The Clinton Riot

Four Days of Terror

Many events and people that helped shape our state have significant ties to the city. One such event was the Clinton Riot of 1875, whose violence served as a pretext for the return of white rule and the end of Reconstruction in Mississippi.

Also known as the “Moss Hill Riot,” the September 4, 1875, The Clinton Riot began as a Republican political celebration with a parade, speakers, and barbecue. The rally, organized by state senator Charles Caldwell, was attended by more than 1,500 black and 75 white citizens. The celebration ended in chaos.

Charles Caldwell’s Riot Testimony

Caldwell described the violent white men who appeared at the rally:

A policeman said this man Thompson has drawn a pistol on one of the colored men who was marching in the procession, using certain opprobrious epithets. I remarked, my young friend, for God’s sake don’t disturb the meeting.

I soon saw that the feeling was so strong and so determined that I called upon some of the other white men to assist me in preserving the peace. No one responded. I saw Neil Wharton and Thompson (white) draw their pistols, and I slipped up to Neil telling him that that would not do. I did the same with Thompson, and they put their weapons back in their pockets. In a few minutes they had drawn them again; then the shooting began.

I saw Thompson shoot the first shot that was fired, pouring some four or five shots into the crowd of which he had formed a part. At this time the firing had become general. The colored people soon concentrated at this point, when the white lines dispersed, the firing ceased.

The Riot’s Aftermath

The casualties at the scene were approximately two white men killed, four wounded; two black men killed, five wounded. There followed, in and around Clinton, four days of unbridled, systematic slaughter of African Americans and white radical leaders, the total murdered coming to somewhere between 35 and 50. This was accomplished by about 200 local “citizen soldiers” reinforced by a train load of expertly trained and fully armed men, known as Modocs, sent from Vicksburg at the request of Clinton’s mayor.

Christopher Caldwell escaped to the capital, but the Modocs visited his wife at their Clinton home, vowing to kill him “if it is two years or one year or six; no difference, we are going to kill him anyhow. We have orders to kill him, and we are going to do it, because he belongs to the Republican party and sticks up for these negroes.”

Caldwell would not survive 1875, as he was murdered on Christmas Day at Chilton’s store in present day Olde Towne.