Name:  Wade Hampton

See a full text list of Biographies


Born:  March 28, 1818
Died:  April 11, 1902
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Wade Hampton was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to Ann FitzSimons Hampton and Wade Hampton II, a very wealthy planter. Young Hampton received his education from private tutors, then at South Carolina College, graduating in 1836. He studied law and applied his legal training to the management of his family's estates in Louisiana and Mississippi. Using his inherited wealth to create even greater profits, he became one of the richest men in the South. In 1838 he married Margaret Preston; they had four children before she died in 1855. In 1858 he wed Mary McDuffie; they had two children.

In 1852 Hampton won the first of two terms in the South Carolina state legislature before being elected to the state senate in 1856. He was a Southern Democrat, but also a Unionist, which meant that he did not share the extreme views of the radical states' rights wing of the party. He opposed South Carolina's secession in December 1860, but granted its constitutional legitimacy and remained loyal to his state and the new Confederacy.

At the onset of the Civil War, he was commissioned a colonel and raised his own unit, called Hampton's Legion. He proved to be a highly effective military officer. He participated in the Battles of First Bull Run (First Manassas) and Seven Pines, suffering injuries at both. He was made senior brigadier in J.E.B. Stuart's Cavalry Corps and saw action at Antietam and Gettysburg (where he was injured again). In September 1863 he was promoted to major general, and in May 1864 he became corps commander after Stuart's death. His continuing record of distinguished service was recognized with his elevation to lieutenant general in February 1865.

Hampton had experienced great personal and property loss during the war; his brother and his son had been killed, the latter dying in his arms, and his South Carolina plantations had been burned. Yet he advised accommodating the federal troops and officials in the South, rejected proposals for former Confederates to emigrate to Latin America, and supported limited suffrage for black men. He stood steadfast against Radical Reconstruction, though, labeling it "illegal, unconstitutional, and ruinous." He believed that black voters would follow the political leadership of their former masters, but they voted Republican instead. Hampton chaired the state executive committee of the Democratic party during the 1868 presidential campaign. He then retired from politics for eight years, living primarily on his "Wild Woods" estate in Mississippi.

Hampton returned to politics with a vengeance in 1876 when he entered the race for governor of South Carolina. It was an extremely violence campaign. Hampton and the Democrats ran as "redeemers" who would purge the state of Republicans and their Reconstruction policies. The Democrats organized paramilitary groups called the Red Shirts, who intimidated black and white Republican voters. The most extreme example of their tactics was the Hamburg Massacre, which resulted in the death of six blacks and one white. Hampton did make an attempt to reign in the violence of his supporters, but had only limited success.

Hampton won the governorship by a slim margin, but the Republicans charged the Democrats with fraud and intimidation and refused to leave office. Hampton pledged to the new Republican President, Rutherford B. Hayes, that he would protect the rights of black South Carolinians and maintain the peace. Hayes removed the remaining federal troops from the South and the Democrats took over the state government. To his credit, Hampton did try to abide by his promise to the president. Most Democrats wanted to remove all blacks from public office and eliminate state educational funding for blacks. The new governor, however, appointed a few blacks to minor positions, allowed some to run for public office, sustained their right to vote, and protected state funding of black schools. Still, he did not believe in racial equality, and blacks suffered continued harassment and even greater legal restrictions during his gubernatorial administration.

To white southerners, Hampton was a hero who represented the Confederate cause and the overthrow of Reconstruction. He won an easy reelection victory in 1878, but within a few weeks was elected by the state legislature to the U.S. Senate. He served in the nation's upper house until 1891, but did not play a prominent role in debates or legislation. His influence waned over the years, and he lost a reelection bid in 1890. He was a member of the U.S. Railroad Commission from 1893 to 1897, then retired to Columbia, South Carolina, where he died.

Source consulted: American National Biography











Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to