Reconstruction in South Carolina

Mrs. Thomas Taylor.
Columbia, S. C.

(Read before Wade Hampton Chapter, on the eighty-first anniversary of General Hampton’s birth.)

Late in the sixties, Captain Taylor and I, finding ourselves possessed of our plantation, and “nothing else besides,” seeing that our living was dependent upon what his agricultural skill might bring out of the earth, it was settled that we should take with us a young relative and make a home on the plantation.

Captain Taylor had begun a new hospital for the place just before leaving for Virginia campaigns with General Hampton, upon whose staff he was serving in 1863.

An industrious little pony was much occupied in Columbia turning machinery which dragged various houses on log rollers from point to point in the city. The pony was brought to our plantation and trundled the hospital edifice from the quarters into the watermelon patch, away from the Negro settlement. This building was divided into four small rooms, and replaced a statelier home, of which I had been deprived. In it, however, were my silver, some glass, engravings from old masters, wool mattresses, a Fraser miniature of my father, a piano, and infinite treasures of a life. All of these were burnt in 1873, and this increased our struggle and made me gladly accept the then generous offer of the Vestry of Trinity Church to give me a pew, with the right therewith included of interment in the churchyard, and a salary, if I would sing in the choir, where I had given service for twelve years.

Mr. Taylor put a plank enclosure upon the running gear of the carriage, which had run back and forth over the State, while Sherman was visiting us, and afterwards, bringing people home; across the railing was an odd remnant from a cariole, and upon this equipage I made my entree to Columbia thrice weekly, sheltered by an umbrella and waterproof, and gave singing lessons. The worth of the law, “do today what your hands find to do,” was exemplified; for Captain Taylor’s great heart and ready hand had gone out to many in the days when he could do for others, and it came back to us, ennobling poverty.

By 1876 our people were ready to begin public struggles for State life. The Patrons of Husbandry had brought country communities into organizations as agriculturists. The sub-granges contained the element which turned into Democratic clubs. Captain Taylor was the first State Master of the Patrons, and I the first lady officer, and continued to be for four years. Eagerly my mind assimilated political hopes and possibilities spoken by men, so that when the campaign of ’76 opened I was ready to acquiesce in the proposal that “Captain Taylor, being popular with our Negroes,” with other candidates, might, by hook or by crook, get elected to the Legislature; and so he engaged in the game, which, though he lost the election, was a part of the whole, resulting in the Wallace House and recovery of the State government by the inauguration of Governor Wade Hampton.

A witty young Negro journalist gave a pen picture of the meeting below our plantation: “Col. A. C. Haskell, laboring with a retarding impediment of speech; Col. Wm. Wallace, with a dignity that looked as though he thought supremacy belonged to him; Captain Taylor, who grabbed the back of a chair, and silently looked and solemnly announced, T have always been the Negro’s friend, and you all know it,’ was interrupted by joyous cries, ‘Dat’s so, Marse Tom; you’s got de right of it; dat’s true.’ Mr. Rhett rolled his eyes and twirled his thumbs, and said not a word worth a cent.” Well, the candidates were not rewarded for their labor by election, yet Federal bayonets and Negro dominance were, in the end, abrogated.

One day it was said that one hundred men were listed for arrest, and that Chamberlain had called for United States troops to reinforce and put down sedition. This was no constitutional call by the Legislature, and there was no insurrection. That night Captain Taylor came in from the campaign at 12 o’clock, swallowed some coffee, and sank on a bed. I, standing still, listened to a queer, unusual thud sound, regular and dull, then a stop, then resumed, till at the corner of a third street I suddenly realized the tread of infantry. “Mr. Taylor, that is soldiery, and those arrests, I believe, are to be made; get up and go.” “I am going to sleep,” was the submissive answer. I was by the window, and a sudden indifference came to the gleam of arms as the troops stood at the corner of Blanding and Bull. They began to march on Bull Street and, reaching the corner, right under my eye, and I in full view, the order rang out: “Halt; ground arms.” The guns bumped down on the ground, and I said, “Mr. Taylor, they have stopped here; what shall I do?” “Hallo; hurray for Hampton!” he replied. But I am not given to bravado, and bridled my tongue. The troops had arrived at the Charlotte depot, and were on guard against ambuscade, it was said; therefore, they stopped at the street corners to peer around before marching on to glory.

