Mounted History: (Last updated 9/02)
General Wade Hampton, Cavalry Corps Commander, CSA
Hero in the Shadow of Greatness:Hampton's Relationship with JEB Stuart
Wade Hampton was the third in his family to bear the name. His grandfather served as an officer in the American Revolution, and his father spent a lifetime creating a fortune almost totally represented by agricultural interests in Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Although his holdings were spread across the South, Wade considered himself to be a South Carolinian. He successful expanded and developed his legacy so that on the eve of the rebellion Wade Hampton III could easily have been considered the richest man in the South. By 1856, Wade had become a State Senator, and one of the largest slave owners in the South. Nonetheless, Hampton pleaded for peace and moderationin the SC Senate.
In 1861 he gave himself over to the support of the Confederacy. Governor Pickens, highly valuing Hampton's social and political leadership, secured a Colonel's commission for him. Hampton quickly formed a Legion comprised of 1000 "Gentlemen Volunteers" organized in six companies of infantry, four troops of cavalry, and a battery of artillery. Well aware of his own lack of military experience, Colonel Hampton recruited Captain B. J. Johnson, who had served in Mexico, to be his second-in-command as well as the entire Washington Light Infantry Company that had been raised in Charleston. This provided the nucleus for his infantry. The Artillery was formed in two companies by members of the Washington Artillery. The Legion cavalry was composed of two troops of the Conagree Mounted Rifles raised in his home of Columbia and two more from the surrounding area. The cavalry were expected to provide their own arms and horses, but Hampton did order long straight-edged swords for the cavalry, one of which he carried throughout the conflict. The men of Hampton's Legion shaped up famously under his good administration and strict discipline, and gained recognition as members of a socially elite unit.
Hampton's first encounter with battlefield command was at the head of his infantry at First Bull Run in Manassas, VA. The Federals had moved forward from Washington. The enemy threatened to cross the Run and attack Beauregard's exposed left flank. General Evans attempted to hold back the Federals and asked for reinforcements. Hampton's 600 infantrymen had recently detrained at Manassas Junction. Beauregard ordered them to support those units already engaged. Hampton found Evans' troops and those of Barnard Bee in disorder. Their position had proved untenable; and Evans and Bee had fallen back. At the Warrentown Turnpike, Hampton formed his line and opened fire. In the first enemy volley Lt. Col. Johnson fell dead!
In the following moments, Hampton and his Legion made their reputation. The Federal line dashed forward but the South Carolinians forced them back. To hold their ground further was impossible; and the Legion slowly withdrew, keeping formation, and continuing to slow down the Federal advance by unceasing fire. Precious moments were secured, as Stonewall Jackson formed his men in position on Henry House Hill. Hampton's men, now forming upon Jackson's right, had made the rally on Henry House Hill possible. Both Beauregard and Johnston noted the gallant covering action. In the final desperate charge of the Southern line that drove the Federals from Henry House Hill, Hampton received a bullet wound to his head, the first of several wounds he would receive. With his head quickly bandaged in the field, he resumed the command of his Legion.
On the evening of the battle, Beauregard appeared in the Legion camp accompanied by President Jefferson Davis at Hampton's tent. General Johnston was pleased with Hampton's performance during the first months of the war and recommended him for promotion to brigadier. Hampton served as an infantry commander during the first year of the war, but the forty-four year old Hampton has been described as the idealized statue of a mounted warrior. At the Battle of Seven pines General Hampton received his second wound. Riding along the lines in front of the troops, Hampton was struck in the foot by a rifle ball but continued in the saddle during its removal refusing to dismount lest he be unable to regain his seat. This episode did much to enhance his reputation for remarkable coolness, promptness and decided practical ability as a leader of men in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Hampton returned to service at the head of Jackson's column in the Seven Days campaign. When scouts reported the destruction of White Oak Bridge over which Jackson planned to advance, Hampton's troops attempted the repair. When they had been driven from the bridge by enemy fire, Hampton found an alternative crossing and constructed a temporary structure without betraying his presence to the enemy. Hampton had seemingly found a means to fall upon the Federal's flank; and he was mystified and disappointed by Jackson's apparent reticence to strike. In any case, Jackson did not cross until the next day limiting Hampton's opportunities for action.
The Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized. The cavalry would be drawn together and augmented into a division under J.E.B. Stuart. Hampton was quickly offered an assignment as Stuart's senior brigadier. Comprising Hampton's Cavalry Brigade were his own cavalry; the cavalry of Cobb's Legion, the Jefferson Davis Legion, and Phillips Legion; Baker's North Carolina cavalry; and Hart's battery of horse artillery. Black's 1st SC cavalry was added later. These units were to stay with Hampton throughout the war.
The relationship between Stuart and Hampton remains an interesting one. The two were reportedly cool to one another, and Stuart is described as being annoyed with Hampton on at least one occasion; but they seemingly arrived at a functional compromise in their relationship. Hampton was quite conscious of being a South Carolinian, and he concerned himself continually with the apparent prominence of Virginians in the army. Stuart, for his part, usually pitched his tent near fellow Virginian and West Pointer Fitz Lee and left Hampton to his own devices.
Hampton believed there was a Virginian bias in the cavalry command and complained privately that Stuart continually favored his fellow Virginians. After the battle at Sharpsburg, Hampton, who often referred to his command as Southern cavalry, wrote that the Virginia cavalry should be kept by itself while the Southern cavalry could form another division. Hampton's disapproval of Stuart rarely seems to have been given voice outside of his private letters to his sister.
John Esten Cooke claims that Hampton was evidently unmoved by ambition. He knew both men well, and assigns a different cause to their coolness. He claims that Stuart and Hampton resembled one another neither in physical nor mental conformation. He describes Stuart as a lover of brilliant colours and gay scenes; splendid in his merriment, elan, and abandon. Cooke observed that Hampton had the composed demeanor of a man of middle age. He saw him as a man with the coolness of the statesman, rather than the ardor of the soldier.
Hampton's instinctive military style differed from that of Stuart who was devoted to the mounted charge and the daring ride around the enemy. Events were to show Hampton that he could earn his commander's praise only by suppressing his own practical and unexcited style and behaving as Stuart did. Hamptom may have felt some need to copy Stuart's Chambersburg Raid of which he had been a part. In the Fall of 1862, Hamptom authored three daring raids of his own in the space of five weeks attacking the Federal outposts at Hartwood Church, Dumfries, and Occoquan. So impressed was Stuart, that he repeated the raid on Occoquan taking Hampton with him. From this date Stuart seems to have warmed somewhat to the South Carolinian.
Stuart was slow to accept that the traditional role of cavalry was giving way to the increasing use of dismounted cavalry as mobile infantry. Hampton better understood the nature of the changes that were taking place and wished to put them into effect. However, he remained a dutiful subordinate. Hampton conformed to Stuart's style and seems to have made positive contributions to fulfilling his commanders objectives. After Stuart's death, however, Hampton proved to be a stalwart leader and able tactician, but he never won the open devotion and public adulation his predecessor commanded.
Hampton was never excitable and was repeatedly noted for coolness by his contemporaries. It took a fractured skull and a bullet wound in his side during the cavalry fight at Gettysburg to make him collapse in a crisis. At Brandy Station, Stuart was caught off guard, and he relied on Hampton's regiments to stem the tide of Federals on his right. Later in the day, Hampton advanced in amazing order with four regiments and horse artillery carrying strategic Fleetwood Hill. The enemy recoiled before the South Carolinian. His charge thrilled the veterans who watched as he drove the Federals back to Brandy Station. In the fight, Hampton lost his brother. His grief was great but, controlled. Of Stuart's command failures at Brandy Station Hampton wrote his sister: "Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly."
On June 21, as Stuart moved north through Virginia to screen the movements of Lee's army, the command was opposed by Federal cavalry supported with infantry and artillery. Stuart's men fought and disengaged at Aldie and Middleburg, refusing to be drawn into a pitched battle. General Beverly Robertson, in the lead, was struck by the Federals, just as his troops cleared Upperville. Robertson reacted poorly and one of his regiments panicked and broke. In support, Hampton quickly advanced Hart's battery. Then he rode to the head of the 1st NC Regiment and charged. As the first charge was spent, the rest of Hampton's regiments struck in turn. A total of three assaults were delivered, and the enemy was beaten back. Once again Hampton received the praise of his commander who termed his actions brilliant.
