Wade Hampton and Judson Kilpatrick

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton

Beginning in the spring of 1863, Wade Hampton and Judson Kilpatrick tangled on many a cavalry battlefield. By 1865, Hampton was a lieutenant general—THE highest-ranking cavalry officer in the history of the Confederacy—and Kilpatrick was Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s chief of cavalry for his Carolinas Campaign. These two old adversaries clashed on many a battlefield through the course of the war, but no engagement engendered more bitter feelings than did the March 10, 1865, battle of Monroe’s Crossroads.

At Monroe’s Crossroads, Hampton, with his division and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps from the Army of Tennessee, in an effort to keep Kilpatrick’s cavalry tied up long enough for Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s infantry to make it across the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville, North Carolina, pounced on Kilpatrick’s sleeping camp. Overconfident, Kilpatrick failed to put out sufficient cavalry pickets, so the surprise attack by Hampton and Wheeler caught the Federals completely off guard. Kilpatrick was nearly captured and had to flee into a swamp barefoot and clad only in his nightshirt. Kilpatrick eventually rallied his troops and re-captured his camp after hard dismounted fighting. When Hampton learned that infantry reinforcements of the 14th Corps were on their way, he broke off and withdrew, his goal of keeping Kilpatrick’s cavalry tied up for an entire day accomplished. The battle of Monroe’s Crossroads became, to the federal commander’s eternal embarrassment, known as Kilpatrick’s Shirt-Tail Skedaddle, and was the subject of much good-natured ribbing.

Hardee and his infantry escaped through Fayetteville and safely made their way across the Cape Fear River there. They burned the Clarendon Bridge behind them, with Wheeler’s troopers acting as a rearguard. Sherman had to stop for several days to wait for bridging equipment to come up from Wilmington. That delay, in turn, allowed Hardee to build a solid defense in depth at Averasboro, where, with 8500 men, he held off half of Sherman’s army—about 35,000 men—for an entire day on March 16. Hardee’s command then joined Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army at Smithfield, and fought hard at Bentonville from March 19-21.

After being defeated at Bentonville, Johnston withdrew to Raleigh in the hope of linking up with Robert E. Lee’s army near Danville, Virginia. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, Johnston withdrew his troops to Greensboro, and then set out to make peace with Sherman, convinced that there was no justification for continuing the bloodshed. The two officers agreed to meet at James Bennett’s house, five miles from Durham Station, at noon on April 17, 1865.

The appointed hour arrived, and the two generals, with their entourages arrived. Hampton accompanied Johnston, while Kilpatrick accompanied Sherman. After some pleasantries, the two commanders adjourned to the Bennett house to conduct their negotiations for the surrender of all Confederate troops remaining in the field.

While waiting for Sherman and Johnston to complete their business, Hampton and his son, Lt. Wade Hampton, IV, lounged on a carpenter’s bench outside the Bennett house. The elder Hampton wore his best uniform, topped by a black felt hat adorned with gold braid. He carried a switch that day, instead of his huge broadsword, as if to say he could still thrash any Yankee foolish enough to cross his path.

Determined to end the fraternizing among his men, Hampton snarled, “Fall in!” When Kilpatrick approached to protest, remembered one witness, “Wade Hampton looked savage enough to eat ‘Little Kil’”, which prompted his antagonist to return “his looks most defiantly.”

“The war is over,” proclaimed Kilpatrick to his old adversary. “Let the men fraternize.”

“I do not intend to surrender,” snapped Hampton. He added that he would never fraternize with the Yankees, “but would retaliate with torch and sword” to avenge the style of war the North had waged. With a stern tone, Hampton again snarled at his troopers, “Fall in!”

“General Hampton, you compel me to remind you that you have no authority here,” shot back Kilpatrick.

“Permit me, sir, to remind you,” answered the South Carolinian, his words dripping with disdain, “that Napoleon said that any general who would permit him to be surprised is a very poor soldier, and I surprised you [at Monroe’s Crossroads].”

“Yes, but what did Napoleon say of one general who after having surprised another, allowed himself to be whipped by his opposite in his shirt and drawers?” sneered Little Kil in return. And so, the two old horse soldiers began refighting their campaigns.”

“Well, General, down yonder in Linch’s Creek, I gave you a splendid entertainment, but you were too strong for me,” Kilpatrick teased his old adversary by referring to an incident in South Carolina in February.

“When and where?” demanded Hampton.

“Oh, when I was after your wagon train and fought your cavalry and a regiment of infantry,” replied Kilpatrick.

Hampton laughed. “Beg pardon, General, allow me to introduce you to Col. Gib Wright who was in command that day with one regiment of cavalry and twenty dismounted men.”[1] With that, barbs really began to fly.

The longer this discussion lasted, the more heated and louder it became. “I have heard of your promise to pursue me to the death, General Kilpatrick,” exclaimed an angry Hampton. “I only wish to say that you will not have to pursue far.”

“Well, I’ll go where I’m sent,” retorted Kilpatrick.

“Oh? You sometimes go where you are not sent?” shot back Hampton, prompting some nearby federals to chuckle at the reference to Kilpatrick’s hasty retreat into the swamp at Monroe’s Crossroads.

“You refer to the time you surprised me near Fayetteville?” shot back Little Kil.

“Yes,” answered the South Carolinian. “A general surprised is a general disgraced.”

“That happened once. It will never happen again,” said Kilpatrick.

