It was after the Hamburg massacre (July 8th), that paramilitary clubs around South Carolina really began to form and mobilize en masse. They saw how dangerous the situation was becoming (especially with blacks controlling the national guard and with the backing of the carpet bag Governor Chamberlain behind them). Life was deadly and hostile for White paramilitary clubs. The Klan had been exiled from the state as outlaws for trying to fight off the carpet bag controlled state only a few years before. This played into the reason many paramilitary groups went under the claim of being “Rifle Clubs” or Baseball teams which actually doubled as fighting squads. Blacks were very hostile to Whites in South Carolina especially after they were riled up by the usurping Union Leagues that came from the North. Sherman had promised them “40 acres and a mule”, and they now demanded it be given to them – and taken from the Whites if necessary.
Black strikes had also broken out in the rice fields of Coastal South Carolina, which soon led to some starving and loss of crops, furthering the suffering of the state (keep in mind a national depression was already taking place). Blacks soon decided to boycott Whites employers and in return Whites fired black radicals. In modern days, Blacks during Reconstruction are described as harmless victims of White brutality. However, in reality both sides were actively involved in violence and threats. The Northern press (just like today) portrayed the Blacks as being terrorized by semi barbaric and backwards “Secesh”. This all plays into why — especially after Hamburg — that paramilitaries became wide spread in the Palmetto State with it even being estimated that 20,000 men were involved in “rifle clubs”.
While Wade Hampton became the figure head of the Anti-Reconstruction forces in South Carolina, many others actually played the role in the defending of their state. The redemption of Carolina was only accomplished through a coalition of more moderate conservatives like Hampton and more radical men like General Martin W. Gary.
“A large element of white men, represented most prominently by General Martin W. Gary, of Edgefield, who ridiculed and rejected the possibility of impressing any negro though his reason, his conscience or his feelings. They were for the ‘Mississippi plan’ to its uttermost- ruthless use of the strong hand.” (Hampton and His Redshirts 68)
Men like General Gary became involved with what became known as the “Straight Outs Movement”, and formed the backbone of the paramilitary units formed around the state. These were men of action and fighting. They embraced an aggressive policy of seizing and repressing the Black vote with whatever means necessary.
Many of the paramilitary units became known as “The Redshirts” this was because of their distinctive Redshirts. According to the writer of “Hampton and His Redshirts” The Redshirts were adopted in South Carolina first appeared in Charleston in August 25 and the idea spread from there.
“At Aiken September 5 was a great torchlight procession in honor of the Edgefield and Aiken men who appeared to face trial for their parts of the Hamburg battle. More than a thousand mounted men, all carrying torches – and other things – formed the escort. A.P. Butler, one of the defendants, commanded a company wearing homespun shirts colored with red paint. This was the grimly derisive answer of the “Butchers of Hamburg” to Senator Morton’s bloody shirt speeches and the Republican reliance on the bloody shirt as a preeminent political weapon.” ( 114-115)
When reading this section from “Hampton and His Redshirts” I couldn’t help but be reminded of Charlottesville. Our people marched through the streets with torch lights and then were subjected to vicious slander and ridicule from the hostile, “controlled” press. The same press who still waves the bloody shirt…just remember how they have made manufactured “heroes” from the dung heap (like DeAndre Harris and Heather Heyers). Heyers and Harris were actively involved in violent mobs trying to attack Whites only to be taught a fitting lesson. In both situations, the press claimed our side as blood thirsty butchers hellbent on harming the innocent Blacks. The Redshirts united behind their men who fought at Hamburg instead of turning on each other over “muh optics”. There is a lesson to be learnt from the Redshirts and Hampton. That lesson is Southern unity even when there is minor disagreements. Take men like Hampton and General Kershaw who believed Blacks could be reached yet they still worked with men like Gary. They realized that the ultimate goal was to throw off the shackles of carpet bag/negro rule. They understood that in any conflict loyalty is everything. Imagine the outcome of this if the South Carolinians would have started virtue signaling each other as too violent or extreme? That would have been utterly preposterous…just as it is today. Loyalty is something White people need to remember. When your fellow brother is in the streets fighting Antifa or BLM, you don’t disavow or trash them just because you might disagree with the tactics or optics. This would make as much sense as General Longstreet trashing his own troops before they made their galant charge at Gettysburg because he believed the charge was a mistake on Lee’s part. The Redshirts were born out of a backlash to Reconstruction and managed to save South Carolina in a time after the state had faced total destruction. Why not learn from their brave example?
-By Richard Ewell