Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Martin Witherspoon Gary, born March 25, 1831

Martin Witherspoon Gary was born in Cokesbury, South Carolina, the third son of Dr. Thomas Reeder Gary and Mary Ann Porter.
Gary Birthplace and Childhood Home, 
Cokesbury, South Carolina

He received his primary education at Cokesbury Academy before enrolling at  South Carolina College in 1850. However, his participation in the Great Biscuit Rebellion in 1852 resulted in his withdrawal from the state college. He graduated from Harvard in 1854. 

He was 30 years old when the Civil War began.

Edgefield, South Carolina
In 1855, he was admitted to the bar and began practicing in Edgefield, South Carolina.

Gary was elected in 1860 to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a secessionist. 

When South Carolina seceded, he joined The Hampton Legion as a captain of infantry. At the First Battle of Manassas, he was given control of the Legion.
First Battle of Manassas
By 1862 he was promoted to colonel and given control of a regiment. The Legion came under the command of General Longstreet and was active in the Virginia through mid-1863, before being transferred to help the Army of Tennessee  in the latter part of the year. 

Rejoining the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864, Gary was made a brigadier general of a cavalry brigade in the Legion. 

Under Gary's orders, his company took no black Union soldiers as prisoners, but summarily executed them instead.

He refused to surrender with General Lee at Appomattox.  He led 200 men of his brigade to escort President  Davis and his cabinet to his mother's house in Cokesbury, where he ended his service as a Confederate soldier.

After the war, Gary resumed his law practice in Edgefield and pursued a number of other business ventures. He lived at Oakley Park Plantation outside of Edgefield.

Fed up with the Republican government which allowed the African-American majority in the South Carolina population to have a say in the government, he became an outspoken racist, saying on one occasion "that the negro shall not become a part of the body politic, or from any qualification either as to education or property, be allowed to vote in this country."

In the summer of 1876, Matthew Calbraith Butler wrote to his former commander, Wade Hampton, urging him to seek the governorship in the upcoming election. Butler omitted the details of the violent campaign planned by Gary and others, and Hampton accepted. 
Wade Hampton III

It soon became apparent that Hampton did not support Gary's campaign plan: it was known in South Carolina as the "Edgefield Plan" due to Gary's leadership in its design and implementation. It called for the bribery or intimidation of African-American voters by local Democratic "rifle clubs" or "Red Shirts" formed ostensibly to attend campaign events and to insure order at polling places. Soon Red Shirt tactics became so violent that the state Democrats repudiated their association with Gary. After the election it was clear that Gary's tactics had helped Hampton to win, but it was also apparent that Hampton had won the trust of many black voters by his own actions.

The efforts of Gary's Red Shirts were successful in Edgefield and Laurens Counties, where Hampton received more votes than there were adult males. The election returns from these two counties were challenged and the outcome was critical to the decision of whether Democratic candidate Wade Hampton or the incumbent Republican Governor Daniel Chamberlain would serve the next term as governor. Hampton's victory came as the result of a deal between Democratic leaders and the national Republican Party. 

In April 1877, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes received the hitherto contested votes of South Carolina electors and was finally declared the winner of the contested United States presidential race. In return, he then ordered the removal of federal troops from South Carolina, ending the military occupation that had supported Republican rule.

Senator Gary
Gary then became a state senator from Edgefield County; he was reelected in 1878.  During his time in the State Senate, he became a vocal opponent of Governor Hampton because Hampton blocked his appointment to a U.S. Senate seat in 1877 and 1879.  In addition, Hampton and his allies prevented Gary's candidacy in the gubernatorial election of 1880. 

Upon leaving the South Carolina Senate in 1881, Gary returned to his family home in Cokesbury, where he died from uraemia at 2 o'clock in the morning of April 9, at the age of 50.  He was buried in Tabernacle Cemetery.
Gary's Grave
In 1941, John Gary Evans, a nephew of Gary, presented Oakely Park to the Edgefield Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  They operated it as a "Red Shirt Shrine".

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