The campaign had been a great strain upon the women. I had come in to Columbia, and rarely saw Captain Taylor. There were threats and approaches to riots, and only discretion could have saved the results of bravery and tenacity.

C. O. Marshall had been a young soldier, and was gifted with intensity in narration that fixed his stories on a listener’s memory. He described to me the scene at Crane Creek, when division of time was refused by the Republicans. A. C. Haskell headed a cavalry column which marched in twos, between some chicken coops, where arms were stored, and the Negroes (who, he had been told, were to get them) jamming the mouth of his charger against the platform. “Move your column, Colonel Haskell,” ordered the master of ceremonies; “you endanger the crowd.” “Mr. Marshall will speak,” replied Colonel Haskell, imperturbable as a granite statue. (Mr. Marshall, tableau! with folded arms and set teeth, awaiting the stoppage of hisses and hoots.) “Move your horse, Colonel Haskell,” shouted the chairman; “he disturbs the people.” Mr. Marshall says Colonel Haskell fixed his eye (the other had been lost in battle) upon the chairman and replied, “My horse will obey me; he will not move one muscle, sir.” “Your horses will become unruly.” “No, sir; my men are born horsemen. Here we are, and here we shall stay. Divide time. Go on, Mr. Marshall.” And Mr. Marshall did go on, and the Negroes did not go on to those chicken coops.

This Mr. Marshall is the same who was sent by the Wallace House to a room with Myers, one of the two Negroes who had been gained over from the Chamberlain House, to make the majority over the other assembly in possession of the State House, upon which attainment hung the recognition of Hampton at Washington. Myers had made a speech, and C. O. Marshall was deputed to write it out. As Myers dictated, Marshall would say, “Oh, yes; I remember, you said so and thus.” The speech was made (whether by Myers or Marshall), and being read by one to the other, was accepted by the originator with the remark, “That’s fine; I didn’t know that was such a fine speech when I was speaking’ it.”

In the weeks which preceded the march through the streets of Columbia from the State House to the Fair Grounds, in 1876, which was the winding up, there was a man whose nerve, conduct, and singular discretion during that time suggests the dignity and severity with which a great trust was discharged in the days when the Persian king had given permission to the Prophet Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The seductive wiles of enemies, Sanballat and others, inviting him to come and parley on the plain, were answered by the Jewish prophet from the walls which he was resetting to insure the safety of the Jewish people, “I am doing a great work; I cannot come down.” The political protections of South Carolina were being rebuilt, but besides these political walls, there were other heights upon which our State sat, and upon that moral elevation our representative was immovable. He answered “Sanballat” Denny and “Sanballat” Settle, “I will not come down,” when they proffered a trade of Federal election vote for State government.

Gen. Bradley T. Johnson writes (and is recorded in the Richmond State of December 4, 1876), to General Hampton, in 1893:

“Judges Denny and Settle, who represented the Republican National Committee, proposed to you, in the presence of Gordon and myself, that if you would say to the crowd that came to your head-quarters every night that you believed Hayes had carried the State, then the State government should be turned over to you. You promptly replied that Gordon and Johnson should go over the returns with an expert, Denny and Settle being along and that you would announce the result as certified by all of us. To this Settle replied, laughing, ‘Oh, we have had our game with that pack, and have thrown them away.’ You then said, T will not make such a declaration to be President of the United States.’ That day was a stirring day in Columbia.
Yours truly,
“Bradley T. Johnson.”

General Gordon writes: “I remained in Columbia at the request of the National Democratic Committee, and of South Carolina Democrats. I know of my own knowledge that you positively refused to entertain for an instant any suggestion upon arrangement looking to sacrificing Mr. Tilden’s right or claim to the vote of South Carolina.”

