In the first few days of 1876 everyone was looking in anxiety to the coming Election Day. The US Empire was perhaps on the brink of another Civil War depending on how things played in the Presidential Race. In South Carolina they might as well already be in a Civil War. Wade Hampton and his Redshirts had spent the last couple of months campaigning throughout the Palmetto State. It was a bitter and bloody campaign that was soon coming to an end.
Hampton’s last campaign speech took place on November 6, at Gadsden, to a rowdy audience of Blacks. The Election Day was on the next day of the 7th. Election Day was one of violence and intimidation on both sides. In Charleston the Black deputy marshals gave out drinks to Democrat converts to get their votes for carpet bag Chamberlain. The Republican police wouldn’t hesitate to scare Democrats into voting for Chamberlain as well. The White Democrats did whatever was necessary to carry the day using false ballots and minors to gain more votes. They also used intimidation to try to cut out the Black bloc vote.
“The Democrats cheated and intimidated and bribed and bulldozed and repeated where they could and the Republicans did like wise. It was war and revolution, a battle for life, and force and cunning were applied and the law was disregarded by both sides. Hundreds of men from Georgia and North Carolina came over the lines to “help Hampton” by voting time and again at the South Carolina polls.”
(Hampton and his Redshirts page 308)
This was truly the blossoming of Southern Nationalism which had developed before the war by the Fire Eaters and now blossomed under the hardships of Reconstruction. The White South had gained a unified identity as a people which transcended state lines. No longer would the South be held back by “honor” that had restrained the South during the War for Southern Independence. The South would embrace what ever means necessary to retake their states and reinstate the natural order. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
As Voting Day went along, more and more fraud happened throughout the state. Black women and children were “voting” for Chamberlain in many areas. The Redshirts were out and about on horse back trying to repress the massive Black vote and save South Carolina from further Black Domination. The Redshirts got in various fights with Blacks at the polls. They were doing their manly duty to save South Carolina. Soon the Day was over and the ballots were being counted. When the following day came it appeared Hampton had won the election with 1,100 votes. Blacks in Charleston soon rioted and began attacking Whites in the city after hearing the results on the 8th. The riot got so bad that federal troops and the rifle clubs joined forces to put down the rioting blood thirsty Blacks. Chamberlain and his corrupt cronies denied the results and hypocritically blamed the results on intimidation. This would create a state of limbo for the Governorship as both parties would claim victory. The rotten Republicans did their own recount declaring himself the winner and demanding his second term. He declared martial law on November 28th and put the State Houseunder direct occupation with Federal troops. This created rightful outage even in the North who saw this as an unDemocratic power grab on the part of Chamberlain. In the State House more temper and conflict broke out between theparties when the Republicans refuse to seat the Democrats who had been elected to the House. Two days later the Democrats returned to the State House demanding to be seated but were thrown out by threats of the Republicans. It became clear that this conflict for the Governorship of South Carolina wouldn’t be ending soon.
The last major event in the Redshirt takeover happened when the Black Republicans in the House began planning to use their paramilitary club from Charleston to crush the newly elected Democrats. This conspiracy was discovered and met with a force of 5,000+ Redshirts and White rifle clubs members. The Redshirts were ready to march on Columbia and slaughter the degenerate Black Republicans if they continued to plot violence against Democrat representatives. The Republican forces soon backed off from their vile scheme to harm the Democrat Representatives. The Democrats left the following day to prevent bloodshed and civil war. The Redshirts and Rifle Clubs however still stayed in the Capitol and roamed the streets ready for battle. The claim for the Governorship soon went back and forth in the courts and legal system and it wasn’t until April that Hampton was officially made Governor of South Carolina. This sealed the fate of the experiment of reconstruction and Negro rule in the South. Reconstruction fell apart after the elections of 1876. The South made a deal with Rutherford B. Hayes in which he became President and pulled out the federal troops out of the South. In South Carolina, Negro rule would be crushed and natural order finally restored. Hampton would serve out his term as Governor of the state and go on to become the State’s US Senator. General Gary became a state Senator in 1876 and many other ex Confederates took power. In the coming years the Color Line would be reinforced and made official law thus maintaining White racial integrity. South Carolina and the whole of Dixie had been redeemed. For the next half of a century the color line in the South would remain safely in place.
-By Richard Ewell