The series of sharp actions which ended at Upperville, sandwiched between the massive cavalry action at Brandy Station and the magnitude of Gettysburg were significant at the time, but are now generally overlooked by historians. These actions introduced new dimensions to the use of cavalry in warfare that were plain to those who were participants. Among these were the value of combined arms operations, the concept of a covering force, and the use of dismounted cavalry. Hampton had understood the first when he formed his Legion; the others, he would learn in action with Stuart.
Hampton had accompanied Stuart on only one of his two highly publicized raids around the Federal Army, the Chambersburg Raid. He was now to take part in the most infamous one. On June 22, 1863 Lee ordered Stuart to begin operations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Stuart's reasoning in these operations has been set forth by so many authors of the Gettysburg campaign that it need not be repeated here. Nonetheless, his plans called for another spectacular ride around the Federal Army. Lee's orders to Stuart passed through the hands of Longstreet who recognized their import and possible consequences. Longstreet, knowing the needs of the army for dependable cavalry, therefore, wrote to Stuart, "Please advise me of the condition of affairs before you leave, and order General Hampton, whom I suppose you will leave here in command, to report to me."
But Stuart chose to take Hampton with him and to leave behind the brigades of Wm. "Grumble" Jones and Beverly Robertson, his two least capable brigadiers. This proved a poor choice for the overall good of the campaign. Lee did not lack cavalry at Gettysburg, approximately 5000 troopers were with the army. Rather, he lacked a cavalry leader in whom he had confidence. Moreover, Lee esteemed Hampton highly and had denied recent requests from D.H. Hill, to replace the inadequate Robertson with Hampton, and from Secretary of War Seddon, to use him to replace the uninspiring Jones in the Valley. However, Stuart wanted his most competent officers with him on a dangerous and important mission, so he choose Fitz Lee, Col. J. R. Chambliss, and Hampton, whose recent dashing escapades had so delighted Stuart and won his praise.
Jones and Robertson, initially charged with the control of the Blue Ridge passes, lagged behind the army long after the enemy had left their front and did not reach Lee until after the battle was well advanced. Meanwhile, Stuart crossed the Potomac and dashed around the Federal army. He reached Carlisle on the evening of July 1, bringing with him his enormous train of captured booty. Throughout the ride, Hampton had acted as the rear guard. Therefore, when word came from that direction of the concentration of Lee's army at Gettysburg, Hampton was the first to receive it. Hampton's men, with less of a journey to make then the other brigades, were the first to turn back. However, before reaching Gettysburg, Hampton became engaged in a sharp action with Federal cavalry under General Kilpatrick. Nonetheless, a detachment from Hampton's brigade of the 1st South Carolina Cavalry under Col. Black actually reported to Lee before dawn on July 2.
The next morning found Stuart's forces beyond Hunterstown facing a heavy force of cavalry, mounted infantry, and artillery. The Confederates took a favorable position with the artillery in the edge of the woods and a line of sharpshooters out in front. The cavalry's position, however, was impeded by numerous stone and bar fences, with only one open passage. Hampton's brigade was in the center of the mouth of the lane down which he now charged. As the lane opened into a large field, he quickly deployed his men and clashed with the Federal horsemen. The quality of the fighting in this action was more desperate than that of Brandy Station. The tall form of Hampton at the head of the lane was conspicuous in the fight and seemingly drew numerous antagonists to him. Having dispatched at least three Federals, Hampton found himself pressed back against a fence facing two more. One of these struck him a saber blow on the head that stunned him and left his vision somewhat blurred. Then, a second blow fell. Finally, some of his men came to the rescue. Hampton, wounded and bleeding, but able to keep his seat, chose to jump a fence to make his escape. His horse cleared the fence amid a shower of pistol balls, one of which severely wounded him in the side. Hampton was led from the field.
Hampton's wounds were serious and were very similar to those that had killed his brother. They forced him to recuperate for almost four months. During that time, he received plaudits from Stuart. Hampton was now made a Major General, and commanded Butler's Brigade of South Carolina Cavalry, Young's Brigade from North Carolina, and Rosser's Laurel Brigade from Virginia which included the 7th Virginia.
