Knights of the Golden Circle, 1854-1916

Knights of the Golden Circle, 1854-1916

Alternative names: The Order of American Knights,
The Knights of America, The Sons of Liberty,
The Mutual Protection Society.

The Knights of the Golden Circle was a fraternal, militantly
expansionist, and secessionist organization, founded by
doctor, author, and newspaper editor George W. Bickley.
For the purposes of taking over Mexico, Cuba, Central
America, and the Caribbean in the interests of expanding
southern slavery.

George W. Bickley was a native of Virginia residing in Cincinnati,
Ohio. An ardent supporter of states rights, and the expansion of
the divine institution of slavery, he saw it appropriate, and
necessary to have a new order representing southern, pro-slavery
interests. Forming the Knights of the Golden Circle on July 4th,
1854 with five other southerners unanimous in their support for,
and dedication to the expansion of slavery. Possibly taking
inspiration from pro-slavery Southern Rights Clubs that were
active in a variety of southern cities in the 1830’s, where the
name “Knights of the Golden Circle may have been first used.
They organized the first castle, or local branch not long after
the initial meeting, in Cincinnati. There were three unique types
of membership within the KGC. military, financial, and governing.
Encompassed by three divisions, the K.G.C.’s first division was
military. The first division is further divided into two classes:
the Foreign and Home Guards. The Foreign Guards class was the K.G.C.’s
army for a hopeful campaign into Mexico. Those of the second class
or Home Guards had two functions: to provide for the army’s needs
and to act as a public corrector for smears, and misrepresentations.
The second division or class was also divided into two classes which
were the Foreign and Home Corps. The Foreign Corps was to become
the order’s commercial agents, postal workers, physicians, ministers,
teachers. and to perform the other occupations that were vital to
the achievement of K.G.C. goals. The second class of this degree
was the Home Corps. Their job was to advise, and to forward money,
arms, ammunition, and other necessary provisions needed by the
organization. The third division is described as being the
political or governing division.” The responsibilities of the
Foreign Council were governmental, and it was divided into ten
departments. All members were required to pay a weekly fee.
One dollar for the first degree of membership, five dollars
for the second, and ten for the third. Dues in all degrees
were fixed by the colonels of the regiments
in their respective jurisdictions.

The original five members, aswell as a number of supporters began
traveling Eastward and South, promoting an expedition to Mexico.
In hopes of providing a military force to colonize the northern
part of Mexico and the West Indies. These goals expanded overtime
to include the totality of Mexico, Cuba, the West Indies, and
Nicaragua. These states were known internally as “The Golden
Circle.” In this period not yet being secessionists the KGC
pursued compliance with American neutrality laws, invading only
if invited by Mexican sympathizers. It is often speculated that the
expansionist intentions of the KGC were derived from an older,
pro-slavery southern order, possibly dating back to 1834, but
generally regarded to have been founded in 1850, the Knights of
the Lone Star. They went on to merge with the KLS in the latter
1850’s. Possibly the two most notable pre-war legislative battles
the KGC supported were James Buchanan’s draft treaty for protecting
routes for U.S commerce across Mexico, and supporting a resolution
in the U.S. Senate proposed in 1858 for the “United States to
declare and maintain an efficient protectorate over the States of Mexico,
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and San Salvador.” Both
the treaty, and the resolution failed to be adopted. Growing more
numerous, and finding mass support in 1859 the KGC had expanded their
operations from Ohio to Texas, Virginia, New York, and Louisiana,
and per reports had 20,000 members. This number quickly rising in
early 1860 the KGC had a total membership of 48,000. It is speculated
San Antonio may have served as the organization’s national headquarters.
The KGC in the early 1860’s found the previous model of direct,
hierarchical leadership under George Bickley stifling. Reorganizing,
now led by commanders at the state level.

