Origin of the Klan

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
If one were searching for the origin of the Klan following the Civil War, an examination of the political and social situation in Tennessee would be revealing. Unionists bitter over their treatment during the war were, quite understandably, seeking revenge against Confederates using legal and illegal means. Governor William Brownlow not only countenanced this, he openly encouraged it. Regime change by Confederates through the ballot box was not an option because the Unionist-controlled legislature had disfranchised many Confederates. Therefore, creating means of self defense was the only option, and collective action along the lines of the prewar militia was logical. But to avoid a Unionist retaliation, the organization had to be secret and its membership unknown. Younger members were attracted by conducting well-publicized medieval style tournaments where knights could demonstrate their prowess. This became a fad in adjoining states and so the klan spread there.

One problem inherent with all of this was that it is impossible to control a far flung group of men, as the Civil War had demonstrated. It was even more difficult with regard to men whose identities were obscured. Use of hoods and other means of disguise not only hindered apprehension by the authorities, but prevented Klan leaders from enforcing policy and punishing violations. Thus, when it became imperative that violence be controlled so that Democrats could win the presidency and derail congressional reconstruction, the leadership was unsuccessful and the die was cast.
 

James B White

Captain
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 4, 2011
Younger members were attracted by conducting well-publicized medieval style tournaments where knights could demonstrate their prowess. This became a fad in adjoining states and so the klan spread there.
Are you saying the Klan started the idea of the tournaments, or just sponsored some, or became the main sponsor? I'm curious about more information, because I thought the tournaments were rather benign and I didn't realize the Klan connection.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
Are you saying the Klan started the idea of the tournaments, or just sponsored some, or became the main sponsor? I'm curious about more information, because I thought the tournaments were rather benign and I didn't realize the Klan connection.

The tournaments were supposed to appear benign; that is why very few have noticed the connection. I am not suggesting that the Klan was behind all of them, but they did organize most of them in and around Tennessee. One tip off is that Forrest and other generals presided over them. The tournaments provided an excellent cover for training in cavalry tactics. And the winner got to select the fairest maiden. Irresistible to young men.
 

LoriAnn

Retired User
Joined
Oct 9, 2015
Younger members were attracted by conducting well-publicized medieval style tournaments where knights could demonstrate their prowess.
Well, this is another interesting puzzle piece in the Klan's history.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
I've never heard about these tournaments. Were they about maintaining the chivalry of the aristocracy, which didn't have much to support itself now? Were these tournaments conducted like the ones in Ivanhoe? Sir Walter Scott was very popular then.

I can't see Forrest participating in jousts or such like. These events are extremely hard on horses!
 

James B White

Captain
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 4, 2011
They were written up as just fun reenactment-like festivities.

Dec 4, 1869 Harper's Weekly had an article and illustration.

3c30130r.jpg


A MODERN TOURNAMENT.


Among the honorable exercises formerly in fashion among all persons of note in Europe who desired to gain reputation in feats of arms, from the king to the private gentleman, were tournaments, joustings, tiltings, etc. The word tournament is derived from tourner (to run around), and in those military exercises much agility, both of man and horse, was reorisite in riding round a ring, or in wheeling with rapidity and precision.

Our illustration on page 780 is a very good representation of the tournament as it now exists in some of our Southern (especially the border) States.

Let us imagine ourselves at one of these exercises. The knights are about to enter the lists, on either side of which are long lines of carriages filled with beautiful women, whose eyes beam with love and pleasure as their gallant favorites, clad in armor, enter the barriers and ride hither and thither on richly caparisoned steeds. A Queen of Love and Beauty has been chosen, with her Maids of Honor.

The knights having retired to the end of the list, are called in order by the Herald, to contend for the prize. Every knight who successfully bears away the ring is, upon returning it to the judges as an evidence of his loudly greeted by the gentry, the fair ladies on either side also expressing their approbation by the waving of handkerchiefs and clapping of hands.

The general mode of procedure at a tournament is as follows: A ring, from two to three inches in diameter, is suspended on a hook high enough to allow the riders to pass under it, each rider or knight is armed with a long spear, and in his turn tilts the ring at full speed; the speed is 100 yards in five seconds. If he carries off the ring he scores one; if he misses it, or is not up to the required speed when he takes it, he does not score.

Three tilts or courses in succession is the general number tried; the knight who takes the ring oftenest has the honor of choosing the Queen of Love and Beauty, the next best choosing the Maids of Honor. After the tilting is completed the knights are drawn up in line in front of the judges' stand, who then name the successful gallants and the honors they are entitled to. They then proceed to the ladies' stand and make choice of the Queen of Love and Beauty and her Maids of Honor; the whole cavalcade then form in procession, the beauties in a carriage, the gallant knights on horseback, and proceed to the ball-room, where is erected a throne, to which the Queen and her maids are conducted; after which the knights, under their distinguishing names—such as Knight of Orange, Knight of Columbia, etc., etc.—are presented to the Court of Love and Beauty. This concludes the ceremony, and knights and ladies fair join in the mazy dance.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
I've never heard about these tournaments. Were they about maintaining the chivalry of the aristocracy, which didn't have much to support itself now? Were these tournaments conducted like the ones in Ivanhoe? Sir Walter Scott was very popular then.

