career, but its primary focus is Hampton’s political career, examined in exhaustive detail. Unfortunately, Cisco is a Southern apologist, and his book’s most significant flaw is that it fails to recognize any of Hampton’s human foibles (note: I reviewed the manuscript when the publisher was deciding whether to accept it for publication and blurbed it on the dust jacket, something that I now regret a bit, as I have since learned that there are inaccuracies in it). In short, if you combined the strengths of Longacre’s book and the strengths of Cisco’s book, you would have the perfect biography of Hampton.

Robert K. Ackerman, a retired history professor, is the latest to pitch into the fray. His new biography of Hampton, published by Hampton’s alma mater, the University of South Carolina Press, earlier this year, is titled simply Wade Hampton, III. This book has the advantage of having been written by a trained, seasoned academic historian, and it reads well. The problem with Ackerman’s book is that its coverage of Hampton’s military career is superficial at best. In a 340 page book, only about 30 pages are devoted to Hampton’s Civil War career, and the rest to his political career. The coverage of the Battle of Trevilian Station, Hampton’s finest moment in command of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps, gets three sentences. There is not a single map to be found anywhere in the discussion of Hampton’s Civil War service, and no detail to speak of, either. Although it does address the impact of the combat deaths of Hampton’s son and brother on the general, it doesn’t give any detail upon which to evaluate the impact Hampton had on the Confederacy; arguably, Hampton’s victory at Trevilian Station bought the Confederacy another eight months of life, but there is no mention of this to be found.

The good news is that this book does provide the most fair and balanced coverage of Hampton’s post-war political career yet written. As just one example, it provides the best discussion of the falling out between Hampton and one of his erstwhile followers, Martin W. Gary, of the four published books. It also gives some of the best coverage and discussion of the relationship between Wade Hampton and his true protege, Matthew C. Butler. For that, it is worthwhile. However, I find it interesting that, unlike the other three published biographies of Hampton, the choice of cover art for the book is not Hampton as soldier, but rather a painting of Hampton in very old age. That probably says more about this book than anything else.

Thus, the door remains wide open for the definitive biography of Wade Hampton. Fortunately, there is one yet to be published in this barrage of Hamptonmania. Prof. Rod Andrew, Jr. of Clemson University has his book, Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer, due out next. Rod’s book will be published by the University of North Carolina Press next April. I gave Rod a fair amount of material for use in his book and also spent some time discussing things with him while he was writing it. Knowing the biography series published by the University of North Carolina’s Press, I am very hopeful that Rod’s book–the last of the four–will end up being the most comprehensive of all and will give both aspects of Hampton’s life the coverage that they deserve.

