May 27, 1880
Wade Hampton and His Leg
It is rather mournful to look at Wade Hampton in the Senate, nursing his stump of a leg and subjecting his splendid physique to the disgrace of crutches. He is the only cripple in the body- I mean visibly so. To be sure his colleague, the dashing Butler, has but one leg, but you might watch him move about for ten years and not know it, so perfectly does he manage his cork. To be sure, too, there are men who suffer, sometimes intensely, for trying to stop bullets in the late unpleasantness, like Gordon and Ransom and Maxey; but their infirmities are not visible. Not so with Hampton. He is in the very prime of his life, scarcely over fifty, and a hopeless cripple. Nobody feels pain in looking at Aleck Stephens, for his case is just the result of a slow and natural process of decay, which he rather seems to relish. But you insensibly feel a deep sympathy with Hampton’s loss as with the late Senator Morton’s infirmities, because both came along prematurely, like the hurricane on the oak, and marred powerful frames. And the General croons over his abbreviated limb all the time- not in any growing or testy spirit, for he is the soul of patience, but it must be remembered that his whole life has been one of nerve, vim, dash, and his present forced inactivity must only intensify the memory of his daring exploits and “moving accidents by flood and field.” Can it be supposed that when Morton sat in the Senate, a big, chained dog, the defenseless prey of the smallest cur that had legs and could use hem, he never fretted at he picture of his past activity, when he used to bound into the saddle at the Governor’s office in war times, and dash to camp or arsenal, the very embodiment of physical vigor as he lashed his horse to a white foam through the excited streets? No wonder, then, that while the General nurses his leg, he also nurses mainly regrets. Several interesting incidents happened lately in a single day, as told by one of Hampton’s intimate friends. The General, in the hope of picking up some views about cut legs, has a way of stopping people similarly afflicted. As he was standing on his crutches in the main hall, near the Senate entrance, a large man came along, his right leg lost above the knee, and he had some patient arrangement that seemed like a framework, light and portable, to help him out of his scrape. Accosting him, Hampton spoke of their mutual infirmities, and asked how that arrangement worked. “Very well,” replied the stranger. “It is an invention of my own”- and he went on the explain it. “May I ask where you lost your leg?” inquired the General. “Yes, certainly, it went off when Hampton charged our battery at Gettysburg.” “Indeed; I’m grieved to hear it,” said the General, very sincerely. “My name is Hampton.” They shook hands very warmly over the bloody chasm, and the stranger turned out to be Representative Caulk, of Wisconsin.
Later in the day the General was on his way home in the street car when a man entered with only one arm, the other gone at the socket. The General invited him to a seat and managed the payment of his fare.
“Where did you lose your arm?” asked Hampton.
“Well, sir, it was at Gettysburg,” answered the man, “when Hampton made that terrific charge with his cavalry.”
Whereupon those two shook hands and made up and the man now says that if Hampton is put on the Democratic ticket, he will swallow it hook and line. It was on the same bloody field that Pleasanton and Hampton met as rival cavalry leaders, and they met only on Wednesday last over the pipe of peace. Pleasanton was enchanted with his old enemy, and said that he was the only soldier he ever heard of who told the whole truth in case of defeat. Let me tell another instance of Hampton’s kindheartedness, and then the reader can possibly judge why it is that he is the idol of the colored race of the South. Recently, it will be remembered, he went to Mississippi on the death of his son. While there he met with three old slaves of his. They called to pay their respects, and in and apologetic way told “Massa Wade” that they had to fight for their freedom and hoped he did not feel bad about it. On inquiry he learned of them that all three had been wounded on board the “Monarch” during the war. They knew nothing of how their account stood, or might stand under the law, with the United States Treasury, and the General’s first act when he came back was to obtain them pensions. That’s the way the “rebel brigadiers” are depriving the Southern negroes of their rights.
-Brooklyn Eagle Letter-
[Transcribed by: Sharon Strout]