Knights of the Golden Circle

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Knights of the Golden Circle
Knights of the Golden Circle History of Seccession book, 1862.jpg
An alleged secret history of the Knights of the Golden Circle published in 1863
Abbreviation KGC
Formation 1854
Type Paramilitary
Purpose U.S. annexation of the Golden circle
Headquarters Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Official language
Leader George W. L. Bickley

The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was a secret society in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. The original objective of the KGC was to annex a "golden circle" of territories in Mexico (which would be divided into 25 slave states), Central America, northern South America, and Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean for inclusion in the United States as slave states. As anti-slavery agitation increased after the Dred Scott Decision was issued, the members proposed a separate confederation of slave states, with U.S. states south of the Mason-Dixon line to secede and to align with other slave states to be formed from 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.[1]

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.

Early history[edit]

George W. L. Bickley, an Indiana-born doctor, editor, and "adventurer" who lived in Cincinnati, founded the association.[2] 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".[3] 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[edit]

In the Southwest[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10][11]

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.[12]

Conspiracy theory[edit]

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 in the History Channel program America Unearthed, (episode "Lincoln's Secret Assassins") that the James-Younger Gang was the principal source of funds for a second U.S. Civil War that never occurred. No evidence has been provided for these suppositions.

The Los Angeles Times noted that one theory—among many—of the origin of the Saddle Ridge Hoard of gold coins is that it was cached by the KGC, which "some believe buried millions in ill-gotten gold across a dozen states to finance a second Civil War."[13]

Alleged members[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Woodward, Colin American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America New York:2011 Penguin Page 207
  2. ^ Bridges, C. A. (January 1941). "The Knights of the Golden Circle: A Filibustering Fantasy". Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 44 (3): 287–302. Retrieved October 5, 2015 – via JSTOR. (registration required (help)). 
  3. ^ Campbell, Randolph B. "KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  4. ^ Keehn, David C. Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.
  5. ^ Thompson, Jerry D. Colonel John Robert Baylor: Texas Indian Fighter and Confederate Soldier. Hillsboro, Tex: Hill Junior College Press, 1971.
  6. ^ "James Pearson Newcomb", Handbook of Texas Online
  7. ^ Cassandra Morris Small letters, York County (PA) Heritage Trust files
  8. ^ Official Records of the American Civil War
  9. ^ California Military Museum
  10. ^ "The Pacific Squadron of 1861–1866", in Aurora Hunt, The Army of the Pacific; Its Operations in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Plains Region, Mexico, etc. 1860–1866
  11. ^ John Boessenecker, Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. pp. 135–136
  12. ^ William B. Hesseline, Lincoln and the War Governors, Alfred A. Knopf, 1948. pg. 312
  13. ^ Schaefer, Samantha (March 4, 2014). "Gold coins found by California couple unlikely stolen from U.S. Mint". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  14. ^ Ayer, I. Windslow, The Great North-Western Conspiracy in All Its Startling Details. Chicago: Rounds and James, 1865. p.47 retrieved October 30, 2010
  15. ^ Bob Brewer Shadow of the Sentinel, p. 67, Simon & Schuster, 2003 ISBN 978-0-7432-1968-6
  16. ^ Michael Benson Inside Secret Societies, p. 86, Kensington Publishing Corp., 2005 ISBN 978-0-8065-2664-5
  17. ^ Randolph B. Campbell, "The Knights of the Golden Circle", The Handbook of Texas Online
  18. ^ Hurley, Richard (2011). author. Grass Valley, CA: Bear River Books. p. 330. ISBN 9780983179801. 
  19. ^
  20. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Selected bibliography
  • 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. 
  • Curry, Richard O. (1964). A House Divided. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press. 
  • Dunn, Roy S. (April 1967). "The KGC in Texas, 1860–1861". Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 70: 543–573. 
  • Frazier, Donald S.; Shaw Frazier (1995). Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-639-7. 
  • 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. 
  • Keehn, David (2013). Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 
  • Knights of the Golden Circle (2016). Rules, Regulations and Principles of the K. G. C. Carrollton, Texas: (C. Lyons, Ed. & Illustrator) printed by CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1535176392. original work published 1859.

May, Robert E. (1973). The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854–1861. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press. 

External links[edit]