Slaughter at Cainhoy, The Worst Racial Violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry During Reconstruction, Part One

Old Mr. Simmons, a decrepit man of seventy, took refuge inside the vestry, but the devils must have dragged him out, chopped him with an axe, broke, by beating, almost all his bones, and then shot him while lying on the ground. . . .

Part One of
Slaughter at Cainhoy
The Worst Racial Violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry During Reconstruction
by Gene Kizer, Jr.

During the presidential campaign of 1876, a political meeting took place at beautiful Brick Church near Cainhoy, South Carolina, Monday, October 16, 1876. It ended shortly after it started when Republican blacks savagely attacked the mostly white Democrats and shot, beat, hacked, mutilated and robbed them, killing five white men out of the group and severely wounding several others. An eyewitness, confirming the brutality of the attack, stated:

. . . Mr. Whitaker met with a worse fate, for he was brought in alive, suffering fearfully from buckshot through his stomach, and huge hacks of flesh taken out of him by an axe or hatchet. . . .

Daly (18 years old) was also left on the ground when wounded. His head was hacked in five places when found.

Poor Walter Gradick, a mere boy, had his eye gouged out, and was cruelly beaten and wounded. . . .1

All the victims had been stripped of their clothing and robbed.

The Brick Church, a/k/a White Church, north of Cainhoy in Berkeley County, S.C.
The Brick Church, a/k/a White Church, north of Cainhoy in Berkeley County, S.C.

This happened during the eighth year of Congressional Reconstruction in South Carolina, which began in 1868. Only three of the original eleven Confederate states were still occupied: South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. In the other eight, white Democrats, often with black support, had regained control of their governments.2

There was despair and hopelessness among Southern whites during much of Reconstruction, especially in South Carolina. Of 60,000 Confederate soldiers supplied by South Carolina to Southern armies in the war, 20,000 had been killed and another 20,000 maimed. The war in its totality had claimed 750,000 dead and over a million maimed. It is hard to fathom the grief and heartbreak from all that though Basil Gildersleeve, a Confederate soldier from Charleston who today is still considered the greatest American classical scholar of all time, tried in his book, The Creed of the Old South, published 27 years after the war:

A friend of mine, describing the crowd that besieged the Gare de Lyon in Paris, when the circle of fire was drawing round the city, and foreigners were hastening to escape, told me that the press was so great that he could touch in every direction those who had been crushed to death as they stood, and had not had room to fall. Not wholly unlike this was the pressure brought to bear on the Confederacy. It was only necessary to put out your hand and you touched a corpse; and that not an alien corpse, but the corpse of a brother or a friend.3

Reconstruction had begun this way for most white Southerners:

For some time now a straggling procession of emaciated, crippled men in ragged gray had been sadly making their way through the wreckage to homes that in too many instances were found to be but piles of ashes. These men had fought to exhaustion. For weeks they would be found passing wearily over the country roads and into the towns, on foot and on horseback. It was observed that 'they are so worn out that they fall down on the sidewalks and sleep.' The countryside through which  they passed presented the appearance of an utter waste, the fences gone, the fields neglected, the animals and herds driven away, and only lone chimneys marking spots where once had stood merry homes. A proud patrician lady riding between Chester and Camden in South Carolina scarcely saw a living thing, and 'nothing but tall blackened chimneys to show that any man had ever trod this road before'; and she was moved to tears at the funereal aspect of the gardens where roses were already hiding the ruins. The long thin line of gray-garbed men, staggering from weakness into towns, found them often gutted with the flames of incendiaries or soldiers. Penniless, sick at heart and in body, and humiliated by defeat, they found their families in poverty and despair.4

Blacks and whites could have adjusted to their new relationship after the war but the most unscrupulous people in all of American history, carpetbaggers and scalawags out for plunder and political advantage, did not want peace. They could not make money and hold power with peace, so they created racial hatred and division using violence and lies for their political advantage, not unlike the Marxists in America today with their "systemic racism" invention, and racial hate like Critical Race Theory, and fraud like the 1619 Project.

If it is true that history repeats itself, then the methods of control during Reconstruction and the methods of control of American Marxists today match perfectly. Of course, it's not exactly true that history repeats itself. It's the manifestations of human nature that repeat themselves over and over throughout time because human nature does not change.