It was not only the allurement of profit and position which was declined by this South Carolinian of 1876; but it was also the lurid challenge of a flaming home and the stern call of death. His family, including three young children, were swept by fire into unsheltered exposure. He did not come home to see that shoes were on the little feet, or a roof over the children’s heads. Carolinians’ hearts welled up to him in love and gratitude then, and the women of the commonwealth, as his sisters of a common mother, took care of them till the strain was over.

The last meeting of the campaign was to be in Columbia, the day previous being appointed for Orangeburg.

I was giving a music lesson at Miss Elmore’s school. Miss Martin’s head appeared above the plank fence, and she called me to the window. She told me that Wade Hampton Haskell was lying in Trinity Church, awaiting interment, having been brought down from Walhalla; that there was no arrangement for music, and she knew that the boy’s mother would grieve should the child be laid away without it. I got my hat and joined Miss Martin, and we walked to Trinity by lamplight. I looked at the back of the organ when we reached the church and found one piece of candle two inches long. We agreed she should play an air she knew without notes, and I should have the candle. We selected a hymn to suit the air, and she remarked, “Suppose that hymn should not be given out?” I replied, “Never mind; you play it, and I will sing it as a solo.” In the dusky light, a figure walked up the aisle with others, the grandfather for whom the dead boy was named. He did not remain until the mound was made up. An engine had been put on the track to bring him to Columbia to this funeral, but that engine could not occupy the track except for a limited time without interfering with trains, and Governor Hampton was to speak the next day in Orangeburg. He returned.

I give some incidents of that period that it may be understood what were the dangers and anxieties besetting our men making them cautious about their families in the latter days of the campaign.

Capt. W. D. Starling gives me the following:

“While leading about fifty Democrats, under Colonel Haskell, in the campaign of 1876, arrived at Macedonia Church under our gallant leader, A. C. Haskell, we found, agreeable to our expectations, the county Republicans had erected a stand, formed a guard there-about, composed of mounted blacks, reinforced by carpetbaggers and scalawags. Their leaders were the Comptroller-General and Secretary of State. Their intentions were to hold a political meeting. They were bountifully supplied with ammunition State property at that time in their possession.

“Colonel Haskell informed them that we had come to interfere with their plans, and after a while an agreement was perfected. We were to divide time an equal number of speakers on each side, with a time limit. All went smoothly until the Negro Republicans found that there was a Negro speaker on our program. This they objected to, refused to allow it, and threatened his life if he persisted in speaking. I reported the matter to Colonel Haskell; but he remained firm, refusing to alter our program, except to put the Negro first, instead of last, as he had intended. The Negroes clamored for blood. A line of fight (to use African parlance) was formed by the whites; but when the Negroes began to form, one old darkey a noisy, boastful fellow, too stood up in his stirrups and addressed his leader thus, ‘Daniels, no use to hurry dis line of fight; de white folks will ‘just (adjust) dis matter.’ Then the Comptroller-General made it known that he agreed with this Negro speaker, and added that he felt sure he would not escape with his life if a fight took place. A well-known German among the Democrats assured him that he was not apprehensive without cause, as he had ‘shust pigged him oud himself.’ Order was restored, the meeting proceeded, and the Democrats carried their point.”

The political campaign had set in and it continued vigorously. When the end neared, it came like an inspiration that women might serve a purpose, that a show of confidence would be made by their moving about as though already owning the country, and might have a subduing effect upon the public. It was a superb stimulant and a profound sedative which poised us when the Democratic Chairman, Mr. A. C. Haskell, accepted our offer. “You have relieved a difficulty,” he said; “I was thinking how we could manage about the streets.” Mrs. Douglass Plummer and I went to Democratic head-quarters to counsel with Colonel Haskell. “All that I can say to you, ladies, is, remember that the least mistake or indiscretion may precipitate conflict, and blood will flow.” We surely felt that we assumed a terrible commission and, setting aside all but the stupendous purpose to be served, women worked through in wisdom, and with gratitude that they were helpful in a wonderful peril.

