Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Knights of the Golden Circle

On July 4, 1854, Virginia general, George Bickley, gathered five men together to talk about the current state of affairs in the United States. The country was being divided internally and the southern slave holders were worried about what was going to happen.

The proposed circle of power
Source: Knights-of-the-Golden-Circle.blogspot.com
The men came up with an outrageous plan: they proposed a golden circle of slaves states, encompassing the southern United States, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. Mexico itself would be divided up into 15 new states. They would control the world's supply of cotton, sugar and tobacco and would tip the balance of power in congress. With their base of power in Havana, they would call themselves The Knights of the Golden Circle.

They would become the most powerful and influential secret society in American history.

Membership in the Knights grew quickly in the southern states and among southern sympathizers. Many well-known names to history became members, including Sam Houston, the outlaw Jesse James and even John Wilkes Booth.

With numbers swelling, the invasion plan moved ahead. Newspapers in 1860 began running stories about the Knights organizing an army in Brownsville, Texas, for the attack on Mexico.

George Bickley's calling card
Source: OurArchives
But somewhere along the way, the invasion didn't happen as planned, and the Civil War began to loom. The Knights made the decision to hold off the attack and creating the new Southern Empire, until after the seemingly inevitable war concluded. They were more than prepared. Before the war even started they had 62,000 soldiers from both the North and the South.

On February 15, 1861, when Ben McCulloch began marching on the Federal arsenal in San Antonio, his 550 men included 150 Knights of the Golden Circle, from six different regions, or "castles."Armies of Golden Circle soldiers forced the closing of every other Federal Reserve between San Antonio and El Paso. More Knights then joined Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor when he took over the New Mexico Territory.

Their influence continued to grow, with numbers reaching 300,000. In 1862, former president Franklin Pierce was accused of being a Knight, because of his opposition to President Lincoln. Membership began to spread to the North, even the border states. Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri all saw the growth of the Knights, mostly among those who saw the Civil War as a mistake and worried about the power of the Federal Government, which had just authorized the first military draft in American history. Cabinet members, congressmen, actors, judges and other politicians were reported to have been seen at induction ceremonies. (By the end of the war, the Knights had influence in every state.)

Seal of of The Knights of the Golden Circle
Source: OurArchives
Eventually the Knights decided to throw their full support behind the Confederate States of America. Most confederate military groups during the war were made up of knights. The group planned what the U.S. War Department would later call "The Northwest Conspiracy." This was a plan to use their great northern numbers to foster a revolt against the Union.

The conspiracy was broken apart, but the Knights continued their influence. They began to infiltrate Union forces. In Missouri, which was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, the Knights took over the Enrolled Missouri Militia, better known as the Paw Paw Militia.

The Knights had planned to kidnap Abraham Lincoln in 1860, before his inauguration. They continued to plot a kidnapping throughout the war. When it turned out this wasn't going to happen, long-time Knight John Wilkes Booth assassinated him.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the war, the Knights changed their name, first to the Order of American Knights, then to the Order of the Sons of Liberty. After the war, the Knights went underground again, but continued to use their influence to help salvage the south for many decades. Members spread out to remote locations, organized cities and prepared for a second war, should it be necessary.

The Knights continued to wield considerable influence in the newly reunited U.S., until they apparently ended operations in 1916, as the United States entered WWI.

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