Knights of the Golden Circle
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|Knights of the Golden Circle|
An alleged secret history of the Knights of the Golden Circle published in 1863
|Purpose/focus||U.S. annexation of the Golden circle|
|Headquarters||Cincinnati, Ohio, United States|
|Leader||George W. L. Bickley|
The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was a secret society. The original objective of the KGC was to annex a golden circle of territories in Mexico (which would be divided into 25 states), Central America, northern South America, and Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean for inclusion in the southern United States. As anti-slavery agitation increased after the Dred Scott Decision was issued, the members proposed a separate Confederate States of America, with US states south of the Mason-Dixon line to secede and form the golden circle. In either case, the goal was to increase the power of the Southern slave-holding upper class to such a degree that it could never be dislodged.
During the American Civil War, some Southern sympathizers in the Northern states such as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, were accused of belonging to the Knights of the Golden Circle, and in some cases they were imprisoned for their activities.
George W. L. Bickley, a Virginia-born doctor, editor, and "adventurer" who lived in Cincinnati, founded the association. Records of the K.G.C. convention held in 1860 state that the organization “originated at Lexington, Kentucky, on the fourth day of July 1854, by five gentlemen who came together on a call made by Gen. George Bickley….” He organized the first castle, or local branch, in Cincinnati in 1854. Hounded by creditors, he left Cincinnati in the late 1850s and traveled through the East and South, promoting an expedition to Mexico. Following the Mexican-American War of 1846, the group's original goal was to provide a force to colonize the northern part of Mexico and the West Indies. This would extend pro-slavery interests.
Civil War and demise
In the Southwest
The South’s secession and the outbreak of the Civil War prompted a shift in the group's plans for Mexico to support of the new Confederate government. On February 15, 1861, Ben McCulloch, Texas Ranger, began marching toward the Federal arsenal at San Antonio, Texas, with a cavalry force of about 550 men, about 150 of whom were Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) from six castles. As volunteers continued to join McCulloch the following day, the U.S. Army Gen. David E. Twiggs decided to surrender the arsenal peacefully to the secessionists.
KGC members also figured prominently among those who, in 1861, joined Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor in his temporarily successful takeover of southern New Mexico Territory. In May 1861, members of the KGC and Confederate Rangers attacked a building which housed a pro-Union newspaper, the Alamo Express, owned by J. P. Newcomb, and burned it down. Other KGC members followed Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley on the 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which sought to bring the New Mexico Territory into the Confederate fold. Both Baylor and Trevanion Teel, Sibley's captain of artillery, had been among the KGC members who rode with Ben McCulloch.
In the North
In early 1862, Radical Republicans in the Senate, aided by Secretary of State William H. Seward, suggested that former president Franklin Pierce, who was greatly critical of the Lincoln administration's war policies, was an active member of the Knights of the Golden Circle. In an angry letter to Seward, Pierce denied that he knew anything about the KGC, and demanded that his letter be made public. California Senator Milton Latham subsequently did so when he entered the entire Pierce-Seward correspondence into the Congressional Globe.
Appealing to the Confederacy's friends in the North and in the border states, the Order spread to Kentucky as well as the southern parts of such Union states as Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. It became strongest among Copperheads, some of whom felt that the Civil War was a mistake. Some supported slavery and others were worried about the power of the federal government. In the summer of 1863, Congress authorized a military draft, which the administration soon put into operation. Loyalist Leaders of the Democratic Party opposed to Abraham Lincoln's administration denounced the draft and other wartime measures, such as the arrest of seditious persons and the president's temporary suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, scam artists in south-central Pennsylvania sold Pennsylvania Dutch farmers $1 paper tickets purported to be from the Knights of the Golden Circle. Along with a series of secret hand gestures, these tickets were supposed to protect the horses and other possessions of ticket holders from seizure by invading Confederate soldiers. When Jubal Early's infantry division passed through York County, Pennsylvania, they took what they needed anyway. They often paid with Confederate currency or with drafts on the Confederate government. The Cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart also reported the alleged KGC tickets when documenting the campaign.
That same year, Asbury Harpending and California members of the Knights of the Golden Circle in San Francisco outfitted the schooner J. M. Chapman as a Confederate privateer in San Francisco Bay, with the object of raiding commerce on the Pacific Coast and capturing gold shipments to the East Coast. Their attempt was detected and they were seized on the night of their intended departure.
In late 1863, the KGC reorganized as the Order of American Knights. In 1864, it became the Order of the Sons of Liberty, with the Ohio politician Clement L. Vallandigham, most prominent of the Copperheads, as its supreme commander. In most areas only a minority of its membership was radical enough to discourage enlistments, resist the draft, and shield deserters. The KGC held numerous peace meetings. A few agitators, some of them encouraged by Southern money, talked of a revolt in the Old Northwest, with the goal of ending the war.
According to a few fringe historians, after the Civil War, the KGC went underground and became a secret society. They claim that the KGC's new mission was to support a second, former confederate, uprising against the U.S. Federal Government. Furthermore, it has been alleged[by whom?] that the James-Younger Gang was the principal source of funds for a second U.S. Civil War that never occurred. There is no solid evidence for these suppositions.
- Confederados (some)
- Buckner Stith Morris
- Lambdin P. Milligan
- John Wilkes Booth
- Jesse James
- Sam Houston
Represented in other media
The Night of The Iron Tyrants (1990–1991), written by the novelist Mark Ellis, and drawn by Darryl Banks, was a four-part comic book miniseries based on The Wild Wild West TV series. It featured the Knights of the Golden Circle in an assassination plot against President Ulysses S. Grant and the president of Brazil during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.
In the 2011 novel, "Queen of the Northern Mines,"  the Knights of the Golden Circle are portrayed as conspirators plotting to seize a gold shipment from Nevada County, California, on its way to San Francisco.
The Knights of the Golden circle were a key part of Brad Meltzer's novel, The Fifth Assassin.
History channel episode of "America Unearthed", the KGC was talked about, and their potential involvement with President Lincoln's assassination. 
Many believe that the Saddle Ridge Hoard of gold coins was a left over remnant of hidden treasure by the Knights of the Golden Circle, part of the treasure that was to be used for the funding of a renewed Civil War effort.
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- Selected bibliography
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- Crenshaw, Ollinger (October 1941). "The Knights of the Golden Circle: The Career of George Bickley". American Historical Review 47 (1): 23–50. doi:10.2307/1838769. JSTOR 1838769.
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- Getler, Warren; Bob Brewer (2003). Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1968-6. (currently published under the title of Rebel Gold isbn=978-0-7432-1969-3)
- Hicks, Jimmie (July 1961). "Some Letters Concerning the Knights of the Golden Circle in Texas, 1860–1861". Southwestern Historical Quarterly 65: 80–86.
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