- Wade Hampton III
Although recognized by many as one of South Carolina's most famous and revered sons, Wade Hampton III has been largely ignored within the historical community since the publication of Manly Wade Wellman's Giant in Grey in 1949. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Hampton, resulting in the appearance of three new biographies of which Robert Ackerman's is the most current. The first two, Gentleman and Soldier: A Biography of Wade Hampton III by Edward Longacre and Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman by Walter Brian Cisco, present limited information on the South Carolinian. Ackerman's stands out among the three; his study of Hampton is well written, with a scholarly and comprehensive approach lacking in the previous works.
In his analysis of the former Confederate general, Ackerman does not allow himself to be hindered by the lack of personal papers, which had been lost to fire in 1899. Rather, the author utilizes the vast secondary sources available and combines this with a heavy reliance on newspapers, letters, and firsthand accounts from contemporaries regarding what Hampton said and did. This tactic can be problematic due to the speculation and possible errors involved, but overall Ackerman provides the reader with a balanced representation of daily events and interactions Hampton was involved in.
An area that Ackerman covers extensively in his biography is Hampton's role in the postwar years. Once at the head of the elite planter class in South Carolina, the Civil War leaves Hampton and his family in financial ruin as well as having claimed the lives of his two sons. Reconstruction was a difficult time for Hampton; despite everything he had lost, however, Ackerman [End Page 229] successfully demonstrates how the South Carolinian comes to accept the freedom of former slaves and ultimately supporting their efforts for basic civil rights. The author also illustrates how Hampton's sense of duty to his native state helps draw him into the political arena following the cessation of hostilities. As governor, Hampton made significant gains in reconciling the vast differences between white and black. His paternalistic views, while having some limitations, offered an alternative to the racial demagoguery of political foes Martin Gary and Benjamin Tillman.
Ackerman's book does have its shortcomings. The author's writing style is more akin to that of a textbook, with little vibrancy or formal breaks within the chapters, making the reading somewhat difficult and tedious. His discussion of the issues surrounding the 1876 election, while informative and filled with detail, expands into a tangent that takes the reader away from Hampton and gets them lost in the myriad of events regarding the overall political situation. A simplified explanation of those incidents would have sufficed.
Overall, Ackerman's biography presents readers with an objective account of Wade Hampton the planter, solider, and political leader. This accurate portrayal of the South Carolinian makes Wade Hampton III a valuable addition to the historical record.