When Hampton returned to command in November, 1863, he arrived to find his division in the middle of an action. The skirmish was in full blast as the old scarred hero coolly rode along the battle line amid the welcome shouts of his devoted men, and the whistling of bullets. At Mine Run, Hampton ended the year by taking his whole division, making a circuit around the rear of a Federal division, severely using it up, driving them through and beyond their camps.
The Federal cavalry had become more numerous since 1862, was better organized, and was centrally supplied with horses and arms. These arms included a high proportion of repeating rifles. It was the Federals who did the raiding in 1864. Of these, Col. Ulric Dahlgren's raid into Richmond is conspicuous. As Dahlgren approached the city with a small detachment of cavalry, Hampton's scouts discovered the main Federal cavalry force under General Kilpatrick. Hampton positioned his men in a snow storm, dismounted 100 men and divided the rest of his command to ride on either flank, and completely surprised the Federals. Kilpatrick and his men fled, and Hampton harried them savagely. Dahlgren was abruptly abandoned. In an effort to reach Tunstall's Station, the young colonel was shot dead and his demoralized followers captured.
In May, Federal cavalry under General Sheridan raided toward Richmond. Stuart advanced to meet him. This time Hampton's division was left with the army. Stuart interposed himself between Sheridan and Richmond at Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. In the ensuing fight, Stuart was shot in the stomach by a dismounted Federal trooper. He died the next morning. Major General Wade Hampton now became the commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.
By any measure the choice of Wade Hampton as Stuart's replacement was inspired. As Stuart was very nearly the perfect leader in the days of attack, so Hampton was almost perfectly fitted to command in the days of defense. Although Hampton was probably the most frequent and successful hand-to-hand combatant among all the general officers of the war, with the undoubted exception of Bedford Forrest, he brought to the position a practical knowledge of some of the changes that were taking place in the tactics of cavalry warfare. He also immediately showed a willingness to incorporate these ideas into his operations. As they had against Kilpatrick, Hampton's horsemen would fight dismounted so often that his opponents frequently thought that he had infantry support. In dismounted fighting, performed skirmish style and from cover, muzzle loaders and smaller numbers of troops were not at such a great disadvantage against Federals with repeating weapons. Man-for-man Southern troopers were very much better shots than their recently recruited adversaries. Moreover, Hampton believed that to have the mobility to respond to large numbers of the enemy with a smaller defensive force "the employment of mounted infantry was an imperative necessity." He did not give up mounted charges and raids, but he envisioned and used a blend of the mounted infantry, the cavalry, and supporting mobile artillery. In theory, the infantry were to be armed with small caliber, long range repeating rifles, while the cavalry would be armed with sabers, pistols, and doublr-barreled shotguns loaded with buckshot.
In June, Grant instructed Sheridan to ride west toward Charlottesville, tear up track along the Virginia Central Railroad, and join with General Hunter coming east from the Shenandoah Valley. Hampton moved quickly and aggressively. He had on hand about 4700 cavalry and several batteries of horse artillery with which to oppose the Federals. Hampton managed to cut Sheridan's line of march and reach the area of Trevilian Station on June 10, one day before Sheridan. In his first exercise of anything like true corps command, Hampton inflicted a crushing defeat on the Federal cavalry leader. With the benefit of the protection afforded by a railroad embankment, he had dismounted Butler's entire brigade and placed them in an advantageous position. A large proportion of Butler's men were armed with accurate, long range Enfield Rifles instead of the common cavalry carbines. Although the Federals were carrying repeating arms they were at a distinct disadvantage.
The two day battle at Trevilian Station was not perfect. Hampton came close to losing his baggage train and horses to General Custer's men on June 11. Hampton's dismounted cavalry and General Rosser's mounted Laurel Brigade then surrounded and almost bagged Custer. During the night of June 12, Sheridan began to withdraw, and he refused to stop and fight the pursuing Hampton again even though he still held a numerical advantage.
