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Sunday, May 26, 2024 - 07:49 PM


First Published in 1994


Wade Hampton III Part 12

After Wade Hampton III was installed as Governor of South Carolina, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio was inaugurated as President of the United States, President Hayes invited Gov. Hampton to Washington for an audience at the White House.

Hayes had been a Union general during the war and the two old soldiers had war experience in common. “Evidence suggests that the two old soldiers not only reached an accommodation of sorts, but also established a close personal relationship,” according to Edward G. Longacre in Gentleman and Soldier: The Extraordinary Life of General Wade Hampton.

Later they “jointly toured parts of the South and stood side-by-side in urging reconciliation between the sections.” A few years later, some of Hampton’s allies with political aspirations in South Carolina would use his relationship with the “Yankee president” against him.

Governor Wade Hampton III kept his campaign promises of fairness to all South Carolinians regardless of political persuasion or race. He even appointed qualified Republicans and African-Americans to positions in his administration. Keeping the promises resulted in eventual opposition by those former colleagues and supporters who wanted to avoid any opportunities for a return to power by the Radical Republican / former slave coalition that had abused power, corrupted the government, and terrorized the white citizens for a decade.

Hampton easily won a second term as Governor of South Carolina. Then tragedy struck. “The night of his reelection, he traveled to Richland County to join some friends on a deer hunt. Arriving late, he mounted a mule, the only available means of transportation at that place and time and rode alone to overtake the other hunters who were already engaged in the sport.”

Hampton was now 60 years old, weighing at least 240 pounds, and not the agile equestrian he had been in earlier years.

Riding the mule through a wooded area in the moonlight, Governor Hampton was no doubt reflecting on the activities of the day and other matters when the unexpected happened.

“When a deer suddenly appeared in the brush nearby, he instinctively fired at it. The noise startled his long-eared mount, which began to buck and rear. Hampton alighted from the frightened animal but so awkwardly that he fell, fracturing his right ankle.”

Unable to move very far, he remained on the ground for many hours in great pain from the compound fracture. Eventually he was discovered and taken to the nearest doctor, however, infection set in due to the long delay in obtaining medical attention. The infection spread, and in December 1878, doctors removed the leg just below the knee.

The loss of a limb not only restricted his activity but was also a factor in costing him his job as governor. On the day that his leg was removed, his friends in the legislature elected him, by an almost unanimous vote by both houses, to the United States Senate, a job he never sought but reluctantly accepted.

On February 24, 1879, wearing his new cork leg, Governor Wade Hampton III resigned from the office to which he had been twice elected. He turned over his duties to Lieutenant Governor W. D. Simpson, the Laurens attorney and Hampton’s running mate during the spectacular campaign of 1876 that had rid South Carolina of the corrupt and cruel carpetbag government.

W. D. Simpson later became Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court and is therefore frequently referred to by historians as Judge Simpson. Judge Simpson, like General Hampton, has a Greenville County connection. His daughter married N. J. Homes, an attorney in the Simpson law firm who became a Presbyterian preacher and later founded Holmes Bible College in Greenville. The college, that had its beginning on Paris Mountain, will soon break ground for a new campus at the foot of Paris Mountain near Furman University north of the city of Greenville. 

Wade Hampton III spent 12 years representing South Carolina in the US Senate. He served on the Military Affairs committee and became a champion for veterans. He also sponsored campaign reform legislation to reduce election fraud.

Hampton’s primary interests were in South Carolina rather than at the national level. He had always been an executive, the man in charge, and made it clear to friends and family that he preferred being governor rather than one in a crowd of 76 senators. He never sought the office of governor again, however, although friends urged him to do so.

While serving in the US Senate, Hampton suffered a series of tragic financial and personal losses. His oldest son, Wade, died in Mississippi from Malaria in 1879. “Life seems closed for me,” Sen. Hampton wrote his sister-in-law. “I have nothing but duty to live for. It is very hard but I try to say, God’s will be done.”

Soon thereafter, his daughter Sally, the last child by his first wife, died at age 43. A year later, his grandson Wade Hampton V died at age nine months.

By the end of his second term in the Senate, Hampton was beginning to have problems brought on by age, old war wounds and the missing leg. He also began to have financial problems. At one point he almost wished to die in office so his survivors would be able to split his Senate salary that would continue for a year after his death.

In the meantime, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, had become governor and a third senate term for Hampton was not to be, because Tillman wanted the job. A depressed Hampton wrote an old army friend: “If my people think I should no longer serve them, then I am willing to retire.” In March 1890 Sen. Hampton left the Senate and returned home to his family in Columbia.

