Wade Hampton III (1818-1902)

Written By Mathew Shaeffer

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on March 28, 1818, Wade Hampton III was heir to one of the largest fortunes in the South. Wade Hampton III was a proficient businessman and legislator, who had misgivings about the slavery system. In 1860 Hampton was against secession but followed his state’s decision. Hampton had no military training or experience, but he used his own money to recruit and supply a legion of 600 troops. With the rank of colonel he led his troops into Virginia. At the start of the war Hampton was 43 years old and, unlike many young recruits – North and South – Hampton did not romanticize war. He understood that war is hellish.

Hampton’s forces fought at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.  In 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines, Hampton was shot in the foot, but he refused to leave the fighting. The surgeon removed the bullet while he was still on horseback, directing his soldiers. Hampton’s cool demeanor and bravery under fire earned him a promotion to brigadier general, and he was given a command post in Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry.

Under Stuart’s command, Hampton participated in many cavalry raids into Maryland and Pennsylvania and continued to display valor and courage on the battlefield 1862 and 1863. His adaptability and leadership earned him the trust of Stuart, so Hampton was given personal command of several cavalry raids into Union territory. At Brandy Station, Wade Hampton’s younger brother Frank, who was under Wade Hampton’s command, was killed.  At a battle near Upperville, Virginia, on June 21, 1863, Hampton led a charge that forced the Federals to retreat.

Hampton led a cavalry brigade during the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863 and the South Carolinian was severely injured during the battle: he was slashed twice in the head with sabers and was hit with artillery shrapnel.  For his bravery, Stuart recommended Hampton for a promotion to major general. Hampton’s wounds healed slowly, and he was not able to return to battle until November 1863.  In May of 1864, when General J.E.B. Stuart was killed repelling a Union raid on Richmond, Lee was forced to find a replacement for the head of the cavalry. Hampton was a formidable general but had no formal military training. However after achieving victory at Trevilian Station, Lee promoted Hampton to the head of his cavalry in the fall of 1864. Hampton won the promotion over Lee’s own nephew. Hampton’s cavalry participated thwarting a Union attack on Petersburg on October 27, 1864 but one of Hampton’s sons, Frank, was killed and another, Wade Jr., survived but was critically injured.

Throughout 1864 Union General William T. Sherman devastated the South as part of his Atlanta Campaign and his March to the Sea.  Sherman claimed Savanah on December 21, 1864 and began his Carolinas Campaign in January of 1865. In an effort to stop Sherman’s advance, Lee sent his cavalry, with Hampton at the lead, down to South Carolina. Hampton’s forces helped defend Columbia, South Carolina, from the Union but Hampton and his men were forced to retreat on February 17, 1865. Thereafter large portions of Columbia were burned.

As Sherman approached North Carolina, Hampton was promoted to lieutenant general, and thereafter the highest-ranking general in the Confederate cavalry. Hampton’s men continued to skirmish with Sherman and Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, commander of Sherman’s cavalry, as the Union forces moved into North Carolina. On March 10, 1865, Hampton’s forces led by Major General Matthew C. Butler and Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler mounted a surprise attack on Kilpatrick’s cavalry at the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads. Although both sides claimed victory, the battle delayed the Union advance towards Fayetteville. This allowed the Confederates the opportunity to retreat and destroy the bridges across the Cape Fear River; an action that delayed the Union advance for nearly a week. 

Hampton’s Cavalry was engaged at the Battle of Averasboro and in gathering information about Union troop movements. General Joseph E. Johnston’s orders were based on faulty maps and the possibility that Sherman would march to Raleigh. As a result the Confederate troop movements were delayed in arriving at Bentonville. Hampton delayed the Union advance so that Johnston’s infantry had time to assemble and he played a crucial role in the development of an overall military strategy for the Battle of Bentonville. The battle began on March 19, 1865 and was the last major battle of the Civil War. The Confederate forces retreated on the night of March 21. About a month later, Hampton was present for the official surrender of the the Confederate forces between April 17 and April 26, 1865 near Durham Station, North Carolina.

After the conclusion of the Civil War, Hampton continued to be an esteemed leader in his community. He was elected as the governor of South Carolina in 1876. Later Hampton was elected as a United States Senator from 1879 to 1891 and for five years served as the commissioner of Pacific Railways.  During his time in the Senate, Hampton served with Matthew C. Butler, his comrade and second in command from the war, who was also elected a United States Senator from South Carolina.  Hampton died in Columbia, South Carolina in 1902.