As stated in my previous article, it was the legendary General Wade Hampton who brought the Anti-Reconstruction forces together after the Hamburg Showdown though it shouldn’t be surprising to many who have heard of Hampton before.
Wade Hampton came from the antebellum Southern aristocracy of South Carolina and a long military tradition. He is probably one of the most well known South Carolinians who fought for South. On top of this (despite being from a military tradition) Hampton had no previous military before the war. Hampton though managed to raise his own legion similar to Forrest and also raised through the ranks of the Confederacy (all the way up to Lt General and commander of the Calvary of Army Northern Virginia).
Hampton was economically shattered and broken by the wars end. He had put a lot of money into his legion and his own state had been ravaged by Yankee hordes . When surrender came, Hampton almost fought personally with a Yankee General (Judson Kilpatrick). When he returned to Carolina he was hailed as a hero and crusader for Southern Independence (all of which he was).
In May of 1876, before Hamburg, the White Carolinians were divided on what to do over Reconstruction. Some populist Democrats wanted to perhaps throw in with more moderate Republicans as fusionist. The Straightouts were determined to throw off (violently if necessary) carpet bag rule like the Mississippians. Hamburg was the deciding factor that began the uniting of the two factions of Democrats. The moderates realized that the incompetent Governor Chamberlain was unable to keep order in the state so they gave up on the idea of unity with the moderate Republican forces. The Convention in August (15th through 17th of 1876) finally shattered the fusionist will when General Butler nominated Hampton as Governor nominee. Hampton proved an excellent pick as he immediately able to unify the forces in the Democratic Party and put out campaign worthy of the highest praise.
General Martin Gary proved a vital part of Hampton’s campaign. Gary himself was a veteran of the War for Southern Independence and was even early Secessionist in 1860. Gary would go on to serve in Hampton’s Legion and fight in many battles and even refused to surrender at Appomattox. Instead, he headed home without officially surrendering.
With this in mind, it is not at all surprising a man like Gary would lead his state to victory. He was a man made on action and determination (unlike the craven poltroons in Washingon DC today). Gary went to even draw up “Plan of the Campaign of 1876” in which he went into detail on how to Retake South Carolina.
Here’s a few points of his plan below:
12. Every Democratic must feel honor bound to control the vote of at least one Negro, by intimidation, purchase, keeping him away or as each individual may determine, how he may best accomplish it.
21. In the month of September we ought to begin to organize Negro clubs, or pretend that we have organized them and write letters from different parts of the County giving the facts of organization [but] from prudential reasons, the names of the Negroes are to be withheld. Those who join us are to be taken on probation and are not to be taken into full fellowship, until they have proven their sincerity by voting our ticket… [marked ‘omit’]
With these we can see that Gary was a realist and practical. Gary realized that Whites were at a disadvantage being a minority so he knew they must either repress or win the black vote through what ever means necessary. He realized that Hampton was the man to accomplish this. Hampton and his Democrat chiefs managed to better utilize Hampton’s natural way to win the votes of the Blacks and moderates. Hampton gave off the fatherly vibe with his old whiskers and ability to tell stories to the crowd.
General Hampton was 58 years old around this time yet still full of energy. While Hampton supported the Straightouts, he wasn’t always in agreement with their methods. Hampton himself actually managed to win over many Black voters with his genuine kindness and paternal spirit. This is actually quite the achievement when one thinks about how he was still able to win the Black vote without total capitulation. It was actually a mix of Hampton’s and Gary’s plan that helped them dominate the campaign of 1876. Blood was needed though.
Hampton’s military leadership proved key in his campaign as it would bring out many of his former men to campaign for him. The Rifle Clubs and especially the Redshirts were filled with Confederate veterans. The Redshirts became increasingly mobile as they took to horse back just as they did during the war. Redshirt entourages would follow Hampton on his campaign across the state. Many would shout “Hurrah For Hampton!” while they rode through towns. These groups were necessary for offense and defense. In fact some Redshirts once winning over the Black vote had the duty to protect any Black democrats from Republican Blacks looking for blood. This played out during many of the parades as blacks in the crowd would even throw bricks at black democrats. Wade Hampton went out of his way to protect his Black supporters which soon grew and grew. Hampton and even Gary made sure their men knew that any Black once under their banner must be protected. Black democrats clubs were formed with oversight of ex-Vets. The campaign was going exactly as planned.
-By Richard Ewell