Gentleman and Soldier

Gentleman and Soldier

Author: Edward G. Longacre

Gentleman and Soldier is the first biography in more than 50 years of Wade Hampton III, a Confederate general whose remarkable life provides a unique sweeping insight into the entire history of the Civil War in the South. Hampton was a leading citizen of South Carolina before the War, the highest ranking cavalry leader during the War, fought in a remarkable number of battles from Antietam to Gettysburg to Bentonville, and was South Carolina government and U.S. senator after the War.

At the outbreak of the Civil war, Hampton was one of the richest planters in the South. He managed a half dozen plantations in two states. When South Carolina became the first state to declare its independence and in spite of his doubts that the Confederacy would be victorious, Hampton bankrolled the creation of the Hampton Legion. In 1862 he became second in command to J.E.B. Stuart. He fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. In 1864 he succeeded the mortally wounded Stuart and transformed the Confederate cavalry into a known for its marksmanship and staying power. When he left the Army of Northern Virginia to defend South Carolina against William T. Sherman,  Lee said that Hampton’s departure made surrender at Appomattox inevitable.

After the War, Hampton returned to his plantations, which had been burned and ravaged, and spent the next decade trying in vain to restore his wealth. In 1876 he was elected governor in the longest and most hotly disputed gubernatorial contest in American history. In 1879 he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served two terms as a voice of moderation, conciliation, and unity.

Wade Hampton’s life was one of dramatic contradictions. He was the quintessential slave owner, but he questioned the ethical underpinnings of the “Peculiar Institution.”  He was a prewar spokesperson for national unity, but he became an avid secessionist. He condemned violence and abhorred dueling, but he personally killed more opponents in battle than any other general.  He “redeemed” South Carolina from Reconstruction, but he extended more political benefits to African Americans than any other Democratic governor in the postwar south. For more than forty years he gave selflessly of himself to his state and his community, not only when wealthy but also when teetering on the abyss of poverty.