After the firing on Fort Sumpter, initiating the Civil War, the KGC
reoriented their goals from southern expansionism, to aiding secession,
and the Confederacy. The first notable act by the KGC in the Civil War
period was In 1861 where 550 men, 150 of which were members of the
Knights of the Golden Circle were led by United States Marshal Ben
McCulloch, as they marched on the Federal arsenal at San Antonio, Texas.
United States Gen. David E. Twiggs surrendered the arsenal without
incident to Ben McCulloch, and his men. The KGC were also among those
who, in 1861, joined Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor in his successful
takeover of southern New Mexico Territory. In May 1861, members of the
KGC, and another secessionist organization the Confederate Rangers led
an assault on a pro-Union newspaper building, the Alamo Express, burning
it down. The K.G.C. companies, then forced the surrender of all federal
posts between San Antonio and El Paso In early 1862, the KGC, which
some estimate encompassed over 140,000 members expanded into Kentucky
as well as the southern parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri.
The Northern element of the KGC had a plan to free and arm thousands of
Confederate prisoners being held at Camp Douglas, near Chicago. Led by
Confederate Captain Thomas H. Hines. The Knights had gathered a large
quantity of firearms to supply the prisoners. pledging a considerable
amount of members for this raid. Although this plan never came to fruition.
As the war went on the KGC made alliances with pro-Confederate groups,
such as the Minute Men and the National Volunteers. Come 1863 members
of the KGC bought, and outfitted a ship, which was known as the J. M.
Chapman intended to be used as a Confederate privateer with the object
of raiding commerce on the Pacific Coast, and capturing gold shipments
to the East Coast. Their attempt was unsuccessful, and they were
apprehended prior to their first voyage. Bickley later applied for,
and received a pass through Union lines for the purpose of migrating
to Indiana, to a KGC castle. For this he was imprisoned as a spy on
August 18, 1863, and he was not released until the fall of 1865.

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 as their leader. Possibly numbering
as many as 12,000. Believing the surrender In 1865 of Robert E. Lee at
Appomattox Court House, and shortly after Nathan Bedford Forrest was a
temporary truce, it is often speculated a small sect of the KGC acquired
a large portion of gold, silver, and general funds with the hopes of
funding a second civil war. Bickley, although no longer recognized
by most members of the KGC as an elected representative of the order
disbanded the KGC on July 10th 1865, with the ill fated intention of
reform on Just 1st, 1870, but this was largely ignored as Bickley
hadn’t been closely aligned with the order since 1863. With George
W. Bickley dying in 1867, and the prospects of a second civil war not
seeming likely the KGC, are speculated to have buried all of this gold
in a variety of staches across the country, the states where this is
speculated to be are Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, New England, New Mexico,
Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. In the latter 1860’s, and
early 1870’s the KGC retired all military elements, and became a
southern fraternity. The KGC established headquarters in a building
on Fatherland Street in Nashville Tennessee. In 1884 the headquarters
was moved to Colorado Springs. A symbol that indicated membership in
the KGC in the latter 19th, and early 20th century was a circle with
a vertical line going through the middle. This was generally put on the
sides of houses in chalk. In 1916 the Knights of the Golden Circle ceased
operation due to a lack of recruitment, coupled with
many members of the original order dying.

Prominent Members

George W. Bickley (Leader)

Charles Henry Foster (Newspaper Editor)

Clement L. Vallandigham (Politician)

Virginius D. Groner (Militia Colonel)

Elkanah Greer (Colonel of the Texas Cavalry)

Texas L. Sullivan Ross. (Future Governor)

William W. Loring (Confederate Colonel)

John Stone (Reverend)

Robert M. Hundley (Said to be President of the KGC for a time)

Possible Members:

Richard J. Gatling (Inventor of the gatling gun)

Sam Houston (Texas politician who inspired the name of Houston, Texas)

John Wilkes Booth (Assassin or Abraham Lincoln)

Jesse James (Infamous Outlaw)

Howell Cobb (Secretary of the Treasury)

John Breckinridge (Vice President)

Lambdin P. Milligan (Lawyer)

William H. Seward (United States Secretary of State)

Nathan Bedford Forrest (Confederate General)

J. Frank Dalton (Confederate Guerrilla)

B.E. Bedeczek (Professor)

J.O. Shelby (Confederate General)

Thomas Andrews Hendricks (Vice President)

John Overmyer (Union General)

John A. Logan (Senator)

call to chat