[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]
Officially, the Civil War is considered to have ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. However, the truth is that it really only ceased being a war of battlefields and armies, and in short order shifted into another phase -- one of war waged by terrorist violence.
That war -- call it the War of Reconstruction -- was won decisively by the South.
Lee's was only the largest of the Confederacy's scattered armies, and it was several more weeks, and at least one more battle (Palmito Ranch), before the rest of the armies joined in the surrender and the fighting ceased. Even then, the bloodshed was slow to stop, as marauders and other violence-prone remnants of the war committed random acts of murder and robbery around the countryside.
But it was the Ku Klux Klan -- whose name, ostensibly, was an adaptation of the Greek word Kuklos, for "circle," suggesting a closed family by adding "clan" -- that came to represent the new war that Southerners intended to wage, now that their "gallant" army had failed to defend the institutions of slavery and white supremacism, as promised. It was a war by other means -- assassination, lynching, targeted violence, mass terrorism -- and it proved to be very effective indeed.
An important precursor of the Klan was the antebellum slave patrols that began in the 1700s and continued up to the opening of the Civil War itself. Every able-bodied male under the age of 45 was liable to serve in these patrols, and they played a significant role in shaping the mindset of poor, non-slave-holding whites against black slaves.
Slave patrols began in South Carolina in 1704 and spread throughout the colonies and lasted well beyond the American Revolution. As the population of black slaves boomed, especially with the invention of the cotton gin, so did the fear of slave resistance and uprisings. Its development began when other means of slave control failed to instill slave control and obedience. ...The Klan picked right up, after the war, where these slave patrols (which remained in place up through the war, until near its very end) had left off. Via Infoplease:
Slave owners feared slave gatherings would allow them to trade or steal goods and the potential for a rebellion. South Carolina and Virginia selected patrols from state militias. Slave patrols were often equipped with guns and whips and would exert brutal and racially motivated control.
The original Ku Klux Klan was organized by ex-Confederate elements to oppose the Reconstruction policies of the radical Republican Congress and to maintain "white supremacy." After the Civil War, when local government in the South was weak or nonexistent and there were fears of black outrages and even of an insurrection, informal vigilante organizations or armed patrols were formed in almost all communities. These were linked together in societies, such as the Men of Justice, the Pale Faces, the Constitutional Union Guards, the White Brotherhood, and the Order of the White Rose. The Ku Klux Klan was the best known of these, and in time it absorbed many of the smaller organizations.It's worth noting that while the devotees of this original incarnation of the Klan wore masks of varying kinds while committing their various atrocities, they never wore the peaked caps and white robes or deployed the flaming crosses that became the icons of their later mythology. That was all the product of a movie, much later on.
carpetbaggers and scalawags.
A general organization of the local Klans was effected in Apr., 1867, at Nashville, Tenn. Gen. N. B. Forrest, the famous Confederate cavalry leader, was made Grand Wizard of the Empire and was assisted by ten Genii. Each state constituted a Realm under a Grand Dragon with eight Hydras as a staff; several counties formed a Dominion controlled by a Grand Titan and six Furies; a county was a Province ruled by a Grand Giant and four Night Hawks; the local Den was governed by a Grand Cyclops with two Night Hawks as aides. The individual members were called Ghouls.
Control over local Dens was not as complete as this organization would seem to indicate, and reckless and even lawless local leaders sometimes committed acts that the leaders could not countenance. General Forrest, in Jan., 1869, seemingly under some apprehension as to the use of its power, ordered the disbandment of the Klan and resigned as Grand Wizard. Local organizations continued, some of them for many years.
However, there is no question it became a real political power in the South in very short time:
By 1870, the Ku Klux Klan had branches in nearly every southern state. Even at its height, the Klan did not boast a well-organized structure or clear leadership. Local Klan members–often wearing masks and dressed in the organization’s signature long white robes and hoods–usually carried out their attacks at night, acting on their own but in support of the common goals of defeating Radical Reconstruction and restoring white supremacy in the South. Klan activity flourished particularly in the regions of the South where blacks were a minority or a small majority of the population, and was relatively limited in others. Among the most notorious zones of Klan activity was South Carolina, where in January 1871 500 masked men attacked the Union county jail and lynched eight black prisoners.Mostly, the Klan became renowned for its frightening violence:
The policies of Reconstruction -- aiming to extend the rights of Southern blacks -- had the unintended effect of pushing hundreds of resentful and anxious veterans into the Klan, which soon began instituting a systematic policy of violence in opposition to the new social order. Former slaves were the obvious target of this terrorism, but the Klan also harassed, intimidated and even killed Northern teachers, judges, politicians and "carpetbaggers" of all ilk. By late 1867, the movement had spread throughout the small towns of the South, though it did not take hold in urban areas, perhaps because at that time the cities were not suffering the economic hardships of rural regions. Klansmen began waging guerilla warfare against what they perceived as a corrupt system depriving them of rights. This feeling of grievance, which began during the time of the first Klan, would characterize Klan sensibility and ideology throughout the 20th century.
