Red Shirts (Southern United States)

Red Shirts (Southern United States)

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were a white paramilitary group in the 19th century active primarily after formal Reconstruction. They arose in Mississippi in 1875 as Conservative rifle clubs and private militias adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Republicans, both whites and freedmen. [ [ "Red Shirts: A History", 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, Wilmington Institute for Education and Research, NC: 2005] , accessed 15 February 2008.] Groups formed in other southern states and also adopted Red Shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were supporters of Democrat Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878. The Red Shirts were one of a number of paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, that arose in the continuing insurgency of white Democrats in the South in the 1870s. Such groups acted as "the military arm of the Democratic Party." [George C. Rable, "But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction", Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132] In contrast to secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, they worked openly, were more organized and directed their efforts at political goals: namely, to restoring the Democrats to power by turning out Republicans, and repressing civil rights and voting by blacks. [Nicholas Lemann, "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War", New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux, Paperback, 2007, pp.74-80] During the 1876 campaign, the Red Shirts of North Carolina also played prominent roles.

Origins and symbolism

According to E. Merton Coulter in "The South During Reconstruction", the red shirt was first used in Mississippi in 1875 by "southern brigadiers" opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts were active in disrupting Republican rallies, intimidating and assassinating black leaders, and suppressing black voters at the polls.

The first use of a red shirt in South Carolina was in Charleston on August 25, 1876, during a torchlight parade by Democrats. They were mocking the "waving of the bloody shirt" by Senator Oliver Morton in the Senate to bolster support for Reconstruction policies of the South. The idea spread and those accused of the Hamburg Massacre wore red shirts as they marched to their arraignment in Aiken on September 5. Martin Gary, the organizer of the Democratic campaign in 1876 and Hampton's right-hand man, mandated that supporters were to wear red shirts at all rallies and functions.

Donning a red shirt became a source of pride and continued resistance for the white Democrats of South Carolina. The women wove red flannel shirts and other garments of red; it became fashionable for women to wear red ribbons in their hair or about their waists. For young men, to wear a red shirt was to come of age and compensate for their inability to contribute to the Southern cause of the Civil War.Fact|Apr 2008|date=April 2008

outh Carolina

The state Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina with many of the participants armed and on horseback and all wearing red. The use of mounted men gave the impression of greater force. African-American Red Shirts were placed in a prominent position for the procession. At gatherings, when Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond energetically, yelling the slogan of the campaign, "Hurrah for Hampton." Such an atmosphere of chants, speeches, armed men in red on horseback created a massive spectacle that united and motivated all those in attendance.

Red Shirts created a show of force to intimidate both white and black bystanders to vote for the Democrats or refrain from voting. The Red Shirts were one of a number of white paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana and other Deep South states, that arose to push Republicans out and suppress African Americans' civil rights and voting rights. They were especially active in states with African-American majorities. They broke up Republican meetings, disrupted their organizing, and intimidated or barred blacks at the polls. Many freedmen stopped voting, and a few voted for Democrats under the pressure. The Red Shirts freely used violence and assassination for intimidation, as did the rifle clubs. In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, Barnwell and others, freedmen were driven from their homes and whipped, and some leaders were murdered. When it came to the 1876 election, in Edgefield and Laurens counties, Democrats voted "early and often" and barred freedmen from the polls. [Eric Foner, "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877", New York: Harper & Row, 1988; Perennial Classics, 2002, p. 574-575]

Armed and mounted Red Shirts accompanied Hampton on a tour of the state. They often attended Republican meetings and demanded equal time, although they did not often speak. Among the more peaceful actions, in some cases, Red Shirts would hold a barbecue a mile away in order to lure Republicans away from the gatherings and convert them to vote the Democratic ticket.

