I’ve just returned from a week in Charleston, South Carolina, where my wife and I spent our honeymoon. It’s tough to vacation in the Cradle of Secession without wanting to totally geek-out on Civil War history—yet I promised Jenny I’d ease back the throttle a little and actually try to relax.
I’ll share some of my adventures over the next couple of weeks, but in keeping with my promise to take it easy, I present just a small offering for now: the city’s memorial to Confederate cavalryman Wade Hampton.
Hampton has an equestrian statue on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, and there’s a statue of him in the U.S. capitol, as well. The United Daughters of the Confederacy have a slightly larger-than-life statue of him in their Charleston Museum on Market Street, too.
Charleston was the city of Hampton’s birth. There’s an obelisk in his memory sitting along Meeting Street in Marion Square, a park at the intersection of Meeting and Calhoun Streets. As busy as Meeting Street can be, it’s easy to miss the Hampton monument as you whiz on by in the hectic traffic. This was my third trip to Charleston and I’d driven by the monument multiple times on previous visits, missing it every time. The curtains of tree branches that crowd in on the monument don’t help.
The “stone of memorial,” as is inscribed along its base, was erected by Charleston’s United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911.
One side of the monument honors Hampton’s military service: colonel of the Hampton Legion of South Carolina Volunteers in 1861; brigadier general in the Confederate army in 1862; major general in 1863; lieutenant general commanding the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry in 1865. Another side honors his postwar political career: governor of South Carolina from 1876-’78 and U.S. Senator from 1879-’91 (Hampton died that year).
Twenty years after he died, the UDC raised the monument in Hampton’s honor. If hearts were still so warm toward him and memories still so fresh, surely they must have remembered, too, not only Hampton’s exemplary service during the war but also the notorious anti-Reconstruction violence that marked his tenure as governor and the rampant abuses perpetrated by the so-called “red shirts” who suppressed voter rights. Such contradictions and convenient lapses in memory happened all over the Old South, and today, 150 years later, most such troublesome considerations have been all but forgotten about, anyway.
Marion Park bubbles with large crowds on Saturday mornings when the city’s farmers market sets up. Alongside the farmers selling produce are artisan’s selling handmade jewelry and art prints, food producers with barrels full of homemade pickles and brass drums full of kettle corn, and all sorts of other vendors. Not too far from cavalryman’s monument, ironically, someone offered pony rides for kids.
I wonder how many of those people remember who Wade Hampton is or why the UDC chose to honor him—and what they chose to ignore when they did.