The KKK night riders "sometimes claimed to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers so, as they claimed, to frighten superstitious blacks. Few freedmen took such nonsense seriously."In the end, the Klan's own propensity for violence became its undoing, and the loose collection of local organizations fell apart after Forrest disavowed them and the Congress began passing legislation to counter them.
The Klan attacked black members of the Loyal Leagues and intimidated southern Republicans and Freedmen's Bureau workers. When they killed black political leaders, they also took heads of families, along with the leaders of churches and community groups, because these people had many roles in society. Agents of the Freedmen's Bureau reported weekly assaults and murders of blacks.
"Armed guerrilla warfare killed thousands of Negroes; political riots were staged; their causes or occasions were always obscure, their results always certain: ten to one hundred times as many Negroes were killed as whites." Masked men shot into houses and burned them, sometimes with the occupants still inside. They drove successful black farmers off their land. "Generally, it can be reported that in North and South Carolina, in 18 months ending in June 1867, there were 197 murders and 548 cases of aggravated assault."Klan violence worked to suppress black voting, and campaign seasons were deadly. More than 2,000 persons were killed, wounded and otherwise injured in Louisiana within a few weeks prior to the Presidential election of November 1868. Although St. Landry Parish had a registered Republican majority of 1,071, after the murders, no Republicans voted in the fall elections. White Democrats cast the full vote of the parish for President Grant's opponent. The KKK killed and wounded more than 200 black Republicans, hunting and chasing them through the woods. Thirteen captives were taken from jail and shot; a half-buried pile of 25 bodies was found in the woods. The KKK made people vote Democratic and gave them certificates of the fact. By 1869, internal strife led Klansmen to fight against Klansmen as competing factions struggled for control. The Klan's increasing reputation for violence led the more prominent citizens to drop out and criminals and the dispossessed began to fill the ranks. Local chapters proved difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and direct. In disgust, Forrest officially disbanded the organization and the vast majority of local groups followed his lead. Some number of local units continued to operate but were eventually disbanded or sent into hiding by federal troops.
National sentiment gathered to crack down on the Klan, even though some Democrats at the national level questioned whether the Klan really existed, or believed that it was a creation of nervous Southern Republican governors. Many southern states began to pass anti-Klan legislation.Everyone thought that was that. But in reality, the violent vigilantes of the South were just getting started.
In January 1871, Pennsylvania Republican Senator John Scott convened a Congressional committee which took testimony from 52 witnesses about Klan atrocities. They accumulated 12 volumes of horrifying testimony. In February, former Union General and Congressman Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Ku Klux Klan Act). This added to the enmity that southern white Democrats bore toward him. While the bill was being considered, further violence in the South swung support for its passage. The Governor of South Carolina appealed for federal troops to assist his efforts in keeping control of the state. A riot and massacre in a Meridian, Mississippi, courthouse were reported, from which a black state representative escaped only by taking to the woods.
The 1871 Civil Rights Act allowed President Ulysses S. Grant to suspend habeas corpus. In 1871, Grant signed Butler's legislation. The Ku Klux Klan Act was used by the Federal government, together with the Enforcement Act of 1870, to enforce the civil rights provisions for individuals under the constitution. Under the 1871 Klan Act, after the Klan refused to voluntarily dissolve, Grant issued a suspension of Habeas Corpus, and stationed Federal troops in nine South Carolina counties. The Klansmen were apprehended and prosecuted in federal court. Judges Hugh Lennox Bond and George S. Bryan presided over the trial of KKK members in Columbia, South Carolina during December 1871. The defendants were sentenced to five years to three months incarceration with fines. More African Americans served on juries in Federal court than were selected for local or state juries, so they had a chance to participate in the process. In the crackdown, hundreds of Klan members were fined or imprisoned.
Confederate Heritage Month:
Day 1: Strange Fruit
It Was About Slavery
That Peculiar Institution
How Poor Whites Got Suckered
The First American War Criminals
'The River Was Dyed'