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Wade Hampton stirred ardent crowds in campaign of 1876

Walter Edgar, author of the new and highly acclaimed "History of South Carolina," describes the reaction to Wade Hampton's 1876 campaign for the S.C. governorship as "something akin to religious ecstasy."

Wade Hampton III was from an old and prominent S.C. family. He had been a planter before the Civil War, with large cotton plantations in South Carolina and Mississippi. In the Civil War, he was made general and headed Hampton's Legion, a cavalry unit.  He was first proposed for S.C. governor by a group of York County citizens and immediately got the support of rifle clubs (infantry) and saber clubs (cavalry). At the time, the state was occupied by federal troops, and civilians were not allowed to carry arms. The clubs adopted red shirts to show their defiance of the "scalawags" and "carpetbaggers" in power in the State House.  "Scalawags" were natives who cooperated with the federal troops. "Carpetbaggers" were outsiders, mostly Northerners, of two types. One group sought personal advantage; the other were idealists who came to improve living conditions and to educate the newly liberated blacks.

That fall, across the state, red-shirted men marched in Hampton's honor and to show support against the Republicans, who, with the backing of federal troops, had ruled the state for nearly eight years.  Beginning in September, Hampton covered the state with speeches that drew huge crowds. On Oct. 11, he arrived in Lancaster, where hundreds of mounted Red Shirts greeted him and cheered his speech made from the porch of a house under construction at White and Dunlap streets.

The next day, Hampton was in Rock Hill.  Numerous Lancaster Red Shirts and the famed Lancaster Cornet Band escorted Hampton. A special train carrying 400 came down from Charlotte to cheer him. The Chester Sabre Club (neither armed nor uniformed) made the trip to Rock Hill by horseback.  Around 800 black members of the Democratic Party either marched or rode in the mile-long parade of around 2,000 people.  A stand was built on Main Street next to the Gordon Hotel for Hampton to use for his speech. The side street next to the hotel was thereafter called Hampton Street.

The next morning, Friday the 13th, Hampton arrived in Yorkville by train from Rock Hill.  Every store and shop in town was closed, and the whole population turned out. A stand, with two smaller stands on each side, had been built for the speaker on the lawn of Maj. John Hart.  One of the smaller stands was for the Lancaster Cornet Band and the second for the "Hampton Boys," a group of "handsomely uniformed" boys wearing red shirts and white pants. A second group of uniformed boys was called the "Evins Boys." They wore black pants and blue blouses trimmed with red. Their name honored Col. J.H. Evins, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives.

More support came from about 600 mounted men from the York County communities of Bethel, Bullocks Creek, Cherokee, Clay Hill, Ebenezer, Hickory Grove, Kings Mountain, McConnellsville and Yorkville.  The mounted clubs and other leaders rendezvoused with Hampton about a mile and a half east of town. Most of them were Civil War veterans; some had fought under Hampton.  All knew of Hampton's Legion and "cheer after cheer rent the air."

As in Rock Hill and Lancaster, Hampton attacked Gov. Daniel Chamberlain's record as a failure to deal with widespread corruption under the Republican government.  Hampton won the majority of votes in November, but the Radical Republicans, charging fraud, refused to vacate the State House, and for four months, there were two governments in operation.  The impasse was broken when President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the federal troops withdrawn from South Carolina. After that, there was no doubt that Wade Hampton would be governor.  He had no opposition for a second term, and it would be more than 90 years before another Republican would be elected governor of South Carolina.

--Louise Pettus

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