American Civil War for Kids - Reconstruction, Birth of the Ku Klux Klan
As ex-Rebel soldiers returned home after the Civil War was over, they found things had changed. Life was not as they had remembered or expected. It was not the culture they had fought to protect and maintain. The Confederacy had lost the war. But many ex-Confederate soldiers did not understand what that actually meant until they reached home. In 1865, many Southern towns and cities and villages were in ruins. In some areas, nothing was left of homes or crops, except the occasional remains of a chimney. All they could see was the dark remains of ashes. The appearance of the South was a shock.
Even more shocking to these returning ex-Confederate veterans was the news that the Republican controlled Congress had placed the South under military control. Many government officials recently elected to office were carpetbaggers and scalawags, nicknames Southerners gave the men they perceived as greedy whites from the North, who arrived in the South to steal what resources they had left. The government raised taxes, but Southerners had no money to pay them. Banks were closed. Commerce was non-existent. Nearly all private and most public funds were gone. When people could not pay taxes, their property was taken. As well, thanks to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ex-slaves were now finally able to vote, and were struggling to claim their rights. About 97% of freed slaves could not read and had never been in a store. They knew nothing about money. Yet, some found themselves elected to the state legislature, which was controlled by white carpetbaggers and scalawags. Returning veterans realized the South they came back to was not the South they had left. They had lost control of their government and their culture.
Some returning ex-Confederate veterans (former Rebel soldiers) tried to regain some measure of control by forming secret societies. There were many such societies formed, such as the Pale Faces, the Sons of Midnight, and the Ku Klux Klan (also known as the KKK and the Klan.) These societies gained power through fear. The Klansmen, members of the most vengeful and violent society, the KKK, wore white robes and hoods over their heads when they paid midnight visits to frightened people. This disguised their individual identity, but gave unity to their purpose. A group of Klansmen was a terrifying sight. The Klan and other secret societies tortured and killed many innocent people. Members of these secret societies became violent criminals, full of hate and rage.
These societies did have a goal. The goal was to terrorize carpetbaggers, scalawags, and African-Americans so that life in the South would go back to the way things were before the Civil War. These men did not seem to realize their goal was impossible to achieve. The prewar society in the South could never return. Things had changed, forever.