So, South Carolina endured the lawlessness and corruption of an entrenched Republican Party loaded with carpetbaggers and scalawags for over eight long years. White frustration was epitomized by lawyer George Rivers Walker, son of the British consul in Charleston, who was at Cainhoy. Walker identifies a black Republican named Cyrus Gaillard as the one who kept the massacre going by telling other blacks to keep shooting the whites.5 Walker laments that taking legal action against Gaillard would be a waste of time because:

. . . first, the Republican trial justices will throw all obstacles in my way; when I say Republican I mean by it always Carolina Republican, for you know my Northern education prevents my holding any prejudices against bona fide Republicans of the North - then Bowen has complete control of the sessions, and the prosecuting officer, Buttz, is too well known for you to doubt the futility of my effort. . . .6

Walker is referring to the Republican sheriff of Charleston County, Christopher Columbus Bowen, and his protege, Solicitor C. W. Buttz.

Christopher Columbus Bowen, corrupt Republican sheriff of Charleston County during much of Reconstruction.
Christopher Columbus Bowen, corrupt Republican sheriff of Charleston County during much of Reconstruction.

Both Bowen and Buttz owed their positions solely to Republican political corruption, and Bowen maintained vice-grip control over black voters in Charleston County.

Early in the War Between the States, Bowen, a Georgia native, was in Jacksonville, Florida looting as the Confederate army pulled out.7

Later, Bowen was in the Confederate cavalry under Col. William Parker White. Bowen was court-martialed by White for forging a pass which extended a leave and enabled him to draw his pay.8 As a result, Bowen plotted to murder White. The plot was discovered and Bowen put in jail.

He was still in jail in Charleston at the end of the war but was released by federal troops entering Charleston when "former Confederate officials changed places with robbers, thieves, murderers and drunks."9

Bowen was typical of the men that raped and plundered the South during Reconstruction. In 1866, the Freedman's Bureau brought charges against Bowen for selling cotton "belonging to a freedman and instead of giving the money to the farmer, had kept it himself." He ended up in jail in Castle Pinckney for that but was eventually released.10

Bowen was charged with bigamy "twice during 1871."11 He got off the first time but was convicted the second time and went to jail. His wife pleaded with President Grant and got him a "good Republican pardon" so by July of 1871, he was again free.12

In 1872, Bowen was elected sheriff of Charleston County. Expenses had been "$20,000 a year to run the sheriff's office" in 1868. After 1872, when Bowen took over, "expenses doubled to $40,000 a year."13 Voting irregularities were also frequent with Bowen.

A respected Northern journalist was shocked by Bowen and Buttz and wrote to the News and Courier which published his statements October 15, 1874:

This candid and impartial observer tells the American people that the notorious C. C. Bowen . . . and his ally and protege C. W. Buttz, the prosecuting attorney of the country, are already at work to control the ballot boxes. . . . Never in my life as a stranger to all this sort of legal horror have I ever felt a sense of terrorization like the present.14

Bowen and Buttz were rotten to the core which is why white South Carolinians, along with thousands of blacks, had had enough of Reconstruction by 1876. Walker, who was almost murdered at Cainhoy, summed up the situation for all South Carolinians:

And now that these demons (Republicans) are rendering it unsafe for a man to go armed even through the country, Chamberlain (Republican governor) orders the whites to disarm, and calls for the United States troops to enforce his order, and at the same time arms the negro militia to murder us. My wife and all the ladies are in the greatest excitement. The negroes in our parish are most threatening, and while they outnumber us twenty to one, we are ordered to disband our organizations for defence and to disarm.15

The Mississippi Plan Adopted

Desperate South Carolina Democrats adopted a strategy that had worked in Mississippi the previous year and had as its main component the direct confrontation of corrupt Republicans at their own meetings. Gen. S. W. Ferguson of Mississippi, who had been born in South Carolina, explained to a group of Democrats at a big rally in Charleston August 25, 1876, that in Mississippi, they went to Republican meetings and when the Republicans lied, Democrats, face to face, "clinched them then and there" and "denounced the corrupt leaders" saying they were "liars and thieves."16

White Democrats were trying to discredit Republicans who were telling poor blacks that if whites get back in power, they will reestablish slavery and other such lies.

Racist Republicans also used violence and whippings on any black who did not vote Republican and on many blacks simply for being friendly to whites.

There were other methods of ostracism within the black community too, and all this added up to Republican intimidation to keep blacks voting Republican so carpetbaggers and scalawags could continue at the public trough.17 All of this is exactly like the Marxist left's "Cancel Culture" today.

