My Dad told me the following story about him and about my family’s past association with the Klan, yes the Ku Klux Klan. It all began on the hot, dusty, smoke covered battlefield of Chickamauga, where our Southern, Army of Tennessee, routed the Union forces, driving them out of Georgia, back across the Tennessee River and into Chattanooga.
In early 1862, my Great Grandfather, Brinson Murrill Bryan, had been in Sumpter County, Alabama, visiting relatives when he enlisted in the 40th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was a sharpshooter and was attached to and later permanently assigned to the 10th Texas Cavalry Regiment (Dismounted), and finished the war with them.
During the opening morning of the battle of Chickamauga, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, became separated from his cavalry division and assumed command of Ectors’ Brigade (Texas), the 10th Texas Cavalry, Brinson’s unit, being part of this Brigade. They held a key bridge over a creek and prevented Union reinforcements from reaching the main breach in the Union lines. The tenacity and courage of the Texans excited Forrest, who later said, “When the Texans charged at Chickamauga, it excited my admiration.”
One year later, during Gen. Hood’s disastrous retreat from Nashville, Forrest was assigned to command the rear guard. His choice of troops for this grinding, week long battle was a Texas Cavalry Brigade and two Texas regiments of dismounted cavalry, the10th being one. The Texans won each battle and skirmish and was even recognized by Union Gen. Thomas, who said, “Hood’s Army on the retreat from Tennessee was a bunch of disorganized rabble. But the rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last.”
After the war ended, the South was in chaos, Reconstruction was beginning and noticeably absent was law and order. Influential Southern leaders, Forrest being one, joined together and formed a protective association that grew into the Ku Klux Klan.
Brinson, who had “Rode With Forrest”, returned to Alabama to marry, and, if Bedford Forrest was a founder, that was all Brinson needed, and he joined this new association and for a time was an active member. My Dad told me that my Grandfather, Peyton Bryan, had also been a member.
When my Dad was 19, he joined the Klan in Falls County, Texas, and his first assignment was to take part in a Klan rally and march in a parade through the town of Marlin. My Dad put on his sheet and joined in the rally and parade. After the parade was over, the Klansmen removed their hoods and sheets and retired to the local saloon.
Soon the Sheriff entered the saloon and said, “There was no parade permit issued so I’m arresting everyone who took part in it! Everybody line up against the wall!” My Dad, being smart, said, “Sheriff, I have been standing at this bar during the parade, drinking this cold glass of butter milk and I’m not guilty of anything.”
Grabbing him by the arm, the Sheriff escorted him bodily to the wall and said to him, “Johnny, my boy, your boots are dusty. They didn’t get that way from standing at the bar! You’re under arrest!”
After spending the night in the Falls County Jail, the “paraders” were released and my Dad resigned from the Klan. He didn’t even get to finish his cold, butter milk.