The Knights of the Golden Circle and Black Operations During the American Civil War - Traitors Among Us
By: Justin Parvin
The American Civil War is often portrayed in a vacuum. The high school version of history states that the South rebelled over the rights of the states, Lincoln and the Federal Army intervened, and thousands of lives were lost. This is the basic history, but the backroom dealings and clandestine activities of men like Allen Pinkerton and groups like the pre Civil war anti-Catholic Know Nothings and the role that they played insetting off the firestorm often are ignored or merely treated as foot notes. But, be they obscure,famous, or infamous, these groups and the social upheavals of the nineteenth century are still with us today, and the battles still rage on. Over a century ago fanatics railed against Irish Catholic and Italian immigration. Today, Americans are as divided as ever regarding Latin-American immigration. The spies, generals and detectives of yesterday are regarded as the patriarchs of some of the most powerful and shadowy intelligence services and police agencies in the world, and bumper-stickers and T-shirts reading “Lee surrendered, I didn’t.” can still be seen across the American South.
Today, our white collar class and politicians talk of free trade across the Americas, but yesterday, an obscure, militant group of traitors to the republic of the United States were working in the shadows, years before the first shots were fired between union and confederate, to expand Slavery, empire, and the power of the Southern elite deep into Central America. This sunny and geographically beautiful land was called by these early fanatics of manifestdestiny, the “Golden Circle”. The story of the so called “knights” dedicated to conquering it predates the Ku Klux Klan, the Civil War, and laid the groundwork for some of the ugliest chapters in the History of the United States.
The Knights of the Golden Circle, one of the more militant and successful of a number of secret societies that formed in the decade prior to the outbreak of the American civil war, came into existence through the efforts of Dr. George William
John Wilkes Booth
(May 10, 1838 – April 26, 1865) was an American stage actor who, as part of a conspiracy plot, assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865.
Lamb Bickley, who moved to Cincinnati, Ohio from Virginia. In eighteen-fifty two he was appointed to the board of trustees of an obscure Ohio medical institute. By all accounts, he was an absentee member of this body and used his time and money to travel between the South attempting to carry out various schemes. Bickley was by all accounts a radical anti-abolitionist fascinated with the popular idea of “manifest destiny”. There was also recognition from many firebrands and pro-slavery fanatics across the country that slavery had to expand to survive, even if it meant war with foreign powers. The organization: The group was established in Ohio in 1854 with the stated intention of invading and colonizing Mexico and parts of the Caribbean for the purpose of establishing a slave territory independent from the United States and free from abolitionists, Catholics, and any other “undesirables”. The organization was organized around “castles” and had a degree structure. The first two degrees were relatively benign. Both were published in newspapers by Bickley himself. However, the third degree Or “Knight of the Colombian Star” degree required an oath that absolved candidates of all obligations to the Government of the United States made before they swore allegiance to the order. More disturbing is the fact that by at least one account United States Army officers such as P.G.T Beauregard may have taken this oath by the mid-eighteen fifties, years before the outbreak of the conflict.
To offer a taste of the oath, a candidate for the third degree must have taken the first two obligations must have been either born in a slave state or if born in a free state, be a protestant citizen and a slave holder. The third KGC degree was the point at which the oath became overtly militant. A candidate swears among other things that “Until the whole civil, political, financial and religious reconstruction of 2 (Mexico) has been completed, I will recognize 90 (limited monarchy) as the best form of 63 (government) for the purpose in view, since it can be made strong and effective” The speech given by the Castle Secretary during the ritual goes on to state that “In the rise and progress of Democracy in America we have seen its highest attainment. In the very outset it was based on high religious principles and adopted as a refuge from despotism. In the North, Puritanism molded it, and went so far as to leave out the natural Conservative element of all Democracies- 97 (domestic slavery)”
In the decade prior to the civil war, the KGC saw its greatest successes in Texas. According to the book Blood and Treasure, by Donald S. Frazier: “The KGC had its strongest support in Texas. Thousands of recruits manned at least thirty-two castles in twenty-seven counties. Even Sam Huston, a longtime advocate of a protectorate over Mexico, reportedly joined.” (14) However, by the outbreak of the war, the supporters of the confederacy, facing a massive northern opposition force, were seeking any means possible to achieve leverage in the war with the North. The Mexico and Caribbean projects went on hold, and the KGC was converted into a spy network behind the lines of the North which attempted to spark treason across much of the Mid-West by driving down military recruiting efforts and even allegedly aiding in insane schemes like armed insurrection in the Ohio Valley that was to be aided by Confederate Calvary General John H. Morgan (The raid later happened, but went disastrously for Morgan, since the local support he may have been counting on never materialized. He probably made it worse on himself by looting and raiding the homes of both friend and foe alike along the way). In July, 1861, one John C. Brain was arrested on charges of KGC membership in Michigan City, Indiana. The result was a vicious anti-KGC backlash from the then Governor of Indiana, Oliver P. Morton, who attacked the KGC using highly questionable strong-arm tactics, and also used the organization’s corrosive activities in his State as a pretext for turning military muscle, headed by Col. Henry Carrington of Ohio, against his political rivals in the Democratic Party. Eventually, the Governor asked the Federal Circuit Court to begin investigations, which they quickly obliged. By 1864, with its rituals exposed, its castles infiltrated, its members under full-scale investigation, and even its founder, Dr. Bickley incarcerated, the KGC was liquidated, though other “copperhead” groups would form in it’s place.
Ultimately, the KGC represent a failed and perhaps completely unrealistic scheme at empire. However, it should be noted that it has been suspected for years, though never confirmed, that its membership included assassin and noted copperhead John Wilkes Booth, who forever changed the course of American history. It also can be seen as a forerunner to the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society that, like KGC, utilized terrorism and secrecy to perpetuate the cause of white protestant dominance and pro-confederate sympathy for decades after the Civil War across both the American South AND Western states like Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, all noted KGC territory during the Civil War. Noted Democrat and one-time anti-secessionist politician Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia, a man who snuck across enemy lines during the war to rally confederate sympathizers in Ohio, once wrote in a letter to a Democratic Indiana politician that “In this way we wish to reinstate the old Democratic party, then such a compromise will be made as will be acceptable to the South, and if possible extend Slavery over all the States, and ultimately form an Empire, which is the best government in the world. “Slavery is not congenial to a Republic,” (Milton, 83). It is wise to keep KGC in mind when considering the insane lengths that men will go to in the name of such insane schemes. As was stated in the U.S. National in 1862: “THEY
WORK BY TREACHERY”
Milton, George Fort. Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column. New York: Vanguard Press, 1942.
Knights of the Golden Circle. K.G.C. An authentic exposition of the origin, objects and secret work of the organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. The U.S. National U.C, 1862.
Ann Arbor, Michigan,
University of Michigan Library, 2005.
Frazier, Donald S. Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the
Southwest. Texas A&M University Press. College Station. 1995.