Early life and career
Born in Cokesbury, South Carolina, to Dr. Thomas Reeder Gary and Mary Ann Porter, 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 and he graduated from Harvard in 1854. In 1855, he was admitted to the bar and began practicing in Edgefield.
Gary was elected in 1860 to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a secessionist and when South Carolina seceded he joined "Hampton's Legion" as a captain of the infantry. At the First Battle of Manassas, he was given control of the Legion upon the disablement of his superiors. By 1862 he had been elected lieutenant colonel of an infantry battalion in the Legion and was promoted to colonel when given control of a regiment. The Legion came under the command of General Longstreet and was active in the battles of 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. He refused to surrender with General Lee at Appomattox and instead led 200 men of his brigade to escort President Davis and his cabinet from Greensboro, North Carolina, 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 ventures. Fed up with the Radical Republican government which allowed the African-American majority in the South Carolina population to have a say in the government, he became an outspoken supporter of a straighout Democratic strategy for the gubernatorial election of 1876, with its close connections to the Ku Klux Klan intimadation and killing of African-Americans who tried to vote. As the right-hand man for Wade Hampton, he implemented a modified version of the Mississippi Plan for the election. Known as the Shotgun Policy in South Carolina, it called for the bribery or intimidation of African-American voters. However, Gary's tactics became so violent that the state Democrats had to repudiate their association with him. Also included in the Shotgun policy was the mobilization of Euro-American voters into Democratic clubs and the mandatory wearing of a red shirt.
The end of the African-American majorities influence on the politics of the state came when President Hayes ordered the removal of Federal troops on April 3, 1877, from South Carolina. Gary thus officially became a senator from Edgefield County in the South Carolina Senate and was reelected to the post in 1878. During his time in the 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 run for the governorship in 1880. Upon leaving the State House in 1881, Gary returned to Cokesbury where he died on April 9.
- Drago, Edmund L. (1998). Hurrah for Hampton!: Black Red Shirts in South Carolina during Reconstruction. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-541-1.
- Edgar, Walter (1998). South Carolina A History. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-255-6.
- Reynolds, John S. (1969). Reconstruction in South Carolina. Negro University Press. ISBN 0-8371-1638-4.
- Williams, Alfred B. (1935). Hampton and his Red shirts; South Carolina's deliverance in 1876. Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company.
- South Carolina Legislature Biography of Martin Witherspoon Gary
- South Carolina Encyclopedia Biography of Martin Witherspoon Gary
de:Martin Witherspoon Gary