Friday, August 23, 2013

Southern Chivalry at Gettysburg

When the fighting began at Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, Wade Hampton was with Jeb Stuart’s raiding division in Dover, Pennsylvania, 23 miles northeast of the battlefield. All were numb with lack of sleep after three solid days in the saddle since crossing the Potomac, but after a short rest in Dover, the division pushed on toward Carlisle in search of provisions, with Hampton's tired troopers at the rear of the column.

Halting in Dillsburg with the captured wagons and prisoners from the raid, Hampton received word from Stuart before daybreak on July 2 that the army had been found at Gettysburg, and he headed south that morning. By 2:00 P.M., the brigade had halted a few miles northeast of Gettysburg with the tail of the column a mile south of Hunterstown. Waiting on his horse beside the road, Hampton came under fire from a Yankee cavalryman about 200 yards away. Charging the rifleman alone, Hampton with his pistol became involved in a strange duel with the blue trooper at close range. Hampton's chest was grazed by a bullet, and at one point, Hampton chivalrously stopped to let the Yankee clean his gun before resuming the fight. Hampton at last wounded his assailant in the wrist, but just then another enemy soldier wielding a sword rushed forward and blind-sided Hampton with a saber cut to the back of the head before making his escape. The general's hat and thick hair saved him from a deathwound. He returned to his brigade with a bloody four-inch gash on his scalp as well as a shallow chest wound. Later that afternoon, Hampton's men turned back to Hunterstown and thwarted a drive on the Confederate rear by Kilpatrick's Union cavalrymen. Hampton held the ground until the next morning.

On the morning of July 3, Hampton and his men rode 2_ miles out of Gettysburg on the York Pike, then turned south with Stuart's other cavalry brigades. Their goal was to get in the rear of the Union army when the end of the cannonade at Gettysburg signaled the beginning the main Confederate effort against Cemetery Ridge. The cavalry fighting began about 3 o'clock that afternoon. In the swirling, hand-to-hand melee with the Union cavalrymen which had met their approach, Hampton received two more saber cuts to the front of his head, one of which cut through the table of his skull. The indomitable South Carolinian continued fighting until he was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the right hip, which finally put him out of action. He was carried back to Virginia in the same ambulance with Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood.

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