History Today subscription

The Ku Klux Klan

The ‘invisible empire’ of the Klan, writes Louis C. Kleber, was the answering organization in the Southern states to the Radical regimes imposed by the victorious North.

For Americans, the Civil War and the years surrounding that epic conflict between the stages remain the most poignant, dramatic and destructive period of the Republic’s history. One of its manifestations was the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan.

Shrouded in secrecy, powerful in capability, determined to accomplish its goals, it was an organization described by Senator John Sherman, brother of General William T. Sherman, as ‘armed, disciplined oath-bound members of the Confederate Army’. As such, the Klan was the child of the Civil War and its aftermath.

The South had seen no need for the war. After all, they joined the Union as sovereign states in a voluntary association and they could leave the same way. To the North, the vital question was not slavery but the preservation of what it considered an indissoluble union.

Abraham Lincoln’s concern was secession when he addressed an appeal to the South: ‘In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.’ Then the first shell hurtled through the skies of Charleston, South Carolina, toward Fort Sumter where a Union garrison was stationed. The war was on. Many felt the issue would be resolved in a matter of weeks. Tragically, they were wrong; each side miscalculating the spirit and determination of the other. During the following four years, the South became a battleground.

Cities like Richmond and Columbia were in ruins, Georgia had been devastated by Sherman’s army and even in the rich Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, General Sheridan boasted that ‘a crow would have to carry his own rations’. Robert Somers, an Englishman, spoke of plantations where the desolation was ‘total and complete’.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.

 

X

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week