Knights of the Golden Circle
The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was a secret society
originally founded to promote Southern interests and prepare the way
for annexation of a "golden circle" of territories in Mexico, Central
America, and the Caribbean which would be included into the United
States as southern or slave states. During the American Civil War,
Southern sympathizers in the North, known as "Copperheads," were
accused of belonging to the Knights of the Golden Circle. By 1863,
membership in organizations influenced by it came to include many
citizens and active politicians north of the Ohio River.
The association was founded by George W. L. Bickley, a Virginia-born
doctor, editor, and "adventurer" who lived in Cincinnati. He
organized the first castle, or local branch, in Cincinnati in 1854
and soon took the order to the South, where it was well received. It
grew slowly until 1859 and reached its height in 1860.
Its original object was to provide a force to colonize the northern
part of Mexico and the West Indies and thus extend pro-slavery
interests, and the Knights became especially active in Texas.
Bickley's main goal was the annexation of Mexico. Hounded by
creditors, he left Cincinnati in the late 1850s and traveled through
the East and South promoting an expedition to seize Mexico and
establish a new territory for slavery. He found his greatest support
in Texas and managed within a short time to organize thirty-two
In the spring of 1860, the group made the first of two attempts to
invade Mexico from Texas. A small band reached the Rio Grande, but
Civil War and demise
The South's secession and the outbreak of the Civil War prompted a
shift in the group's aims from freebooting in Mexico to support of
the new Confederate government. For example, on February 15, 1861,
Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch began marching toward the Federal arsenal
at San Antonio, Texas, with a cavalry force of about 550 men, about
150 of whom were Knights of the Golden Circle representing six
different castles. While volunteers continued to join McCulloch the
following day, U.S. Army Gen. David E. Twiggs decided to surrender
the arsenal peacefully to the secessionists. KGC members also figured
prominently among those who, in 1861, joined Lt. Col. John Robert
Baylor in his temporarily successful takeover of southern New Mexico
Territory, while other KGC members followed Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins
Sibley on the 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which sought to bring the
whole New Mexico Territory into the Confederate fold. In fact, both
Baylor and Trevanion Teel, Sibley's captain of artillery, had been
among the KGC members who rode with Ben McCulloch.
Appealing to the Confederacy's friends in the North, particularly in
areas that were suffering economic dislocation, the Order soon spread
to the southern state of Kentucky as well as the northern states of
Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. Its membership in these
states, where it became strongest, was largely composed of Peace
Democrats, who felt that the Civil War was a mistake and that the
increasing power of the Federal government was leading to tyranny. In
the summer of 1863, a military draft that had been authorized by
Congress was put into operation by President Lincoln. This act,
together with the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the arrest
of seditious persons, and other measures that the Government deemed
necessary for the maintenance of national authority, were denounced
by the leaders of the party opposed to Lincoln's administration as
unconstitutional and outrageous.
During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, scam artists in south-central
Pennsylvania sold fearful Pennsylvania Dutch farmers paper tickets
purported to be from the Knights of the Golden Circle for a dollar.
Along with a series of secret hand gestures, these tickets were
supposed to protect the possessions and horses of the ticket holders
from seizure by invading Confederate soldiers. When Jubal Early's
infantry division passed through York County, Pennsylvania, they
scoffed at these ticket holders and took what they wanted anyway,
often paying with Confederate currency or drafts on the Confederate
government. Cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart also reported these
alleged KGC tickets in his official report on the campaign.
In late 1863, the Knights of the Golden Circle was reorganized as the
Order of American Knights and again, early in 1864, as the Order of
the Sons of Liberty, with Ohio politician Clement L. Vallandigham,
most prominent of the Copperheads, as its supreme commander. In most
areas only a minority of its membership was radical enough to
discourage enlistments, resist the draft, and shield deserters.
Numerous peace meetings were held and a few agitators, some of them
encouraged by Southern money, talked of a revolt in the Old
Northwest, which, if brought about, would have ended the war.
Southern newspapers wishfully reported stories of widespread
disaffection, and John Hunt Morgan's 1863 Great Raid into Indiana,
and Ohio was undertaken in the expectation that the disaffected
element would rally to his standard. Governor Oliver P. Morton of
Indiana and General Henry B. Carrington effectively curbed the Sons
of Liberty in that state in the fall of 1864. With mounting Union
victories late in 1864, the order's agitation for a negotiated peace
lost appeal, and officially dissolved.
Post Civil War
There exist reports of the KGC continuing after 1864 as a secret
group which planned to start fighting the Civil War again, as soon as
a generation or two had passed and they had regained their manpower
John Wilkes Booth
Lambdin P. Milligan
Tom Poole, California Confederate Guerrilla
A comic book series based on The Wild Wild West TV series featured
the Knights of the Golden Circle enlisting the aid of Dr. Miguelito
Loveless to assassinate President Grant and the president of Brazil
during the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876.
The four-part serial entitled "The Night of The Iron Tyrants" was
published in 1990-91, scripted by novelist Mark Ellis, penciled by
The plot of the series was optioned for motion picture development.
The Knights of the Golden Circle were featured as the villains of the
graphic novel "Batman: Detective No. 27" by Michael Uslan and Peter
Snejbjerg and published by DC Comics in 2003.
The Knights of the Golden Circle are featured as the villains in the
CD-ROM game PONY EXPRESS RIDER, published by AMERIKIDS USA and McGraw-
Hill's new division, McGraw-Hill Home Interactive.
G. F. Milton, Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column (1942, reprinted
R. O. Curry, A House Divided (1964).
Donald S. Frazier, Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the
Southwest, (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press,
Ollinger Crenshaw, The Knights of the Golden Circle: The Career of
George Bickley, American Historical Review 47 (October 1941).
Roy Sylvan Dunn, The KGC in Texas, Southwestern Historical Quarterly
70 (April 1967)
Jimmie Hicks, ed., Some Letters Concerning the Knights of the Golden
Circle, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 65 (July 1961).
Robert E. May, The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861,
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973).
Scott L. Mingus, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition,
(Columbus, Ohio: Ironclad Publishing, 2006).
Warren Getler & Bob Brewer Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to
find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy (Simon & Schuster. ISBN
Sam Lanham Digital Library Schreiner University
U. Texas at Austin, Knights of the Golden Circle
Columbia Encyclopedia, Knights of the Golden Circle
Copperheads, Secesh Men, and Confederate Guerillas in California
California and The Civil War - Confederate Attempts to Capture
California and her Gold
Cassandra Morris Small letters; York County (PA) Heritage Trust
Official Records of the American Civil War