Knights of the Golden Circle
Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Cover, Title Page, Copyright
List of Illustrations
Prologue: The Shadowy Knights
Several stock actors from Richmond’s Dramatic Star Company joined a secret society that was spreading across the country during the summer of 1859. Called the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), it was dedicated to promoting...
1. Powerful Antecedents
The mystic order of the Knights of the Golden Circle was the brainchild of a multitalented doctor and editor living in Ohio named George W. L. Bickley. George had been born at Bickley Mills (Russell County) in southwest Virginia...
2. Formal Organization
At least one active castle of the Knights was operating in Baltimore by early 1859, when Bickley arrived. It existed in the south central neighborhood near St. Vincent’s Church, where Wilkes Booth had grown up in a townhouse...
3. The Drive for Mexico
Nearly a quarter of President James Buchanan’s December 1859 annual message to Congress focused on the deplorable and deteriorating conditions in neighboring Mexico. Buchanan noted that “Mexico ought to be rich and prosperous...
4. A Regional Coalition
As a prelude to the Raleigh convention, Bickley issued General Order No. 546 on April 6, 1860, from the headquarters of the KGC American Legion at Mobile, Alabama. Sent directly to KGC state commanders and appearing...
5. Transforming to Secession
Bickley hadn’t even left for Texas on the scheduled rendezvous date of September 15, 1860, for the renewed expedition into northern Mexico. Instead, the KGC’s front man was in southeastern Tennessee, appearing on platforms with KGC chaplain...
6. The Paramilitary’s Core
In his November 10 speech at Marshall, Bickley described the KGC as “a nucleus around which Southern men could rally” and called for the formation of military organizations all over the South to keep down insurrections and repel...
7. Seizure of Federal Forts and Arsenals
The U.S. Army informer who had infiltrated the KGC’s November 1860 Council of War reported that “orders were given to seize Navy- Yards, Forts &c, while KGC members were still Cabinet officers and Senators.” Soon afterward, several seizures...
8. The Plot to Seize the District of Columbia [Contains Image Plates]
The U.S. Army informer who infiltrated the Knights’ Texas conclave around November 1860 had reported that a plot “was designed to seize Washington and inaugurate Breckinridge.”1 As the Knights’ mission shifted to supporting...
9. Rustling Texas Out of the Union
A core group of committed secessionists convened in the Austin office of Attorney General George Flournoy in late November 1860 to come up with a way to precipitate Texas’s secession from the Union. John S. Ford, a KGC colonel and Texas...
10. Spreading Secession
After precipitating the secession of Texas and the seizure of its U.S. Army installations, the KGC tried to spread secession westward to Arkansas, Indian Territory, and the recently created Pacific coast states of California...
11. Call to Arms
On April 10, Confederate secretary of war Leroy Pope Walker forwarded his fateful order to General Beauregard, a former OLS sympathizer, authorizing the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston...
12. The Struggle for Kentucky
As the KGC state commanders concentrated on training their raw Confederate army recruits, George Bickley directed his efforts to expanding the Knights in the pivotal Border State of Kentucky. Both the Confederacy and the...
13. A Rejuvenated KGC?
As Bickley languished in prison and the KGC became increasingly dormant, another secret society called the Order of American Knights (OAK) was spreading across the midwestern and Border States. Phineas Wright, a quixotic...
While it is possible that cells of the KGC continued around Washington City, it does not appear that the KGC’s prewar state regimental commanders were in a position to help orchestrate Booth’s 1864–65 abduction/assassination...
In writing a research-intensive multistate book of this nature, I had to rely on assistance from archives, historical societies, and public and university libraries across the country, and I am most appreciative to the many staff people...