Forrest and the Ku Klux Klan

Forrest and the remnants of his cavalry surrendered to Union troops in May 1865, a few weeks after General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870; see entry) and the main Confederate Army surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. After the war, Forrest expressed a deep desire to put the conflict behind him and return to his business interests. "I did all in my power to break up the government but I found it a useless undertaking and I now resolve to stand by the government as earnestly and honestly as I fought it. I'm also aware that I am at this moment regarded in large communities of the North with abhorrence [hatred] as a detestable monster, ruthless and swift to take life."

After obtaining a pardon (official forgiveness) from President AndrewJohnson (1808-1875; see entry) for his wartime activities, Forrest resumed his life as a businessman. As time passed, though, he became very angry about federal Reconstruction policies that gave blacks increased economic and political rights in the South. (Reconstruction refers to the period in American history immediately after the Civil War, when the Southern states were readmitted into the Union.)

Forrest and some other white Southerners who were angry about Reconstruction policies subsequently formed the Ku Klux Klan. This organization of ex-Confederates quickly became known for its white supremacist philosophy and its willingness to use violence against blacks and people who helped them. Forrest was reportedly one of the Klan's early leaders, but some historians contend that he eventually withdrew from the organization because of its heavy use of violence and intimidation. In the 1870s, Forrest's business ventures in farming, insurance, and railroads failed. By the time of his death from illness on October 29, 1877, the former cavalry leader was deeply in debt.

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