A meeting was called through the press. Carolina Hall, behind the present Law Range, was packed with women, whose faces lit with passion, and still purpose gave the surety that no country was annihilated with that woman’s soul left into which God had breathed patriotic life. To my eternal honor I shall feel it that this body of patriots called me to preside over it. Plans were sketched in the second meeting, and merchants gave us their conveyances; young and old got materials together. Soon we concluded we could safely leave the retired hall in which we were working up garlands, and present ourselves upon the Main Street, in a large store. Here our stifled sentiments peeped out in sarcastic mottoes. Our suppressed daring glinted into printed signs. Our keen scorn cut its way into accusation by derisive pictures. That good citizen, Eugene Cramer, of the opera house, declared there was “one honest Yankee,” and to his wit and art we owe the caricature of Hell Hole Swamp, forty acres and a mule. This big picture was hung alongside of a store a wretched, half-drowned brute struggling out of Hell Hole Swamp, the lands bought by a lot of government swindlers for nothing and sold to the government for fortunes for their infamous gang.

The South Carolina College was in the possession of the Negroes. The State House was occupied by the adverse party Negroes, scalawags and carpetbaggers. One of our committees began work just at the edge of our beloved State House grounds, then under Federal guard. Great square pillars were covered with gray moss, to simulate granite. This design we called “the gates of the city.” We raised there the State flag; delay occurred in getting up the United States flag, as the evening was closing in. Some United States soldiers were looking on at the corner, and our workmen had left the spot. I looked at these men and said, “That is your flag; do you mind getting up that ladder and placing it where I tell you?” “Why, we will be glad to serve you,” one man said, and three moved up to the pillar. I said, “Now, you put it where I tell you not above that Palmetto.” They laughed, and obeyed, and said some very pleasant things about the Southern ladies.

One committee planned and prepared to array thirty-two little girls to represent the Counties, who should ride on a fireman’s truck through the streets to the Fair Grounds, where the speaking was to be. In this committee I had to urge that the plan be relinquished, for reasons suggested by Colonel Haskell. When I presented them, Miss Mary McKenzie and her disappointed friends abandoned the plan.

Days later we had attained so much firmness by the supposed impression made on the public by our seizure of the situation that the gentlemen conceded that we might have the children on the truck.

Another set of ladies proposed it to me; I interviewed those who had given it up, and they generously gave consent. Miss Matilda Ehrlich, Mrs. Edward Ehrlich and Mrs. Plummer and others carried out the plan effectively, and as the first little girl was lifted off the truck to the platform and stepped up to General Hampton, presenting her bouquet, she was taken up and kissed by him, the other children all on the platform.

Mr. Julian Selby told me that as the truck with the thirty-two little silver winged girls was about entering the gate the Negroes, women and men, threatened and insulted them, and a soldier (from Edgefield) cried: “Have we got to take this?” “Keep the peace,” was the General’s order, and he obeyed.

A child on horseback had been roughly handled near the State House, but that was a boy, and the marshal of the day had righted it and nothing worse than invective bitterness was exhibited by the Negroes.

When the campaign was closing all about were men equipped for camp. Several camps were in the environments of Columbia one at the Fair Grounds, and the cavalry horses were the “stock on exhibition for the Fair.” Days before the final parade, passing along the streets men would be seen lounging on the pavement, strapped and canteened, as with sore hearts we remembered to have seen them in ’60 to ’65. Scarcely breathing the words, we would ask: “Have you eaten? If not, go to such a point, all is ready for you.” There was more mystery than when we were getting our men to the front of the Yankees. There was adverse strength right in our midst we knew it and were feeling our way. When the women transferred their garland shop to the Main Street, young Negroes would peer in the windows and jeer, not speaking to, but at our children as they passed in and out. “Look at the Rebs” and they would sing their songs. We charged the boys and girls going out from the workshop to neither look at or speak to them. The last day approached. My experience the evening before is one to itself. Five of the ladies suddenly determined after lamplight to walk up the street together, and seem at ease, and look at the effect of our plan of decoration. We started at the Gates of the City, and passed under the State arch at the corner (but we never got to the United States arch), for we felt, rather than heard behind us tramp, tramp, increasing, and then a voice began to chant: “John Brown’s bones lie mouldering in the clay,” and others joined in, till a chorus of 20 or more Negro youths, not violent but steady, were almost touching us. I completely lost my sense of identity and the five women caught hands and swung along as one crossed the street, followed still, until we reached on our return Fisher’s drug store, into which we plunged with the feeling that a weird spell had been broken. We got some of our gentlemen to see us to our homes and felt safer when daylight came.

