My editor had received an email idea for this profile from D. Michael Thomas, military history author. Since we have the Veteran’s Day holiday coming up, I thought now would be the perfect time to interview him about his first book — a military history book published by The History Press & Arcadia Publishing titled, “Wade Hampton’s Iron Scouts: Confederate Special Forces,” released in March.
Thomas is a lifelong student of Southern history, with a special emphasis on the War Between the States. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel and is a Vietnam Navy veteran. For More Information: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467139380.
Regan: How did you get the idea to write this book?
D. Michael Thomas: Since Vietnam, there has been much ado about our military’s Special Forces. In Vietnam, the United States utilized SEALS, Green Berets, Marine Reconnaissance Teams and Army LRRP’s (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols). Since then, our special forces have grown and are utilized in many ways. The general impression is our special forces and their missions were entirely new concepts of the 1960s but this thinking is incorrect.
R: You stated this is not just another Civil War book?
T: The book proves the existence of another Special Forces command from 100 years earlier – in the Civil War. Wade Hampton was the most distinguished South Carolinian in the war, rising to the post of lieutenant general. His platoon of scouts, stationed behind enemy lines on a permanent basis, performed many of the same missions as today’s special forces. They did everything from gathering military intelligence to conducting guerrilla warfare, and more. Hampton’s scouts were an integral part of the intelligence network on which Generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Hampton depended since the Scout’s view of the war was unique as it was mostly within Union lines. They became proficient in unconventional warfare and escaped unscathed in many close-combat actions which led their foes to grudgingly dub them Hampton’s Iron Scouts.
Averaging about 20 men on their roster at any one time, just 72 served in their ranks over the 28-month existence of the unit. My book is the first comprehensive study of Hampton’s Scouts. Not only has there been no previous book, there are no in-depth magazine articles on them, either. Four of the Scouts have Lowcountry ties including one who was a post-war night editor at The News and Courier. In conversations with former Green Berets, Special Forces, and Intelligence-gathering personnel, they all concur that Hampton’s Scouts were indeed worthy of being termed Special Forces, with one of them saying, “More was expected of the Scouts than what is expected of today’s Special Forces.”
R: Was it easy for you to get this published by The History Press & Arcadia Publishing?
T: The History Press was the only publisher I approached and I was thrilled they accepted it. I’m under no contract for another book but will go to them again in the future. As a rookie author, I had much to learn about the process and greatly appreciated the guidance and patience they provided.
R: What is your favorite military era in history?
T: The War Between the States. I studied it as a historical event but it became intensely personal after finding so many ancestors involved. Close behind are WWII and Vietnam. My father and his brother, both in the Navy, served in the Pacific in World War II. Their service influenced me to enlist in the Navy. Vietnam was my generation’s war and I have studied it with great interest over the years.
R: You were a War Between the States reenactor. What was that like?
T: This was a great learning and educational experience. The men and women me were earnest historians who saw reenacting as a positive, productive hobby. We provided an accurate representation of soldiers or civilians and dressed, drilled, slept, and dined like our ancestors. We met and served with reenactors from all across the nation who shared the same respect for history. I’ll never forget the roar of thousands of muskets and dozens of cannon at some of our events. I especially enjoyed mingling with the public in living history events.
R: How’s the response been?
T: The response has been fantastic and supportive in all respects. My presentations were to several history-oriented groups, one of which had many vets from Vietnam and the conflicts thereafter. I was concerned some might object to my use of the “Confederate Special Forces” term but everyone I spoke with whole-heartedly agreed it was befitting. Book signings brought fine conversations with many. There simply has been no noticeable bias because of the book’s subject.
R: What’s next?
T: I am in the early stages of research for another War Between the States book centered on South Carolinians with material rarely, if ever, presented before. It will present little-known personal wartime experiences of a number of soldiers and civilians and, hopefully, add meaning and flavor to the study of that war.
Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a Publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com