I can't see Forrest participating in jousts or such like. These events are extremely hard on horses!

Forrest did not participate in them but, like royalty, presided over the events he attended. They did not use lances or battle each other as in Ivanhoe. They used cavalry sabers to slash at watermelons, pumpkins, and other objects that resembled a head while at a full gallop. They also used the sabers to spear rings. You can find out more by going to a newspaper database and searching for the word "tournament" after 1865.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
They were written up as just fun reenactment-like festivities.

Dec 4, 1869 Harper's Weekly had an article and illustration.

3c30130r.jpg


A MODERN TOURNAMENT.


Among the honorable exercises formerly in fashion among all persons of note in Europe who desired to gain reputation in feats of arms, from the king to the private gentleman, were tournaments, joustings, tiltings, etc. The word tournament is derived from tourner (to run around), and in those military exercises much agility, both of man and horse, was reorisite in riding round a ring, or in wheeling with rapidity and precision.

Our illustration on page 780 is a very good representation of the tournament as it now exists in some of our Southern (especially the border) States.

Let us imagine ourselves at one of these exercises. The knights are about to enter the lists, on either side of which are long lines of carriages filled with beautiful women, whose eyes beam with love and pleasure as their gallant favorites, clad in armor, enter the barriers and ride hither and thither on richly caparisoned steeds. A Queen of Love and Beauty has been chosen, with her Maids of Honor.

The knights having retired to the end of the list, are called in order by the Herald, to contend for the prize. Every knight who successfully bears away the ring is, upon returning it to the judges as an evidence of his loudly greeted by the gentry, the fair ladies on either side also expressing their approbation by the waving of handkerchiefs and clapping of hands.

The general mode of procedure at a tournament is as follows: A ring, from two to three inches in diameter, is suspended on a hook high enough to allow the riders to pass under it, each rider or knight is armed with a long spear, and in his turn tilts the ring at full speed; the speed is 100 yards in five seconds. If he carries off the ring he scores one; if he misses it, or is not up to the required speed when he takes it, he does not score.

Three tilts or courses in succession is the general number tried; the knight who takes the ring oftenest has the honor of choosing the Queen of Love and Beauty, the next best choosing the Maids of Honor. After the tilting is completed the knights are drawn up in line in front of the judges' stand, who then name the successful gallants and the honors they are entitled to. They then proceed to the ladies' stand and make choice of the Queen of Love and Beauty and her Maids of Honor; the whole cavalcade then form in procession, the beauties in a carriage, the gallant knights on horseback, and proceed to the ball-room, where is erected a throne, to which the Queen and her maids are conducted; after which the knights, under their distinguishing names—such as Knight of Orange, Knight of Columbia, etc., etc.—are presented to the Court of Love and Beauty. This concludes the ceremony, and knights and ladies fair join in the mazy dance.

The drawing does not accurately depict Deep South tournaments during this period. Many other northern accounts ridiculed the South for conducting them. They did not understand their true purpose. Indeed, former Union soldiers were allowed to enter them...and sometimes allowed to win.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
Forrest did not participate in them but, like royalty, presided over the events he attended. They did not use lances or battle each other as in Ivanhoe. They used cavalry sabers to slash at watermelons, pumpkins, and other objects that resembled a head while at a full gallop. They also used the sabers to spear rings. You can find out more by going to a newspaper database and searching for the word "tournament" after 1865.

Well! This is quite intriguing. I did come across a notation of Willie Forrest being named Knight of Tennessee. Nothing else, though! No telling what that was really about but this is a new line of inquiry. Thanks! :thumbsup:
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
Well! This is quite intriguing. I did come across a notation of Willie Forrest being named Knight of Tennessee. Nothing else, though! No telling what that was really about but this is a new line of inquiry. Thanks! :thumbsup:

You are welcome!
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
The tournament craze was influenced by Sir Walter Scott's writings.

As usual, you are correct. Knights like him and others were seen by southerners as the perfect examples of what men ought to be. Their virtues were instilled in young men from elite families, and this created a mindset that led them to gallantly respond to outside threats to women and families. It was, therefore, easy for secessionists to push their buttons.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
The tournament craze was influenced by Sir Walter Scott's writings.

