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 KGC.’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 KGC.’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 KGC.
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
Southward, 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 KGC 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, 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 stashes 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)

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