Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 7, 2013


Giant in Gray:  A Biography of Wade Hampton of South Carolina by Manly Wade Wellman (1949)

I'm about half-way through this well-researched biography of the Civil War general and I'm enjoying it very much, but it is slow reading.  The amount of detail, especially concerning Civil War tactics and battles and the confusing fact that there were four members in the family named Wade Hampton, have me going back to make sure I've got it right.  Wellman, a proud Southerner, has written a number of books -- both non-fiction and fiction -- about  the war and this one, IMHO, stands well with my own favorite of his, Rebel Yell.

Wade Hampton, the third of his name, was an astute businessman, farmer and statesman, and was, at one time, probably the richest person in the South, with vast holdings in South Carolina and Mississippi.  An expert equestrian and hunter, Hampton was a man of courage; his regular bear hunts often ended mano a oso with Hampton facing the bear with only a hunting knife; it's estimated that he killed 80 bears that way, only rarely receiving wounds in return.  Despite owning over 1000 slaves, Hampton pushed for bans on any additional slave trafficking.  He felt secession from the union would be a foolish move and pushed to find some middle ground that might appease both sides.  Yet when war broke out, this strong son of the South resigned his seat in the South Carolina senate and volunteered his service to the Confederacy.

With a commission as a colonel, Hampton formed a regiment (using his own funds to by rifles and guns from England for his troops) and faced his first major battle at Manassas.  Hampton came onto the field to find two Southern regiments in full retreat.  Hampton's regiment stood their ground, both delaying and surprising the Union army while also saving the retreating armies from destruction.  Throughout the war -- which saw the destruction of his home and property, the death of one son, and five battlefield wounds -- Hampton's courage, leadership skills, and tactical genius did much for the Confederacy's cause.  Indeed, Wellman contends, the could quite possibly have gone the other way if some of Hampton's plans had not be vetoed by superior officers.

**!!SPOILER ALERT!!** The South lost.

Following the war Hampton faced faced financial ruin.  Once one of the richest men in the South, he was now one of the poorest.  But that challenge paled in comparison with that of reconciling the North and the South.  Reluctant at first, Hampton entered the political arena, first serving as Governor, then as Senator, earning the respect of both the North and South.

Wellman in unabashed in his reverence for Hampton.  Hampton embodied all the attributes that Wellman found in his beloved South:  courage, discipline, honesty, humility, athleticism, loyalty, intelligence, and so many more.  Several times throughout this biography Wellman stated that he had tried to find something negative about Hampton's character, or about this action or that, but that he was unable to:  Hampton was revered and respected.  Which, to my mind, leaves this biography to be taken with a grain of salt.  But if Hampton was even half the man that Wellman portrays, he would have been on of the greatest men of the 19th century.

Fascinating reading.  Recommended.


  1. " Indeed, Wellman contends, the could quite possibly have gone the other way if some of Hampton's plans had not be vetoed by superior officers."

    I doubt Wellman's historical chops if he honestly believes that.

  2. The possibility that the war might've been fought to something of a bloody stalemate, particularly if England thought the Confederacy promising enough to back in a more formal way, is real...though one does wonder, without knowing that much about Wellman's family history, if his name Wade has a source close to the subject of the account.

    The notion that much of the Civil War was anything to be proud of (even down to the piecemeal way slavery was outlawed) is the one I'd have problems with...even given the enormous bravery shown by many individuals (often matched, as in any war, by viciousness and self-service, by others and even some of the bravest).

  3. And certainly it has fascinated enough sf writers along with Wellman...BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore, "If Lee Had Not Won at Gettysburg" by Winston Churchill, C.S.A.: THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA (the documentary-form sf film from 2004), and so many more. One wonders, and should Go Look, how Fletcher Pratt, as popular historian of note and sf/fantasy writer, could resist the urge...but as far as I know, Isaac Asimov and several others also resisted, when a fair amount of their careers were also devoted to historical nonfiction (if not, like Pratt, most famously with a Civil War volume such as ORDEAL BY FIRE).