Friday, February 03, 2017

'A sight for the gods': Wade Hampton's 1886 Gettysburg visit

In a cropped enlargement of the image below, Wade Hampton (center) joins veterans at a picnic 
near where they fought at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The image was shot on July 7, 1886.
Gettysburg-based photographer William Tipton shot this image of Hampton and other vets.
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Twenty-three years after a Union cavalry officer slashed his head with a sabre in a farmer's field east of Gettysburg, 68-year-old Wade Hampton had a much less menacing encounter with his former enemies on the old battleground.

At a picnic in a grove.

The reunion of cavalry troopers in Gettysburg on July 7, 1886,
received extensive coverage in the Philadelphia Times
and in other newspapers.
It was a remarkable scene: Hampton, the former Confederate cavalry general, enjoyed a meal of chicken, cold ham, beef, pickles, lemonade and milk with former Union cavalrymen near the field where the opposing forces attempted to kill each other decades earlier. Hampton -- who had made the train trip to Gettysburg from Washington, where he served as a U.S. senator from South Carolina – was joined at the reunion by nearly 100 of his former cavalry comrades. Extensively covered in the press, the event on July 7, 1886, was heralded as “the most important and successful gathering that has taken place in Gettysburg since the war" and a "remarkable revival of old-time memories."

Notable for their absence, of course, were two generals who played huge roles during the cavalry fight about three miles east of town on July 3, 1863: Confederate J.E.B Stuart, who had been killed in 1864 near Richmond, and brash Union brigade commander George Armstrong Custer, who had been killed 10 years earlier by Indians at Little Big Horn. But their absences apparently didn’t detract from what the Philadelphia Times called “a genuine love-feast.”

Like former Confederate General James Longstreet two years later, Hampton was a star at this Gettysburg veterans’ reunion. One of the most beloved figures in the South, the senator had served with distinction under Robert E. Lee during a war that took an enormous toll on his family. Hampton's second-eldest son, Thomas, a 20-year-old lieutenant, was killed near Petersburg in 1864. Once one of the wealthiest men in the country, Hampton also was crippled financially by the war, losing his vast plantation estate near Columbia, S.C., when it was ransacked by the Union army and destroyed by fire.

A cropped enlargement of the image below shows Hampton and others veterans on July 7, 1886.
On July 7, 1886, Hampton and cavalry veterans were photographed by William Tipton.
David McMurtrie Gregg is in the front row, left of Hampton, wearing a straw hat with a black band.
Unlike future Gettysburg reunions, this gathering was marked by its simplicity. “There were no set speeches and no brass bands,” according to a New York World correspondent. “A company of militia came over from Hagerstown [Md.], but they did not come out to the cavalry battle field. The horsemen, therefore, attended to their business without fun or noise …”

For four hours that Wednesday, the former Southern cavalrymen and several hundred of their Union counterparts, including former General David Gregg, trekked over East Cavalry Field, pointing out key positions where they fought on a sultry summer day in 1863. Nearly 500 casualties resulted in about 40 minutes' fighting -- a failed effort by Stuart to attack the rear of the U.S. Army.

While discussing strategy at the reunion, Union veterans had a "friendly dispute" over a supposed withdrawal of troops under Custer, and George Briggs, a former colonel in the 7th Michigan Cavalry, explained where his regiment made its "wonderful charge." Meanwhile, “General Hampton,” the Philadelphia Times noted, “was especially considerate in the indication of the lines on which General Stuart moved and where, within the timber, how his own command was placed.”

Of course, Hampton also told old war stories, gesturing to a fence and a clump of trees to show where he had suffered a sabre cut from an officer in the 7th Michigan on John Rummel's farm.

“I pulled my pistol and snapped it at him as I chased him toward the wood," the bewhiskered former general told a group of veterans from both armies. "Finding it had no loads in it, I threw it at him. I don’t wish him any harm now, but then I would have liked to have a swipe at him with my sabre.” (Later in the cavalry fight, Hampton was also wounded in his hip by shrapnel, which remained in his body the rest of his life.)

In a cropped enlargement of the image below, Hampton tours the Gettysburg battlefield.
On July 7, 1886, William Tipton also shot this image of Wade Hampton in a buggy.
Before the highly anticipated visit, the Philadelphia Times declared “it will be a sight fit for the gods to see Wade Hampton and Gregg shake hands on the same battle-field where they sent their troopers against each other with most deadly intent.” While newspaper accounts did not mention whether the former adversaries indeed shook hands, Gregg, who commanded a division of cavalry in the fight on Rummel's farm, made his feelings plain.

“I don’t bear him any animosity,” the 53-year-old veteran said of the former plantation owner and slave holder, who was nearby, “but I would have liked to have got at him as I clubbed my pistol and threw it in his face. All the chambers were empty.

“I think even now,” Gregg said in jest, “that would have been a satisfaction.”

For a half-hour, Gregg and Hampton entertained each other with their views of the battle. "It was," the New York World noted, "a sight for reflection -- this coming together of opposing commanders to find pleasure in marking for the future the successes and the defeats which are the monuments of our common valor."

Before he began his journey back to Washington that late-summer day in 1886, Hampton posed with other veterans for at least three photographs by Gettysburg-based battlefield photographer William Tipton. At 2 p.m., shortly after the picnic lunch ended, he bade his former comrades farewell.

It was an eventful day.

"The utmost feeling and courtesy," the Philadelphia Times reported, "prevailed among all who were present."

       East Cavalry Field, where Confederate and Union cavalry clashed on July 3, 1863.
ABOVE: East Cavalry Field, where Wade Hampton's troopers fought on July 3, 1863.
BELOW: Gregg Cavalry monument, where 1st Michigan Cavalry fought Jeb Stuart's cavalry.
Images courtesy Shelly Liebler.
                                      Google Map of East Cavalry Field, near Gettysburg.

 Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Gettysburg (Pa.) Compiler, July 13, 1886.
-- New York World, July 8, 1886.
-- Philadelphia Times, July 8, 1886.


  1. Awesome as usual and thanks for the work! This battle has always been my favorite in the Gettysburg story, and key to possibly winning the entire battle! Regardless of what some may think of him now, General Custer was a fighting machine and void of any fear and very much a key to the Union Cavalry victory.

    1. When Custer died. He was only a Colonel.

    2. He was a brevet major general in the Union army. He can therefore, in address, be called "General". His pay-rank was Lt. Col when he died.

    3. His brevet general rank in the regular army, lasted just a little over a year, until he was appointed Lt.Col in the regular army in July 1866, so Lt.Col. was his official rank at at the time of his death. His last rank of the volunteer army, was also Major General, ending when he mustered out in February 1866.

  2. Thanks John. More good stuff!

  3. To my mind Wade Hampton is one of the most underrated generals of the entire Civil War! He is still revered here in SC, as he should be in the history books!

    1. I recently visited General Hampton's grave in Columbia. He is definitely one of South Carolina's greatest military figures next to Thomas "Gamecock" Sumter and Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion.

  4. Another excellent piece, accompanied by wonderful photos. Thank you again, John.

  5. Wade Hampton was remembered by Margaret Mitchell in "Gone With the Wind."

  6. Thank you for your excellent article. I remember Scarlett O'Hara named her son Wade Hampton Hamilton in Margaret Mitchel's novel Gone With The Wind.

  7. Thanks John. My family had Confederate Cavalry there. Your stories bring their experiences to life.