Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Thomas Brown


This paper argues that historians should reexamine the motivations of rifle clubs during Reconstruction by looking closely at what events the clubs held and the actual men who made up the organizations. The clubs from Columbia, South Carolina were more social and political organizations than otherwise given credit. Most of the men who joined the rifle clubs tended to be men who were too young to have fought in the Civil War and not bitter veterans trying to "redeem" the state. The clubs began years before the violent "Red Shirt" campaign of 1876-77, and were more focused on organizing balls and parades than attempting to intimidate black voters.

General claims of a monolithic goal to "redeem" the South from Northern and Black rule underestimates the diversity of opinions between each club. The paper concludes by arguing that events outside from Columbia pushed the local rifle clubs to become the militant wing of the Democratic Party. There was a serious debate amongst Democrats in South Carolina between cooperating with moderate Republicans who would be sympathetic to white Southerners, or going for "straight-out" Democratic ticket. Martin Witherspoon Gary and his Mississippi Plan used violence in what has became known as the Hamburg Massacre to rally the Democratic Party under the straight-out cause. Although always a potential possibility, the use of rifle clubs as organizations to intimidate black voters was not an inevitable outcome.

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