Democrat whites at Republican meetings were to be courteous to blacks but not deceive or flatter or make promises, just plain talk, man to man, which they reasoned would cause blacks to respect them.

Democrats were also to form black Democrat clubs and to protect black Democrats. They were to be ready for violence but under no circumstances initiate it which would bring the Northern press down on them.18

Other parts of the Mississippi Plan included boycotts of Republican businesses and pressure on black employees of Democrats to vote Democratic, the same kind of pressure Republicans had been using for eight years.

However, at no time did Democrats threaten to whip blacks who didn't vote Democrat nor did they encourage black women to reject black men for being Democrats, nor did they ever tell blacks that Republicans would eventually turn on them and sell them back into slavery.

The Mississippi Plan was immediately put into effect. Republican meetings that Democrats attended became known as "joint meetings" with "division of time." Throughout the campaign, Democrats, black and white, went to Republican meetings and had their say.

Republicans were always invited to Democrat meetings but few came because of the difficulty of defending the party's record of corruption and public theft. Joint meetings with division of speaking time were agreed to in Charleston County by Republican leader Bowen, and his Democrat counterpart, Charles H. Simonton, Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee.19

A successful joint meeting took place at Strawberry Ferry on Thursday, August 31, 1876.20 There were approximately 300 whites in attendance and a similar number of blacks, though black voters in this area numbered over 600, to 25 whites. This was a stronghold of Bowen's. Everybody had had a good time, the discussions were lively, but things had gone well.21

This was not a good sign for Bowen and the Republicans as they "noted with growing dismay and fury the slow but steady additions to the number of negroes enrolling in Democratic clubs, for one reason of another."22 As thousands of blacks began supporting Democrats during the campaign of 1876 and even riding as red shirts, violence against them by Republican blacks increased dramatically.

This black Republican violence against black Democrats was demonstrated in a bloody riot in Charleston on Wednesday, September 6, 1876, some five weeks before Cainhoy.

That night, the Democratic Hampton and Tilden Colored Club of Ward 4 met in Archer's Hall (corner of King and George Streets). Outside, scores of armed and angry black Republicans had gathered and were threatening the black Democrats.

When the meeting was over, the black Democrats were put in the middle of the 45 or so whites, to protect them from the black Republicans, and they marched quietly up King Street toward Marion Square, called Citadel Green back then, with Republican blacks on both sides of King Street cursing and jeering at them the whole way. Journalist Alfred B. Williams writes:

The Hunkidories and Live Oaks, negro Radical Republican secret organizations, had gathered their forces and were massed, waiting, in King Street, armed with pistols, clubs and sling shots, the last made with a pound of lead attached to a twelve inch leather strap and providing a deadly weapon at close range.23

As the white and black Democrats got to St. Matthews Church "a mob of 150 negroes, armed with staves, clubs and pistols, came yelling after them, hurrahing for Hayes and Wheeler."24

The whites stopped, a black rioter ran up and "knocked the first white man he met in the head with a 'slung shot,' and the crowd immediately behind him fired a pistol into the crowd of whites, shouting that they would have the colored Democrats out even if they had to kill every man in the crowd to do it."

Whites shot over their heads to cover other whites who rushed the black Democrats to safety with the federal troops at the Citadel.25

The Citadel in 1865 on Citadel Green, today's Marion Square. It's now an Embassy Suites.
The Citadel in 1865 on Citadel Green, today's Marion Square. It's now an Embassy Suites.

With the black Democrats safe, the 45 or so whites then "retreated backwards up King Street, facing the negroes and keeping them off as well they could by returning the fire from the pistols of the mob." Suddenly, as the whites got to John Street, "the negro mob was reinforced by another multitude of blacks who swept out of John street and cut off the retreat of the whites." This mob was yelling "blood!"26

It became a hand to hand fight. Some policemen arrived but were "powerless to restrain the infuriated mob."

After 25 or so of the whites were beaten senseless, it looked like it might stop then it started back. Pistols "were going off every moment, and amid the firing Policeman Green fell shot through the abdomen, and Mr. J. M. Buckner, white, was shot through the abdomen."27

Finally, police reinforcements arrived and separated whites and blacks but when a detail left with the wounded "the fighting immediately began again." Soon blacks had complete control of King Street and the riot lasted until midnight. It had raged a mile along King Street from Cannon Street to Wentworth28 and the whole time whites had had to "stay in their homes with shivering and terror stricken families because any white man venturing on the street alone invited death uselessly."29

A reporter had observed "a mob of negroes chasing a white man, who had hardly a vestige of clothing upon his person, and covered with blood from a dozen wounds." He "was knocked down several times with brickbats or clubs, and several pistol shots were fired at him." He was rescued by a policeman and taken home "in an almost lifeless condition."30

Final casualties total one white man dead, over 50 beaten severely. No black Republicans had been killed and only a handful had been injured.31 The white man who died, Buckner, had been part of the escort protecting the black Democrats. He had a wife and child at home.