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Comments

  1. Jeff Mancini
    Sun 30th Dec 2007 at 12:04 am

    Eric: Having read your prior postings on Confederate Cavalry General Wade Hampton I found it fascinating that after J.E.B. Stuart dies at Yellow Tavern and Hampton assumes control of the Confederate Cavalry in the eastern theatre that his first major battle at Trevilian Station vs Sheridan touches on his shifting Rebel cavalry tactics towards more dismounted engagements. The commonly held theory in regards to Rebel tactics was as the war evolved that the Confederate troopers would rely on not just their predominate muzzle loading carbines and procured Federal breech loading carbines but also double barrelled shotguns and multiple revolvers to carry the fight. In other words the sabre was also less emphasized in the changing Rebel tactics as was in general mounted charges instead the tactic was to use the Bedford Forrest axiom arriving first with the most and using the most advantageous terrain to ones benefit. The thought that the sabre was in short supply was touched on recently in an Ebay auction #320201215016. The auction is for a very well preserved ordnance document dated May 4th, 1864 whereby a procurement of weapons including a large amount of sabres is signed for by a Captain C.H. Conner of the 1st Georgia Cavalry, Army of Tennessee during the Atlanta campaign. How does this relate to Gen. Wade Hampton? Specifically it speaks to a common misperception (like CSA troops wearing yellow faced collars and cuffs on their jackets and yellow kepis) that tactics for the CSA Cavalry were adapted to the availability of various weapons. In other words was Hampton shifting the focus away from mounted tactics that utilized fighting on horseback including sabres by necessity or was he of the firm learned belief that mounted infantry tactics that utilized dismounted techniques was simply more effective against Federal Cavalry now being armed with not just breechloaders but a rapid firing breachloader like the Spencer Carbine. Hampton showed at Trevilian that he could mitigate superior Federal firepower amongst Sheridan’s troopers by getting to the place of battle, dismounting and firing back at the more superior armed Union troopers with his undermanned and not as well armed troops and their combination of muzzle loading carbines and captured breechloaders. Your point that it is an arguable conclusion that Stuart may have been reluctant to utilize this tactic (although I believe this is somewhat what Stuart had in mind with Wickham’s and Lomax’s brigades on the Telegraph Road at Yellow Tavern to neutralize superior numbers) underscores Wade Hampton’s true practical genius in not only identifying this trend but using it to masterful results with his undermanned brigades at Trevilian. Your point that historians have not touched on this important piece of history as it relates to the southern cavalry effort in 1864 and how Hampton’s efforts prolonged the southern struggle against overwhelming odds is not discussed or covered nearly as critically and succinctly as it should be.

  2. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 31st Dec 2007 at 9:41 am

    Eric,

    There is a particular post-war story of Hampton – involving Mosby, naturally – that is very interesting. Mosby who was by that time a pariah in the South for having supported Grant against Greeley in 1872 (he delivered Virginia to Grant in that election) was approached by Hampton after his election as Governor of South Carolina.

    Earlier in the year there had been race riots in the state and Hampton was concerned that Grant would send in federal troops to ‘restore order’. He then approached Mosby and asked him to speak to Grant and tell him that Hampton, once installed as Governor, would be able to handle the matter without federal intervention. Mosby was delighted to help for he hoped to show that Grant was willing to work with white Southerners and that the section would be better served working with the President and moderate Republicans NATIONALLY (not locally) than in remaining steadfast enemies.

    In any event, Mosby approached Grant with Hampton’s request and Grant agreed to hold back unless the situation deteriorated into anarchy. Hampton was sworn in as Governor and true to his word, restored order. Unfortunately, the press learned of Hampton’s dealings with Mosby and publicly castigated for dealing with a scalawag traitor to the South. In the face of mounting criticism, Hampton chose the less honorable path of denouncing the man who had helped him and pretending that he had not known how hated Mosby was – a fact which was patently untrue. Mosby was deeply hurt and stated that Hampton had ‘used and abused’ him, asking for a favor and taking it and then turning on the man who had helped him in his hour of need.

    I find it an interesting point regarding Hampton’s vaunted character. To save face in response to criticism, he did not have the strength of character to say that the situation had called for an action that, though he might have found unpalatable, was necessary and then at least give Mosby credit for keeping federal troops out of Columbia. Apparently, he found it easier to abuse the man to whom HE HAD TURNED FOR HELP after that man had done as he, Hampton, had asked. Not much ‘nobility’ there, I fear. But then, politicians of every stripe fear bad press – even back then.

  3. Don H.
    Mon 31st Dec 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Hello Eric

    Thanks for the post on all the books on Hampton. Looks Like I’ll need to wait for Rod Andrew’s biography or Read parts of the other three recent books.

    Regarding South Carolina Cavalry Biographies, I also have the recent Butler biography by Martin. Did you have any thoughts on it?

    I also have Longacre’s new book on Joe Wheeler, looking forward to it.

    Regards and Happy New Year
    Don H.

  4. Mon 31st Dec 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Don,

    You’re welcome.

    The Butler bio is good, so long as you keep in mind that Mr. Martin usually makes no bones about showing his own biases. It’s clear that he views Butler as a hero. If you can go into it with that in mind, you will do just fine with it.

    Eric

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