Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: Hamburg and Reconstruction's End

[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]
"We intend to beat the negro in the battle of life, and defeat means one thing: EXTERMINATION."

-- editorial on the 'Vicksburg riots,' Birmingham News, 1875
By 1874, the defeated Confederates had a strategy for retaking political control of the South. They called it "the Mississippi Plan":
part of the white insurgency during the Reconstruction era in the Southern United States. It was devised by the Democratic Party in that state to overthrow the Republican Party in Mississippi by means of organized threats of violence and suppression or purchase of the black vote. Democrats wanted to regain political control of the legislature and governor's office. Their success led to similar plans being adopted by white Democrats in South Carolina and other majority-black states.
The name came from a series of violent skirmishes that broke out in Vicksburg, Miss., that resulted in the deaths of several hundred freed black citizens:
In 1874 whites in the city of Vicksburg were determined to suppress black voting in that year's election. White armed patrols prevented blacks from voting and succeeded in defeating all Republican city officials in the August election. By December the emboldened party forced the black sheriff, Crosby, to flee to the state capital. Blacks who rallied to the city to aid the sheriff also had to flee in the face of superior white forces, as armed whites flooded the city. Over the next few days, armed white gangs may have murdered up to 300 blacks in the city and its vicinity, in what became known as the Vicksburg riots.
The plan quickly spread throughout the South, particularly in South Carolina, where two years later another massacre, similar to the Colfax Massacre in scale and outrageousness, occurred in the now-nonexistent town of Hamburg, just across the Savannah River from Savannah, Georgia. It began with an intentional provocation, as these things always seemed to:
On July 4, 1876, Independence Day, two white planters drove in a carriage down Hamburg's wide Market Street, where they encountered the local company of the National Guard for South Carolina, which was drilling (or parading) under command of Captain D. L. "Doc" Adams. The men in the Hamburg company were mostly freedmen. According to a late 19th-century version of the events, the militia company purposely deployed to block the street and deny passage to the white men.(Allen 1888, 314) In another, the white men in the carriage intentionally drove up against the head of the column. In any case, after an exchange of words, the white planters passed through the ranks of the black parade (Haworth 1906, 131 and Allen 1888, 314).

The planters went to the local court where, at a hearing on July 6, they charged the militia with obstruction of a public road before Trial Justice Prince Rivers. The case was continued until the afternoon of July 8. More than 100 whites from Edgefield and Aiken counties arrived at court, armed with "shotguns, revolvers, hoes, axes and pitchforks." At that time Matthew Calbraith Butler, an attorney from Edgefield, appeared as the planters' counsel. (Of the many men surnamed Butler involved in this incident, he was referred to as 'General' Butler based on his service in the Confederate Army.) Despite the lack of any official standing, M. C. Butler demanded that the Hamburg company disband and turn their guns over to him personally (Allen 1888, 314-315).

As armed white men gathered in the vicinity, the militia company refused to disarm. They took refuge in the armory in the Sibley building near the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta Railroad bridge. The white militia surrounded the building. Perhaps 25 black militia and 15 other freedmen were in the building when firing began. In the exchange of gunfire, McKie Meriwether, a local white farmer, was killed.
Location map for Hamburg in 1872
Outnumbered, running out of ammunition, and learning the whites had brought a small cannon to the city from Augusta, the militiamen in the armory slipped away into the night. James Cook, Hamburg's Town Marshal, was shot and killed in the street (Budiansky 2008 233-234).

The white militia rounded up around two dozen freedmen, some from the militia, and about 2 a.m. took them to a spot near the South Carolina Railroad and bridge. There the whites formed what was later called the "Dead Ring", and debated the fate of the black men. The whites picked out four men and, going around the ring, murdered them one at a time: Allan Attaway, David Phillips, Hampton Stephens, and Albert Myniart. Several other freedmen were wounded either in escape or in a general fusillade as the ring broke up. According to the state attorney general's report, freedman Moses Parks was also killed here (Allen 1888 316); the US Senate investigation said he had been killed earlier near Cook (Budiansky 2008 233-234). The white militia looted the town and damaged homes and businesses (Budiansky 2008 226-237, Allen 1888 314-317).
Stephen Budiansky, in The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomatox, describes what happened next:
 By about eleven o'clock the rifle club men had rounded up twenty-seven of the colored militiamen and marched them a ways down Market Street just between the last house and the South Carolina Rail Road and surrounded them with a ring of men with guns, pistols, axes, hatchets, and grubbing hoes to keep them there. They were there for some time.