While Brandy Station had involved more troops, the Battle at Trevilian Station involved only cavalry and has been described as the civil war's greatest and bloodiest all cavalry battle and the most decisive cavalry fight that ever occurred on this continent. It should be noted, however, that most of the cavalry involved, Northern and Southern, was dismounted and that the horse artillery was also present. Both sides claimed victory, but Hampton had accomplished his objective and prevented the juncture of two Federal forces that could have acted in concert to dramatically shorten the war. Moreover, Hampton had shown that his use of dismounted and mounted cavalry, in concert with other forces was practical. On June 24, using similar tactics in combination with the infantry, he defeated General Gregg at Samaria Church and four days later did the same to General Wilson at Sappony Church. In just sixteen days Hampton routed three formidable and simultaneous movements led by Grant's best officers.
Of all the war escapades initiated by Hampton, his "Beef Steak Raid" was the most imaginative. (A Hollywood movie, "Alvarez Kelley" was made about it starring Wm. Holden and Richard Widmark). Hampton knew of a herd of 2500-3000 cattle held at the Federal supply depot at Coggins Point, behind enemy lines. He developed a plan to capture the herd that was well timed and well executed. Taking about 3500 men, made up of three cavalry brigades, a battery of horse artillery, and an engineering detail, Hampton moved around the extreme right flank of Lee's line and crossed behind the Federals some eighteen miles to a dilapidated span called Cook's Bridge across Blackwater swamp. As an infantry division created a diversion in the lines, Hampton's engineers were rebuilding and strengthening the bridge. Striking at 3AM on September 15, Hampton's men managed to rustle more than 2400 head of cattle, recross the bridge, and reenter his own lines on the morning of the 17th.
Hampton returned laden with food for the hungry Confederate army. No more welcome raiding party ever returned to camp. He also captured 304 prisoners, eleven wagons, three flags, tins of sardines and jars of pickles, and a number of horses. The raid was not without its problems, however. The Laurel Brigade was forced to fight several sharp covering actions, to which Hampton was forced to send repeated reinforcements. In these actions, Hampton lost 10 men killed, 47 wounded, and 4 missing. Six of the killed and 16 of the wounded were from the 7th VA Cav. Hampton had brought in more than two million pounds of beef, or enough rations to feed 50,000 men for forty days. For almost the last time in the war the Southern cavalry had taken the best the North could throw at them and had given them back as good as they got.
Hampton found that the prosecution of the war was becoming difficult and personal. The supply of horses at his disposal was near exhaustion, and Hampton relied more and more often on dismounted defensive actions. At Hatches' Run in October 1864, Hampton suffered a personal setback as his son, Preston, was killed before his eyes and a second son, Wade (the fourth), was severely wounded. Hampton was heavily grieved. During the winter, he was sent to South Carolina to help in the defense of his home state, and he was forced to supervise the abandonment of Columbia. Although promoted to Lt. General and widely praised for his actions, no general was good enough to check the Federals by 1865. When news of the surrender reached him, he at first refused to believe it, but, his fatalist friends and fellow officers convinced him to give up.
Hampton returned to his home virtually penniless, but he weathered the period of Reconstruction and began to reestablish his finances. In 1876, he received the Democratic nomination for governor. Hampton was victorious because enough black voters recognized his message of toleration and political equality to give him a margin of victory. Hampton acknowledged these black voters as his fellow citizens. While Hampton remained in office as Governor, and later as a United States Senator, blacks in South Carolina kept the franchise. Hampton accomplished more for both races than any other leader North or South in the post war era.
Wade Hampton conducted himself throughout the war with composure, practicality, and energy. He was described as one of the most thoroughly successful commanders imaginable, and certainly seemed to have a natural turn for going in front of his column with drawn saber. The old warrior spent his last years in good health and financial comfort sunning himself on his porch in Columbia until 1902.
Cooke, John Esten. Wearing of the Gray. Bloomington: Indiana UP, Reprint 1959.
Cooke, who served on the staff of Stuart, was a professional writer whose sketches of Stuart are the accepted portrait. A very clear and balanced picture of Hampton also emerges.
Wells, Edward L. Hampton and His Cavalry in 1864. Richmond: Owens, 1899. Reprint 1991.
Wells served in Company K, 4th SC Cavalry and was wounded at Trevilian Station. Hampton emerges from his pages as a figure of suspiciously heroic proportions.