- Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman
- Potomac Books, 401 pp.
“CHARGE THEM, MY BRAVE BOYS, CHARGE THEM” — Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, Gettysburg, July 3, 1863
Biography, if it serves the reader, is best written not only with the exploits of the protagonist in mind but with a definitive and objective understanding of his culture, placed in its proper historical context. Unfortunately, not all biographers succeed at this challenging endeavor.
In his new book, Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman, Walter Brian Cisco has not only produced a penetrating and well researched volume, he has managed to capture the essential dichotomy of American life in the mid to late nineteenth century. And, he has done so with a certain panache and sympathy seldom exhibited in this day of “political correctness.”
For any student of American history the period of the founding to the War of Secession are inextricably linked. The people who embraced the Whiggish inclinations of Lincoln and his fellow elitist radicals, the moneymen, manufacturers, and technologists of their day, were a distinct minority. The coming of the Machine Age, much championed by this elite, while it portended great wealth, luxury, and free time, was not met with universal approbation. Indeed, many agrarians, who constituted the free yeomanry-the republicans-of their era, enjoyed a certain innate understanding that while the labors of their profession may be decreased they also faced a very real threat in the rise in political power of the Eastern manufacturing class.
Also, the rise of the machine represented in real terms the deification of “progress.” Agrarians who were by habit, faith, and inclination Christian, considered the possibility that man in his yearning for “progress” may be seduced by a soulless demon who had the potential power to transform his very nature.
As early as 1776 the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, opined, “The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations…has no occasion to exert his understanding…He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. (1)” And, a few years later, Alex de Tocqueville, in a passage from his Democracy in America, offered the following prescient observation, “Thus the manufacturing classes require more regulation, superintendence, and restraint than the other classes of society, and it is natural that the powers of government should increase in the same proportion as those classes. (2)”
It was against these clashing worldviews that Wade Hampton, heir to one of America’s leading fortunes, grew to manhood. He was immersed in the southern agrarian traditions of honor, chivalry, and virtue and he lived his life in strict adherence to these ancient and honorable codes.
Hampton understood and acted on his responsibilities in an “aristocratic” regime, he was a devout adherent to the uniquely Southern perspective of transcendence-to what Richard Weaver refers to as the “religiousness” of the South- and he carried on the “preservation of history.”
As Weaver points out in his essay, The Regime of the South, these three characteristics withstood the onslaught of “anomie (disintegration),” and functioned to provide a “stable structural society…persuades men that they have lived and are living for something more than things of the moment…And the preservation of history keeps tradition from seeming arbitrary, endowing it not only with reason but with grace.”
The author’s description of Hampton’s service during the war define a courageous man whose grasp of tactics expanded to the point where he was given Jeb Stuart’s command following his demise at Yellow Tavern. He was wounded on several occasions, the most serious at Gettysburg where his skull was cleaved by a Yankee saber and his hip injured by shrapnel. Yet, even though debilitated, Wade Hampton defeated the alleged “greatest cavalryman of the war,” Phil Sheridan, at every encounter (3). But, his war experiences were not all glory and honor; at the battle of Burgess’s Mill he lost his sons, Preston and Wade, before his very eyes.
Wade Hampton’s greatest service was to his beloved South Carolina. After several years of suffering under despotic Reconstructionism, two carpetbaggers and one scalawag governor, Hampton, under the banner of the “red shirt campaign” was elected governor. He worked assiduously to pay off the crushing debt incurred by the thieving lowlifes that had tyrannically ruled and ruined South Carolina since the end of the war. And, he succeeded.
Cisco’s ability to clearly illustrate the machinations of the various political entities and the hardships and deprivations endured by Confederate veterans describe a scene ripe for anarchy and chaos. There were murders, assassinations, and executions of blacks and whites alike but it was primarily because of Hampton’s prestige, his acceptance of black voting rights, and his understanding of political reality that diverted an outright race war and a re-institution of military law.
As governor, and later as U.S. Senator, Wade Hampton was able to reconstitute or perhaps salvage what Weaver refers to as a southern “regime,” or a “way of life.” As Weaver explains, “regime,” means more than just government and its laws. “It is these,” Weaver writes, “plus beliefs, traditions, customs, habits, and observances, many of which affect the minutiae of daily living. It tells the individual from early days, through his nurture and education, what is expected of him, how he stands in regard to this person and that, and what kind of social response he can expect from the choices that are open to him (4).”
Wade Hampton was one of the primary architects of a new Southern regime that was strong enough not only to survive the unconstitutional edicts of the central government, but eighty years later the onslaught of a vicious and minatory liberalism that sought to deny to white southerners the “principle of self determination,” and impose a rigid and dogmatic “standardization and conformity.”
Wade Hampton fought for those things in which he believed, and always honorably. In the end he died in poverty, surrounded by a loving family. As the author tells us, his dying prayer for his beloved South Carolina was, “All my people, black and white, God bless them all.”
1. Equality, Decadence, and Modernity, collected essays of Stephen J. Tonsor, essay, “Decadence and the Machine,” pg. 22, ISI Books, 2005.
2. ibid. pg. 25.
3. Little Phil, by Eric J. Wittenberg, Potomac Books, 2002 pg.145.
4. In Defense of Tradition, the collected shorter writings of Richard Weaver, edited by Ted J. Smith III, essay, The Regime of the South, pg. 718.