Twice under brutal enemy occupation the inhabitants of York County, South Carolina armed themselves and retaliated as any free people would. According to the postwar congressional testimony of Generals Hood and Gordon, the Ku Klux Klan existed in response to the Republican party’s Union League which alienated the freedmen from their white neighbors for party purposes. They stated that if the Republicans ended the Union League, the Klan would vanish.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Employing Underground Methods of Protection
“After the fall of Charleston, all of South Carolina came under the control of the British save York County. Cornwallis sent Captain Huck to destroy the William Hull Iron Works . . . north of Yorkville. The patriots of York banded together to meet Captain Huck and valiantly defeated his far superior forces at Brattonsville, ten miles south of Yorkville.
This same Scotch-Irish determination brought York into international prominence during the Reconstruction period following the Confederate War. Occupation by Negro militia and Federal infantry and cavalry became an intolerable situation. Ku Klux Klan activities reached their zenith in York which was the first in the State to organize a clan in 1868. Washington [DC] declared York in a state of rebellion, and Federal troops occupied it for ten years after the war.
International attention was focused on York during the affair of Dr. Rufus J. Bratton, a York County planter, who had escaped to London, Ontario, after a particular Klan episode. He was discovered there by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, hired by the United States Government, and brought back forcibly to York to stand trial. When [British] Prime Minister Gladstone learned of the abduction, he corresponded with the President of the United States requesting the doctor’s return. The two countries were at the time negotiating over the ship Alabama, and the somewhat “troubled waters” between the two countries had overtones for the Bratton affair.
Later, President Grant allowed Dr. Bratton to return to York peaceably. These incidents prompted Thomas Dixon to write the famous book, The Clansman, on which the motion picture production, The Birth of a Nation was based. Dr. Cameron was the prototype of Dr. Cameron in the book.
The first Bratton’s had won fame as Revolutionary War officers. The Confederate Bratton’s won world fame during the Reconstruction period. As head surgeon of the Confederate hospitals at Milledgeville and Richmond, [Dr. Bratton] knew the price paid by the South. It was more than he and the other men in York could bear to submit to the arrogant insults of the Negro troops and U.S. Militia stationed in York after the war.
Feeling forsaken by the government these men felt pressed to employ underground methods to protect themselves and their property in what to them became an intolerable situation. Like the Regulators of old, they took it upon themselves through the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, to re-establish a safe environment for their families.”
(Plantation Heritage in Upcountry, South Carolina, Kenneth and Blanche Marsh, Biltmore Press, 1965, excerpts: pp. 40-52)