Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer

By Rod Andrew Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
DIVISION COMMANDER
NOVEMBER 1863 –MAY 1864

Hampton had been out of action for a full four months before returning to the front on November 8. While he was gone, Stuart’s cavalry division had been reorganized into a corps of two divisions. Hampton and Fitz Lee both received promotions to major general, and each took command of a division. Lee’s division consisted of three brigades composed entirely of Virginia regiments, except for the 1st South Carolina, which had once served under Hampton. Hampton’s division consisted, first, of Grumble Jones’s Virginia brigade, soon to be commanded by Tom Rosser; Calbraith Butler’s brigade, consisting of the Cobb, Jeff Davis, and Phillips legions and the 2nd South Carolina; and Laurence Baker’s brigade of four North Carolina regiments. Baker and Butler, however, were both recuperating from wounds. Baker would never return, but the brigade was lucky to have Colonel James B. Gordon to take his place. And until the now one-legged Butler arrived the following May, the experienced, hard-fighting Pierce M. B. Young would lead his brigade.1

Stuart had personally directed Hampton’s division in his absence. If Hampton hoped for a gentle transition back to army life after his long hiatus, he was not to get it. Not only would he step right into division command on his first day back, he would do so in the midst of a battle. Robert E. Lee was withdrawing the Army of Northern Virginia to the south side of the Rapidan when Hampton reached the front. Elements of his division were fighting a rearguard action against Union general George Meade’s advancing infantry in the area of Stevensburg, within a few hundred yards of where Frank had died. Hampton rode up to his battle lines in the midst of the fight, as the wild, hearty cheers of his men greeted him. The battle continued until dark, allowing the Confederate infantry to withdraw unmolested; Hampton pulled back at 10:00 the next morning. The “first day’s work made me very tired,” he admitted to Mary Fisher, “but since then I have improved every day.”2

Lee’s Confederates expected that the withdrawal behind the Rapidan would mean the end of active campaigning for the season and the beginning of picketing and reconnaissance duty for the cavalry. Hampton, though, was thinking of raids as well as picketing. On the night of November 17–18, he crossed the Rapidan with Gordon’s (formerly

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