I didn't know about the tournaments, but I did know Sir Walter Scott had a tremendous influence on the aristocratic youth of the South, before the CW as well as after. He was the source of the 'swords-and-roses' cavalier many Southern young men conceived themselves to be. Turner Ashby, for instance, was nicknamed the Black Knight. Scott wasn't just popular in the South but all over, however his romanticism and harking back to a nobler day really struck a note in the South. In fact, Sherman was a fan. As he was walking around a plantation that had been destroyed, he noticed a book lying on the front walk and picked it up - it happened to be Sir Walter Scott's latest. Sherman hadn't read it yet so he pocketed it - the only known bit of looting he did himself!

However, I wonder about the connection with the klan. Never have seen anywhere Forrest ever attended one of these events, or how they would be useful in keeping a para-military organization in training. I'm thinking - without really having any reliable sources - that it may be many klansmen participated, not that it was a klan activity. Willie, for instance, stayed in the klan despite his father's having left it.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
I didn't know about the tournaments, but I did know Sir Walter Scott had a tremendous influence on the aristocratic youth of the South, before the CW as well as after. He was the source of the 'swords-and-roses' cavalier many Southern young men conceived themselves to be. Turner Ashby, for instance, was nicknamed the Black Knight. Scott wasn't just popular in the South but all over, however his romanticism and harking back to a nobler day really struck a note in the South. In fact, Sherman was a fan. As he was walking around a plantation that had been destroyed, he noticed a book lying on the front walk and picked it up - it happened to be Sir Walter Scott's latest. Sherman hadn't read it yet so he pocketed it - the only known bit of looting he did himself!

However, I wonder about the connection with the klan. Never have seen anywhere Forrest ever attended one of these events, or how they would be useful in keeping a para-military organization in training. I'm thinking - without really having any reliable sources - that it may be many klansmen participated, not that it was a klan activity. Willie, for instance, stayed in the klan despite his father's having left it.

While researching the reconstruction era in Alabama, I kept a close eye on Forrest's activities and noted he presided over several tournaments in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama during the period the Klan was forming and expanding. These tournaments were perfect for recruiting and training cavalry in the art of fighting from horseback.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
While researching the reconstruction era in Alabama, I kept a close eye on Forrest's activities and noted he presided over several tournaments in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama during the period the Klan was forming and expanding. These tournaments were perfect for recruiting and training cavalry in the art of fighting from horseback.

Wow, Forrest was omnipresent, then. I kind of think even he would be surprised at this news.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
While researching the reconstruction era in Alabama, I kept a close eye on Forrest's activities and noted he presided over several tournaments in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama during the period the Klan was forming and expanding. These tournaments were perfect for recruiting and training cavalry in the art of fighting from horseback.

Hmm. Well, it's never been noted in anything I've read on him. Would you mind providing a source for this? I'm really curious and can't find anything in my sources. Forrest, and most of the veterans who rode with him, were excellent at fighting from horseback - I'm not getting why the tournament fad would be helpful in that context. Thanks!
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
Hmm. Well, it's never been noted in anything I've read on him. Would you mind providing a source for this? I'm really curious and can't find anything in my sources. Forrest, and most of the veterans who rode with him, were excellent at fighting from horseback - I'm not getting why the tournament fad would be helpful in that context. Thanks!

It was not in any secondary sources until the publication of a book of essays called Weirding the War. Don't let the odd title fool you. You can also find references to Forrest and tournaments using Chronicling America and other newspaper databases beginning in 1865. Finally, you are correct that Forrest and his men were already excellent horseman. As stated above, however, the idea was to recruit younger men and drill without raising suspicions.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
It was not in any secondary sources until the publication of a book of essays called Weirding the War. Don't let the odd title fool you. You can also find references to Forrest and tournaments using Chronicling America and other newspaper databases beginning in 1865. Finally, you are correct that Forrest and his men were already excellent horseman. As stated above, however, the idea was to recruit younger men and drill without raising suspicions.[/QUOTE

See also the address given by General James Chalmers, one of Forrest's men, to young knights at a tournament published in the Memphis Public Ledger, June 8, 1868, p3, available on Chronicling America.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
It was not in any secondary sources until the publication of a book of essays called Weirding the War. Don't let the odd title fool you. You can also find references to Forrest and tournaments using Chronicling America and other newspaper databases beginning in 1865. Finally, you are correct that Forrest and his men were already excellent horseman. As stated above, however, the idea was to recruit younger men and drill without raising suspicions.

Thanks! The essay by Anderson in the Weirding book seems to be speculation but I haven't yet read it through. The newspaper I can't access - I'd sure appreciate it if you could - but the date is after the time Forrest was no longer involved in the klan. If this is so - and I need to actually read the articles - that it was after 1868, then Forrest would certainly have never presided over a tournament such as described. He was out of the klan by then and had ordered it disbanded.
 
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