Whoever planned the ambush had their timing thrown off when the whites stopped to face the first mob. If the whites had gone just a block further up King Street, or their formation had fallen apart, or they had broken and run, there was no way they would have been able to get the black Democrats to safety at the Citadel. Since the black Democrats were the object of the mob, they certainly would have been murdered along with several whites who were determined to protect them.

There were no more night riots in downtown Charleston during Reconstruction because whites perfected their communications network and could put hundreds of armed men in the saddle quickly. The day after the riot a thousand white members of the Butler Guards and Charleston Light Dragoons patrolled the streets from sun down to sun up for the next three months, in force, and there was no more trouble at night.32

Charleston Light Dragoon, 1888 sketch by Edward Laight Wells.
Charleston Light Dragoon, 1888 sketch by Edward Laight Wells.
Charleston Light Dragoons, 1895 picture.

Five weeks later, with the election fast approaching, Democrats got careless and walked into another ambush, this time at Cainhoy, 12 miles up the Wando River from Charleston.

Next week, September 30, 2021, Part Two, Conclusion, of Slaughter at Cainhoy, The Worst Racial Violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry During Reconstruction.


1 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876, front page.

2 Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 186.

3 Basil L. Gildersleeve, The Creed of the Old South, 1865-1915 (Bibliolife Network; reprint, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915), 26-27.

4 Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era, The Revolution after Lincoln (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1929), 45.

5 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876, front page.

6 Ibid.

7 Robert Douglas Mellard, Christopher Columbus Bowen: A Scalawag Discovers Opportunity in the New World of Reconstruction Politics, Master Thesis, University of Charleston and The Citadel, 1994, 15.

8 Ibid, 6.

9 Ibid, 16.

10 Ibid, 22.

11 Ibid, 67.

12 Ibid, 70.

13 Ibid, 88-91.

14 The News and Courier, October 15, 1874, as cited in Robert Douglas Mellard, Christopher Columbus Bowen: A Scalawag Discovers Opportunity in the New World of Reconstruction Politics, Master thesis, University of Charleston and The Citadel, 1994, 97.

15 "The Cainhoy Slaughter," News and Courier, Tuesday, October 24, 1876.

16 "To Live and Die in Dixie," News and Courier, August 26, 1876, front page.

17 David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina, A Short History, 1520-1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1951), 572.

18 Bowers, The Tragic Era, 513-14; "To Live and Die in Dixie," News and Courier, August 26, 1876.

19 Melinda Meek Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy," South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2 (April, 1985), 107.

20 "'No Intimidation'," News and Courier, September 1, 1876.

21 Ibid.

22 Alfred B. Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, South Carolina's Deliverance in 1876 (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, Publishers, 1935), 37-41.

23 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 121.

24 "A Bloody Outbreak," News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 "A Night of Excitement," News and Courier, Friday, September 8, 1876.

29 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 122.

30 "A Bloody Outbreak," News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876.

31 Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction," 106.

32 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 126-27.

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  1. I am a descendant of Wade Bowen, Sr., a soldier in the American Civil War. This article corroborates the accounts that have been passed down through the family. Thank you for the information.

  2. I am a descendant of Wade Bowen, Sr., a Union soldier in the American Civil War. This story corroborates the accounts that have been handed through the family. Thank you for further clarity on these American experiences.

  3. I was born and raised in the South Carolina upcountry. In my youth I detected a sense of shame surrounding the state. Now I proudly stand because truth is revealed.

    • Pamela,

      Thanks so much for writing!

      I have a lot of articles on my blog that you will love. I will forward the
      email of my last blog article to you, a review of Anne Wilson Smith’s book,
      Charlottesville Untold, Inside Unite the Right. Scroll down and you’ll see a
      list of every article on the blog and links to them.

      Many are accounts by our ancestors of battles during which they were always
      outnumbered and outgunned but won victories by guts and brilliant tactics.

      Hope you enjoy my blog! Please write anytime.


      Gene Kizer, Jr.
      Charleston Athenaeum Press

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