Before leaving the Senate, he was able to block a Republican sponsored bill that would have mandated federal supervision of state elections if 500 voters signed a petition requesting federal intervention. Hampton had seen enough federal tampering with state elections during Congressional Reconstruction and his 1976 race. 

Over a ten-year period, while Hampton was in Washington, Ben Tillman and his supporters had been able to dismantle much that Hampton had accomplished as Governor. Images of terror inflicted on men, women and children of South Carolina by black militia, armed and backed by the federal government were fresh on the minds of the people, and Tillman exploited those painful memories.

Longacre writes: “Pitchfork Ben inflicted even greater pain on Hampton by slowly but surely wiping out his predecessor’s political legacy. As soon as he consolidated his grip on statewide power, Tillman inaugurated a systematic campaign to dismantle the political structure that afforded blacks access to patronage jobs. That done, he set out to deprive African-Americans of their most basic legal rights. In 1895, he led a successful effort to rewrite the South Carolina Constitution in such a way as to virtually disenfranchise every black resident of the state.”

In November 1892, Grover Cleveland was elected president. The Democrat appointed Hampton to be US Commissioner of railroads. In 1897, the job ended with another change of administration in Washington and Wade Hampton III left Washington for good.

He moved back to Columbia and resided in his little house on Camden Road within easy reach of his family and three cherished granddaughters. His only surviving daughter, Daisy, kept house for him. (Daisy did not marry until five years after the death of her father).

Hampton stayed out of politics after returning home to his beloved South Carolina. On patriotic holidays, however, admiring friends and neighbors would shower him with tributes as he was paraded through the city in an open carriage or was helped onto a speaker’s stand to mark the occasion with a few softly spoken but well received remarks.

In the spring of 1899, the house he built after Sherman’s troops burned his homestead was burned to the ground by a fire of undetermined origin. The fire destroyed almost every possession of value including years’ worth of documents of great historical value. Hampton, now growing feeble from age and infirmities, was forced to move into a small outbuilding on the property, accompanied by his faithful daughter Daisy.

He tried to keep his spirits up with mixed results, Longacre wrote. A sense of the emotional state of this great historical figure, who had been the wealthiest man in the state and had devoted his life and fortune to the service of his fellow South Carolinians, as his life came near the end is expressed in a letter to and old army friend.

“As I sit in my little shanty, I look on the ruins of my house, facing me, and though they may be very picturesque, they are sad, for they cover all I possessed, save the ground on which they stand.”

Hampton was not homeless long; His neighbors pooled their funds and built a new and larger house for him within the city limits. Their generosity touched Hampton’s tender heart, but he would not accept the gift. Instead, they presented it to his beloved daughter, Daisy.

Hampton later said the gesture to him in the form of a gift to Daisy “was more appreciated by me than any gift could be. It is worth something to a man who has tried to do his duty to his state to feel that his fellow citizens regard him with affection.”

Hampton died in the house his friends gave to Daisy on the morning of April 11, 1902, two weeks after celebrating his eighty-fourth birthday.

Surrounded by his sons and daughter and beloved grandchildren, Wade Hampton III, who had given unselfishly to his state and fellow citizens for more than four decades, both when he was wealthy and virtually penniless, uttered these immortal final words:

“God bless all my people, black and white.”

General Hampton was not given a military funeral at his personal request. The outside service was attended by an estimated 20,000, the largest ever assembled for a memorial service in Columbia. It is recorded that thousands of those attending were “Negroes.”

Henry T. Thompson writes in Ousting the Carpetbagger from South Carolina: “They demonstrated by their sorrow the love and esteem in which the departed hero was held by all classes of people in the state.”

At the end of the War of Secession, Hampton had addressed the former slaves using these words:

“Why should we not be friends? Is not this your home as well as ours? Does not the glorious Southern sun above us shine alike for both of us? Did not this soil give birth to all of us? And will we not all alike, when our troubles and trials are over, sleep in the same soil on which we first drew breath.”

Hampton’s tomb is in Trinity churchyard, while on the Capitol square, just opposite, stands the equestrian statue to his memory erected by the State of South Carolina in 1906.

The South Carolina Legislature passed a joint resolution declaring December 14, 1926 a legal holiday in South Carolina in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Inauguration of General Wade Hampton as Governor of the State of South Carolina.

December 14, 2006 will mark the 130th anniversary of the Inauguration of General Wade Hampton as Governor of the State of South Carolina.