I have studied the life of Wade Hampton III for much of the past two decades. In my view, in many respects, Wade Hampton III was one of the greatest citizens ever produced by the Palmetto State. Until recently, I had never heard of his “Iron Scouts.”
A good friend invited me to hear a presentation by the author of a book titled “Wade Hampton’s Iron Scouts.” at the Poinsett Club.
Michael Thomas is a native South Carolinian, Citadel Graduate and historian, who has spent a great deal of time researching military historic records and writing this very interesting original historical story.Wade Hampton’s Scouts, described by Union leaders as Wade Hampton’s Iron Scouts, and served from 1862 until the end of the war. They were a key component of the comprehensive intelligence network designed by Generals Robert E. Lee, JEB Stuart and Wade Hampton. The scouts were stationed behind enemy lines on a permanent basis and provided critical military intelligence to their generals. They became proficient in “unconventional” warfare and emerged unscathed in so many close-combat actions that their foes grudgingly dubbed them Hampton’s “Iron Scouts.”
Hampton did not publicize the names of the scouts who were volunteers during or after the war because the enemy forces would track them down and kill them and their family members during Reconstruction.
Union war records document the effectiveness of the scouts operating in enemy territory. Thomas records that “Small Union cavalry patrols were such easy prey for Hampton’s Scouts that Union commanders mandated a fifty-man minimum patrol strength.”
Thomas found the following comments on the scouts by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III in the Hampton Family Papers at the University of South Carolina Library.
"Mention having been made in my Report of the good conduct of my scouts, it is proper & just that in a narrative of the operations of the cavalry some acknowledgement should be made of the services of these men, who were so zealous, so bold & so intelligent. The mere record of their services would swell this paper to too great a size & to give even their names would occupy too much space, but I desire to declare that they were of incalculable use to me & that they were n general earnest, active & devoted. Living constantly within the lines of the enemy, no movement escaped their observations and I was kept regularly appraised not only of the position, but of the strength, organization, and often even of the very purposes of the enemy. Nor were their operations confined solely to the collection of information for they were constantly engaged in active hostilities and several most brilliant affairs were conducted by them."
– Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, from the Connected Narrative of Wade Hampton III, Hampton Family Papers, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.