According to journalist and historian Alfred B Williams, the revolution in South Carolina in 1876 is without equal in history in terms of how quickly and completely power shifted hands from one group to another. Williams writes on pages 149-151 of his book Hampton and His Red Shirts: South Carolina’s Deliverance in 1876 (written in 1925 and published in book form in 1935) about how the Union Army-backed Republican Party fell into disarray while Southern Democrats rallied behind Wade Hampton and his paramilitary Red Shirt supporters. US President and former Union General Ulysses S Grant reportedly remarked of Republican chances in the Palmetto State, ‘It was safe until the Democrats nominated Hampton. Now they’ll carry it.’ As Williams notes, it was not simply the remarkable person of Hampton which changed history and the campaign in the summer of 1876, it was also the unity of the State’s White Southern population (joined by a small number of Black Democrats who braved ostracisation and violence from their own community), forged through war, military occupation and years of abuse:
Those who try to understand the 1876 campaign must keep in mind that what has been told of it happened in less than two months of action, following nearly ten years of endurance of wrongs, miseries, humiliations and dangers ever increasing despite patient efforts to secure alleviation by submission, persuasion and pleas for peace. The Hamburg fight was July 8. The Charleston riots were September 6. Definite movement began at Columbia, August 15, when the state Democratic convention met. So far as history tells, there never has been another revolution which created itself from gloomy chaos and developed potent, active organization and clear purpose within fifty days. Remembering the comparatively limited means of communication fifty years ago, even those of us who lived in that time must be astounded as we realize the swiftness with which the upheaval developed.
The first week of August the Radical Republican party, by all the facts and figures, was in power securely and permanently. It was disturbed only by internal struggles between its elements intent on new excesses of plunder and outrage, led by Elliot, black thief, Patterson, white thief, and Whittemore, twice expelled by Republican Congresses as “a person of infamous character”; and those trying for some decency and check of the rapid drift toward barbarism, represented by [SC Reconstruction Governor Daniel Henry] Chamberlain, Tom Hamilton, the black warrior of Beaufort, and a very few others. Probabilities all favored victory for the Elliot and Patterson crowd. They had the huge mass of negroes from Columbia down solidly with them. Hamilton was too honest and outspoken to have influence with his own people. The 289,000 whites were apparently hopelessly divided – one part apathetic in disgusted despair, another clinging to elusive hope of some kind of compromise with the saner and cleaner Republicans, a third dreaming vaguely of a desperate, apparently impossible fight for deliverance.
The first week in September the situation was reversed. The whites were magnificently united, fiercely aggressive, together in one enormous cavalry charge, 289,000 strong and all over the state’s thirty thousand square miles – a charge which continued seven months and never swerved nor halted nor faltered until the very real and horrible and dangerous enemy had been crushed, scattered in shame, annihilated. The Radicals already were demoralized, frightened, abandoning the remorselessly vindictive, openly thievish leaders they had been following, fleeing to Chamberlain as their one hope. If history has another change so rapid and complete, where is it?
Also see: Nominating Wade Hampton & closing ranks; Wade Hampton & Reconstruction; South Carolina prior to the revolution of 1876; The Battle of Hamburg;‘Reconstruction’ tyranny in South Carolina; ‘The Prostrate State’ under Union occupation and Wade Hampton & natural elites of traditional society