Tillman reacted strongly against the Republican Reconstruction government of the Palmetto State. In 1873 he supported two Edgefield lawyers and ex-Confederate generals, Martin W. Gary and Matthew C. Butler, in their plan to "redeem" the state from the Republican party, which was overwhelmingly supported by African Americans. Devised by Gary, the Edgefield Plan, as the policy became known, called for the organization of secret extralegal military societies that would force defeat of the majority African-American South Carolinians at the ballot box through the use of violence, intimidation, and fraud. Tillman became a devoted Gary protégé. From 1873 to 1876 Tillman, as a member of the Sweetwater Saber Club, carried on a small-scale war with the African-American militia, harassed and assaulted black voters, and executed African-American political figures. His violence on behalf of the white Democrats in the Hamburg and Ellenton riots in the summer of 1876 secured his prominence among the state's white political elite and proved to be the deathblow to South Carolina's Republican Reconstruction government.
Orville Vernon Burton, "Tillman, Benjamin Ryan," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00784.html.
TILLMAN, Benjamin Ryan, (brother of George Dionysius Tillman), a Senator from South Carolina; born near Trenton, Edgefield County, S.C., August 11, 1847; pursued an academic course; left school in 1864 to join the Confederate Army, but was stricken with a severe illness; engaged in agricultural pursuits; Governor of South Carolina 1890-1894; established Clemson College and Winthrop College while Governor; member of the State constitutional convention in 1895; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1894; reelected in 1901, 1907 and 1913 and served from March 4, 1895, until his death; censured by the Senate in 1902 after assaulting another Senator on the Senate floor; chairman, Committee on Revolutionary Claims (Fifty-seventh through Fifty-ninth Congresses), Committee on Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (Sixty-first and Sixty-second Congresses), Committee on Naval Affairs (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses); Tillman was known as “Pitchfork Ben” during his years in the Senate; died in Washington, D.C., July 3, 1918; interment in Ebenezer Cemetery, Trenton, S.C.
“Tillman, Benjamin Ryan,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=T000274.