Ben Tillman and his squad had been in on the shooting of [Town Marshal Jim] Cook on the street north of the Sibley Building, and two of McKie Meriweather's cousins were in his company, and they had come up and said it was a damned poor piece of work to have lost one of their best men and have only two dead Negroes to show for it. So they made their way up to the ring where the prisoners were being held. It was now two in the morning. Henry Getzen lived close enough to Hamburg to know some of the colored men, and he was accordingly given the task of designating the "meanest characters" among them.

Allan Attaway was a county commissioner and a lieutenant of the militia, and when he saw Getzen approach the ring, he called out to him. "Mr. Getzen, do what you can for me."

"God damn you, I will do what I can for you directly. I know you."

And a dozen or so of the rifle club men grabbed Attaway and marched him across the railroad tracks down to the field. "Turn around you yellow son of a bitch," a voice yelled, and then there was the sound of gunshots, and then the white men returned, without Attaway.

Then Getzen called out another man, David Phillips, and then Pompey Curry, and then Albert Myniart, and then Hampton Stephens, and each one was marched off across the railroad, and each time the sound of shooting came back across the night.

Pompey Curry managed to break away and run when his name was called and he was hit in the leg below the know and fell to the ground and pleayed dead and managed to crawl away and hide in the bushes when the men had gone back for their next prisoner. (When Curry survived to give depositions against the white men, they were furious that they had been so careless.)

And when they finished with the men Getzen had picked out, the rifle club men started arguing about what to do with the rest. One voice suggested they take them to the jail in Augusta, and another said turn them loose, and one of the Georgia men who had come over to help answered, "By God, if you do that you need never call in the assistance of Georgia any more." But one of the men who had led most of the executions, John Swearingen, Ben Tillman's brother-in-law, said they had lynched enough of them, and he said, "All you niggers hold up your right hands and swear you will never raise arms against the white man ever again and never give any evidence against them in court." And then he told them to go, and then the rifle club men fired some volleys after them, as they were fifty yards down the road, inflicting a few parting injuries.
There was a coroner's jury held afterward headed up by the African American Judge Prince, and it indicted 94 white men in the attack, including Matthew C. Butler, Ben R. Tillman, A. P. Butler, and others of the most prominent men in Aiken and Edgefield Counties, South Carolina, and Richmond County, Georgia. As we will see, not only were they never prosecuted, but some of these men became some of the most prominent national politicians from South Carolina in history.

The official report by the Attorney General of South Carolina ends with this statement:
... the facts show the demand on the militia to give up their arms was made by persons without lawful authority to enforce such demand or to receive the arms had they been surrendered; that the attack on the militia to compel a compliance with this demand was without lawful excuse or justification; and that after there had been some twenty or twenty-five prisoners captured and completely in the power of their captors, five of them were deliberately shot to death and three more severely wounded. It further appears that not content with thus satisfying their vengeance, many of the crowd added to their guilt the crime of robbery of defenceless people, and were only prevented from arson by the efforts of their own leaders. (Allen 1888, 317)
What's also undeniable is that the Hamburg Massacre was the final capstone of the violent campaign to overturn Reconstruction. Within a year the valiant attempt to enforce the verdict of the war would end.

Confederate Heritage Month:

Day 1: Strange Fruit

It Was About Slavery

That Peculiar Institution

How Poor Whites Got Suckered

 The First American War Criminals

'The River Was Dyed'  

War By Other Means

Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and the Liars Who Named Them

Crying 'Bloody Shirt' 

Massacre at Colfax

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