Wade Hampton positioned himself as a statesman, promising support for education and offering protection from violence that the current Governor Chamberlain did not seem able to provide. Nonetheless, only a few freedmen voted for Hampton and most remained loyal to the Republicans. The 1876 campaign was the "most tumultuous in South Carolina's history." [Eric Foner,"Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877", New York: Perennial Classics, 2002, p. 572-573] "An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign." [Nicholas Lemann, "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War", New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux, Paperback, 2007, p.174]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the "Hunkidori Club" from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national compromise, President Hayes ordered the removal of Federal troops from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina. In the gubernatorial election of 1878, the Red Shirts made a nominal appearance as Wade Hampton was re-elected without opposition.

Future South Carolina Democratic politicians such as Ben Tillman and Ellison Smith, proudly claimed their association with the Red Shirts as a bona fide for white supremacy.

North Carolina

Red Shirts were active in North Carolina in Raleigh and in the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. On 4 November 1898, the "Raleigh News & Observer" noted that, "The first Red Shirt parade on horseback ever witnessed in Wilmington electrified the people today. It created enthusiasm among the whites and consternation among the Negroes. The whole town turned out to see it. It was an enthusiastic body of men. Otherwise it was quiet and orderly." [ [ "Red Shirts: A History", 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, Cornell University] , accessed 15 February 2008.]

The Red Shirts were part of a Democratic campaign following the election of 1894 to oppose the interracial coalition of Republicans and Populists which gained control of the state legislature. Such coalitions occurred in other states across the South, threatening white Democratic control of state legislatures. White populations feared the empowerment of freed slaves and poor whites, who were for the most part uneducated and easily influenced by Republicans.

To break up the coalition, white Democrats used intimidation to reduce black Republican voting and regain control of the legislature in 1896. Then they passed laws and a new constitution disfranchising most African Americans and many poor whites. [ [ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", "Constitutional Commentary", Vol.17, 2000, p. 27] , accessed 10 Mar 2008] From 1896 to 1904, black voter turnout in North Carolina was reduced to zero by a combination of provisions such as poll taxes, residency requirements, literacy tests, the grandfather clause and more complicated rules for voting. This followed a pattern of similar state actions across the South, starting with Mississippi's new constitution in 1890. After a decade of white supremacy, many people forgot about North Carolina's thriving middle-class blacks. [ [ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", "Constitutional Commentary", Vol.17, 2000, pp.12-13] , accessed 10 Mar 2008]

Contemporary Red Shirts

Some white South Carolina groups continue to use the Red Shirt as a symbol. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, one such group, gives historical remembrance as their primary concern.

The League of the South members use the Red Shirt to express neo-secessionist politics. They sometimes protest the activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitor civil rights and voting.

In 2006, a group calling itself the Red Shirts urged members to march at the South Carolina state capital to protest the NAACP and state observance of Martin Luther King Day. In addition, they protested the campaign of Republican Bob Inglis, who had run for election for another term despite earlier promises not to do so. Their website includes a statement of purpose taken from Jefferson Davis' announcement of secession in 1861.

ee also

*South Carolina gubernatorial election of 1876
*History of South Carolina
*History of the Southern United States
*Reconstruction era of the United States



*cite book | first = Edmund L. | last = Drago | title = Hurrah for Hampton!: Black Red Shirts in South Carolina during Reconstruction | year = 1998 | publisher = University of Arkansas Press | id = ISBN 1-55728-541-1
*cite book | first = Walter | last = Edgar | title = South Carolina A History | year = 1998 | publisher = University of South Carolina Press | id = ISBN 1-57003-255-6
*cite book | first = John S. | last = Reynolds | title = Reconstruction in South Carolina | year = 1969 | publisher = Negro University Press | id = ISBN 0-8371-1638-4
*William Arthur Sheppard, Some Reasons Why Red Shirts Remembered, (Greer: The Chas P. Smith Company, 1940)
*William Arthur Sheppard, Red Shirts Remembered, (Atlanta: Ruralist Press, INC, 1940)
*Francis Butler Simkins & Robert Hilliard Woody, South Carolina During Reconstruction, (Durham: The University of North Carolina Press, 1932)
*cite book | first = Alfred B. | last = Williams | title = Hampton and his Red shirts; South Carolina's deliverance in 1876 | year = 1935 | publisher = Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company
*Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", "Constitutional Commentary", 17, (2000).

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