“This is the second time. Remember Atlee’s Station?” taunted Hampton, referring to a scrap during Kilpatrick’s aborted February 1864 raid on Richmond. “General Kilpatrick, when I look at men like you, I feel like Wellington, who said under the circumstances, I thank God for my belief in a hell.” The assembled crowd exploded in laughter, which only caused Kilpatrick’s already simmering anger to boil.

When one of Kilpatrick’s taunts finally drew Hampton’s ire, the big Confederate rose from the carpenter’s bench, loomed dangerously over his diminutive adversary, and proclaimed, “Well, you never ran me out of Headquarters in my stocking feet!” A Northern horse soldier who overheard the exchange observed that Hampton’s retort “was a home thrust and too true to be funny.”

Anger clouded Kilpatrick’s ruddy face. The Union commander replied that Hampton had to leave faster than he came, and then “words grew hot” with “both parties expressing a desire that the issue of the war should be left between the cavalry.” Their row had by this time grown quite loud, such that Sherman and Johnston had to interrupt their discussions to separate the two cavalrymen. “These gentlemen parted with no increased love for each other,” humorously noted a newspaper correspondent who witnessed this episode. Another observer noted that once Sherman and Johnston separated their cavalry commanders, “the conference went on pleasantly enough.”

After some high drama that will have to wait for another day’s blog post, Johnston eventually surrendered all remaining Confederate armies in the field to Sherman on April 26 on the same terms as those given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. Wade Hampton, however, refused to surrender. Bitter at being blamed by Sherman for burning Columbia, South Carolina in February and by the torching of his plantation by Yankee soldiers, and devastated by having his brother and one of his sons killed in battle, Hampton had no interest in surrendering. He, in fact, refused to do so, and instead marched his command away. When he was unable to join President Jefferson Davis’ flight south, Hampton decided to disband his command rather than surrender it. He bade farewell to his men and eventually changed his mind and decided to surrender too.

In the years after the Civil War, Hampton became involved in politics. He was elected governor of South Carolina in 1876, the first Democrat to be elected to office there in the post-war era. After serving as governor, Hampton was appointed to serve two terms as U. S. Senator from South Carolina, serving from 1879-1891. In 1881, when Pres. James A. Garfield nominated Hampton’s old foe, Judson Kilpatrick, to be ambassador to Chile, the nomination required the advice and consent of the Senate. Wade Hampton placed his old adversary’s name before the Senate, and Kilpatrick was unanimously approved.

Gone, at last, was the bitterness of the Shirt Tail Skedaddle and the ugly confrontation at Bennett Place. Peace had finally come.

————

[1] Hampton referred to Col. Gilbert J. “Gib” Wright, the commander of the Cobb Legion Cavalry of Georgia.

About Eric J. Wittenberg

Award-winning Civil War historian Eric J. Wittenberg focuses on cavalry operations in the Civil War.
This entry was posted in Campaigns, Cavalry, Leadership--Confederate, Leadership--Federal, Reconstruction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Wade Hampton and Judson Kilpatrick

  1. edward mc laughlin says:

    Very interesting story well written many thanks

  2. Bob Ruth says:

    I agree with Edward. Great post. Hampton was one of the Civil War’s finest cavalry officers. (And, as Eric’s post makes clear, one of its best debaters.)

    His post-CW career was far less distinguished, though. Hampton was one of the founders of the Lost Cause Movement. (In today’s parlance, we’d call the movement “fake news.”) Although not a member of the KKK, he was sympathetic toward the organization, at one point raising money to defend these domestic terrorists. His gubernatorial election was greatly aided by the so-called Red Shirts, heavily-armed white supremacists who violently suppressed the black vote in South Carolina.

  3. Ed Sargua says:

    A great post. Thanks, Eric

  4. I had heard of Monroe’s Crossroads but knew nothing about the action there. Nor was I familiar with the altercation between Hampton and Kilpatrick about it later at the surrender discussions at the Bennett house. Fascinating story, Eric. Thanks!

  5. David Corbett says:

    Cavalry stories are always entertaining ! Thanks for posting.

  6. Rob Wilson says:

    Very interesting read and a great story. I loved the barbed exchanges between Hampton and Kilpatrick. Thank you Eric. Although I am familiar with Kilpatrick’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign, I have not read much about the Carolinas campaign in 1865, except for E.L. Doctrow’s 2005 bestseller “The March.” The novel is based very loosely on the characters and events [including the “Shirt-Tail Skedaddle”] of Sherman’s spring 1865 campaign. Doctrow does a real number on his fictional version Kilpatrick, presenting him as as an over-the-top, philandering and at times comic figure. It was good to get some of the real story.

    While Doctrow may have bent and embellished historical facts, I found “The March” t a really engaging read. Check it out. His depictions of Sherman (the general and the man) and his description of the February Union occupation of Columbia SC, the devastating fire there (that was blamed by some on Wade Hampton) and the events swirling around the inferno were, for me, unforgettable. In Sherman’s own words about war: “Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”

  7. Thank you everyone for the kind words about the post.

    For those interested in the story of Kilpatrick’s Shirt-tail Skedaddle, also known as the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, you might enjoy this: https://www.amazon.com/Battle-Monroes-Crossroads-Civil-Campaign-ebook/dp/B0047T7JV8/ref=la_B001JP1KHM_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487361666&sr=1-10

  8. Diana Brasher says:

    As I have numerous relatives who fought in the Civil War, both sides of my family tree (all confederate,except one g-g-g uncle who fought for the North and THEN the South,we don’t know WHAT that was about),I find the first person narratives wonderful to read and to think about!!! THANK YOU!!!

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