Our forces, Negro convicts and red-shirts, marched next day through the streets, and under our emblematic arches, with Bayard of Delaware and Gordon of Georgia, who had come to see us win; and win we did, by the masterful reticence, the glorious power held by the spirit of one man over the spirits of our other men, who would have taken that State House with their finger nails, being without weapons, if only Hampton had said the word. When they asked for orders, expecting again and again at certain points in the progress of affairs that he would release their energies into action, he held them still; like a giant in thongs. The words never changed. “General, what shall we do?” “Keep the peace.” A giant loosed does not feel the gash of a sword a giant bound feels the prick of a pin.

I have always been pleased to think (with a race pride) that Chamberlain was not a coward. He rode down from the Arsenal Hill in his coupe, alone; and our red shirts and clubs being massed for a block in front of the State House, he bent forward, looked out and spoke to his Negro driver, who turned out of Main Street at Muller’s corner, where I viewed him from the gallery; and he got to the State House by the back street.

Still, we were not in possession. I was at my sister’s on Taylor Street when a great boom startled us. At the gate three young Negro women faced me. One exclaimed, “What’s that for?” Another answered, “Just some of those damned white Democrats’ foolishness.” I ran over to Dr. Lyles’ bareheaded (and I see now a big pile of sweet potatoes on the hearth in the room into which I burst) with the inquiry of the meaning of the noise. A number of young men were collected there for dinner. Another rushed in, gasping, “Hampton is acknowledged. The Wallace House is the government. News from Washington.”

I did not know a man of those who stood in the room, but hands were wrung, and as I left the house I saw them swinging around and around in a circle like children going round the rosemary bush, hysterically saying words “fondly.”

And this was the way it was begun to get the State home again.

A long while after this paper was written I turned over some States, rolled and labeled “Hayes and Hampton, “which caught my eye, and I found this letter of General Johnson’s, written in 1893.

It gives with a man’s vigorous style what I have set forth in a womanly way.

“The morning the Rifle Clubs were ordered to Columbia you had only to raise your hand and Ruger’s garrison would have been swept off the face of the earth. But you held them back, and I know no more remarkable illustration of moral force than your control and their obedience honorable to both. You had only to say, ‘There they are take them!’ and the firing on Sumter would have been repeated. I remember the great meeting before the Democratic headquarters at Columbia, the day it was attempted to pack the State House with roughs. I remember how the wires were hot that night with orders to the clubs to report at once, and how by 9 a. m. we had 2,500 old soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia on the spot, and by sundown there were 5,000 of them and then they were all brought up before the headquarters, and your speech was to this effect:

“I am glad to see you all here, come to see the State Fair. There is very good stock out there and I hope you will all go to see it, and be very particular to behave in an orderly and quiet manner. I want you all to remember that I have been elected Governor of South Carolina, and by the God above, I intend to be Governor! Go home and rely on that. I’ll send for you whenever I want you.’

“That speech, and the yell that responded to it, made you Governor, and no huckstering for advantages, no trading for benefits, was part or cause of your success. Let South Carolina and South Carolinians remember until the last syllable of recorded time that manliness and courage bore her through the ordeal of 1876, ten thousand times more trying than Cornwallis’ or Tarleton’s raids, or Sherman’s dragonnade. No man or woman or child will ever blush for the means by which the redemption of South Carolina was achieved, but will always say, with crest erect and face to heaven, ‘My blood was there; my people took part in that heroic achievement.”

With these words we close the record of how Wade Hampton won!

South Carolina Women in the Confederacy. Edited and Published By Mrs. Thomas Taylor, Chairman, Mrs. Smythe, Mrs. August Kohn, Miss Poppenheim, Miss Martha B. Washington, State Committee Daughters of the Confederacy. Columbia, South Carolina, The State Company, 1903.

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