Reconstruction is really an underrated and usually ignored history among the far right. The fact that states like South Carolina and Mississippi were actually able to rebound from Black domination in states where Whites were the minority is inspirational to say the least. In effect, the South basically managed to avoid ending up like Haiti or South Africa. This is quite contrary to what the people who want to say the South is lost because of the high Black population, and that we should just hand it all over for Blacks to create an ethno state. The men of 1876 South Carolina were determined to stand their ground and fight like men to save their state.
It was summer of 1876 in South Carolina. The state had been put under carpet bag and Black rule since the fall of the Confederacy in 1865. Moreover, South Carolina suffered tremendously during the war at the hands of Sherman’s army. The Blue Coats ravaged the state of South Carolina and burnt the capitol of Columbia to the ground as well as many other towns. Now, the South Carolinians were sick of the corruption and utter incompetence of the Black controlled government. Blacks were the majority in the state of South Carolina and the egalitarian North had unleashed universal suffrage on the on the downtrodden Southland. The South (and especially South Carolina) was the testing ground of a sick “experiment” by radical egalitarians of New England. The state was on the verge of collapsing into another Haiti. It had lost so much during the war, and the White people of the Palmetto state were ready to fight back.
The showdown that would kickstart the 1876 Revolution would take place in the black controlled town of Hamburg. It also began on the 100th anniversary of the founding of America, 4th of July. Being that it was 4th of July, the town, especially the Blacks were in celebration over the “new birth of the republic” told to them by the radical Republicans. The whole idea of what was an American had drastically changed for the worse since 1776. Civic Nationalism and worship for contrived, fallacious equality now dominated the people of the North. The Blacks of Hamburg thus celebrated with their own militia companies (Blacks had practically taken control of the National Guard in South Carolina at the time). Two white men coming back from Augusta passed through Hamburg only to be blocked and harassed by the Black militia company led by the Black Captain Doc Adams. During the confrontation the Blacks became hostile and the Black militiamen were no doubt looking for a fight to flaunt their new found (misplaced) “authority”. Mr. Butler, one of the men would then report this to the Courts and would have former CSA General M.C Butler represent them in court. The news of this trial brought White men (including the Redshirts and other paramilitary clubs) from the surrounding area to Hamburg. The Blacks of Hamburg were known for harassing and being bothersome to Whites who had to travel through the area.
During the court proceedings (July 6-8th) in Hamburg, many White men from around the local area were rushing into Hamburg armed with weapons. Georgians from across the Savannah River in Augusta were told to be at stand by. General Butler would order the blacks to disarm (which they refused) and the Blacks soon headed to the armory. Most undoubtedly, a heated back and forth began at this point between the Blacks and White men around the court house. The brave White men were determined to finally demonstrate their natural dominion over South Carolina. Soon enough one of the sides opened fire on the other, and a shoot out began with one White man being shot in the head. The fighting became more heated when McKie Meriwether (the man who was shot) died from his fatal head wound. The Carolinians soon tried to burn the Blacks out of the warehouse to avenge Meriwether…to which General Butler stopped them. Georgians soon entered the battle after crossing the bridge of the Savannah river. Many of these men knew that many of the Blacks in Hamburg had burglarized the homes in Georgia only to escape across the river and take refuge in Hamburg and now the Georgians wanted their due vengeance. The Georgians soon had a cannon brought up and started firing what ever they could at the building including bullets and grapeshot and even stones. Though this did little damage on the building, it did scare the Black militiamen who soon escaped out the back using ladders and went running like scared rabbits. The Blacks went into hiding, but were soon found one by one by the Southerners who counted around 30 Black militants. This combined tension and bitterness led to many quick executions of some of the captured. At the end of the day 7 Blacks were killed and 4 wounded while 1 White was killed and 2 were wounded. Many of the Black militia men were released, though some were killed by Whites.
“Among the negroes killed a man named Attaway, lieutenant of the company – Company A, Eighth South Carolina regiment – and member of the legislature, who made a violently incendiary speech at Barnwell two weeks before, denouncing the white people and urging war against them until they were run out of the State” (Williams , Hampton and His Redshirts 27)
While modern scholars say this was just a bloody mass killing of so called “innocent” Blacks, we should remember how every Black was armed on that day and both sides were actively involved in the bloodshed. This was a battle most certainly not a massacre of “innocent civilians”. Remember how the media portrays Black thugs as innocent when killed by cops? That’s how this is. At the time this event was framed as a horrific attack on blacks by southern bigots in the Republican newspapers. General Butler was named as “Butcher Butler” despite trying to deescalate the fighting. It also convinced many Whites of Carolina that the only way to retake their state was through the “Mississippi Plan”. The Mississippi Plan was based around using violence and political elections to overthrow the carpet bag government and it worked in Mississippi which was redeemed in 1875; drastic times call for drastic measures. The White people of South Carolina were still worried that President Grant might again send federal troops into the state like he had done to the Klan earlier. Young men like Benjamin Tillman who had missed out on the Civil War were eager to test their iron and would soon put on the Redshirt. These men had missed the experience of fighting for their homeland and had witnessed the destruction of their state as helpless young boys and teens. These men would form the rank and file of the Redshirts who made their appearance (though not dawning their distinctive Crimson shirts) at Hamburg in July. The Battle of Hamburg was only the beginning of the Redemption of South Carolina.
-By Richard Ewell