Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

Synopsis

Few Southern elites gave more to the Confederate cause or suffered more in its defeat than General Wade Hampton III of South Carolina. One of the South's most illustrious military leaders, Hampton was for a time the commander of all Lee's cavalry and at the end of the war was the highest-ranking Confederate cavalry officer. Yet for all Hampton's military victories, he also suffered devastating losses. He lost a beloved son and a brother, his own home as well as his grandfather's ancestral mansion, and his vast personal fortune. He failed to deter Sherman's legions from capturing his hometown of Columbia and was blamed for the inferno that destroyed it. Previous studies of Hampton have leaned toward hero worship or taken a political approach that considered his personal history irrelevant. Rod Andrew's critical biography demonstrates that Hampton's life is essential to understanding his influence beyond the battlefield and his obsession with vindication for the South.Andrew's analysis of Hampton sheds light on his critical role during Reconstruction as a conservative white leader, governor, U.S. senator, and Redeemer; his heroic image in the minds of white Southerners; and his positions and apparent contradictions on race and the role of African Americans in the New South. Andrew also shows that Hampton's tragic past explains how he emerged in his own day as a larger-than-life symbol national reconciliation as well as Southern defiance.

Excerpt

Wade Hampton iii of South Carolina was one of the most beloved, trusted, hated, and feared men of his time. Though today many Americans outside his native state have no idea who he was, virtually every American of his own day did and had strong opinions about him. His military and political careers, as well as his personal life, illuminate many features of the transition from the Old South to the New. As a Confederate military hero, victor over the Republican government in Reconstruction South Carolina, governor, U.S. senator, and cultural icon of the Lost Cause, Hampton was the most important figure in late nineteenth-century South Carolina.

I have two goals for this book. One is simply a better understanding of Hampton himself. Despite his tremendous impact on the events of his own day, he remains one of the most misunderstood figures of his time. Until at least the middle of the twentieth century, biographies of Hampton were exercises in hero worship written by amateur historians or by Hampton’s friends and former Confederate comrades. Later historians have avoided biographical portraits of Hampton and instead studied his political stances and activities, especially as they dealt with race relations. Unfortunately, these scholars, too, have often missed the mark in their analysis of Hampton. Concerned more with broad patterns in southern history than biography, they have not considered how Hampton’s background, biases, and personal tragedies may explain his words, actions, and apparent inconsistencies. He has appeared in some studies as a racial “moderate”; in others, as a hypocrite who publicly preached moderation while secretly sponsoring white terrorism. Hampton has emerged as a cutout cardboard figure supporting this position or that, rather than a man driven by noble instincts, painful life experiences, and human failings.

I believe that Hampton’s personal life experiences, rather than being irrelevant or incidental to his military and political role, are instead central to it. His personal background, tragedies, humiliations, and search for vindication, in fact, explain much about the history of the American South in the era of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Redemption. As I relate the story of Hampton’s life in a chronological fashion, therefore, my other goal will be to use his story to clarify . . .

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