Saturday, April 27, 2013

G.W.L. Bickley: The K.G.C. Confidence Game

Review of A Secret Society History of the Civil War 

by Mark A. Lause 
© University of Illinois Press 2011. 
ISBN 978-0-252-03655-2

Yet another academic book which would benefit by a better label such as Old Boys' Clubs, Lost-n-Found Causes, Fools' Gold & Brotherhood-in-Arms, Arm-in-Arm.
Mark Lause, a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, has written a well-researched and wickedly revealing volume as regards the secret societies which were in operation behind the scenes of the American Civil War. Of particular note are the tales Lause tells of a trio of individuals and their respective organizations; George Lippard’s Brotherhood of the Union, Hugh Forbes’ Universal Democratic Republicans, and George Washington Lafayette Bickley’s Knights of the Golden Circle [KGC].
Gorgeous George, Golden Knights, Counterfeit Confederacy Ring, Etc.
Lause, who concentrates upon the Cincinnati connection, con man Bickley, that in turn makes the KGC the centerpiece of his tome, comments about its wartime role with the rebels: “The Confederates turned Bickley down, but the South did have a secret service that was active in the North during the war. The United States government was convinced the Knights of the Golden Circle were a big part of this Confederate secret service and spent resources tracking down the organization. However, it wasn’t the case, since the Knights and their numbers were greatly inflated by Bickley”.
Lause, who focuses upon the fact that while Bickley and the KGC were never ever really a fifth-column force for the Confederacy, figures what they supposedly stood for played at least a part toward inspiring the actor John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, remarks: “Booth is thought to have been either a member or sympathizer with the Knights of the Golden Circle who were in Baltimore at that time. A man named George Sanders, who was a member of the Confederate secret service, was reputed to have been Booth’s contact via the group. And Sanders was a member of another secret society that advocated assassination”.
Lause, who also shows that on the other side of the coin, some secret societies, such as the Prince Hall Masons, started by a black veteran of the American Revolution and comprised of African-Americans, which not only supported the abolition of slavery but sustained the Underground Railroad as well, states: “Because slaves were members along with middle-class, free blacks, the group routinely rowed across the Ohio River in secret in order to safely hold meetings in a free state.”
Mark Lause, after all is said and done, gives serious students, a scholarly glimpse, interestingly so, of a generous sampling of the intrigues, including but not limited, of course, to Bickley’s KGC con game, that took place backstage throughout the American Civil War.
  • Brewer, Bob & Getler, Warren; Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man’s Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy © Simon & Schuster 2003 andRebel Gold: One Man’s Quest to Crack the Code Behind the Secret Treasure of the Confederacy © Simon & Schuster 2004.
  • Bridges, C. A.; The Knights of the Golden Circle: A Filibustering Fantasy ©Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1941.
  • Crenshaw, Ollinger; The Knights of the Golden Circle: The Career of George Bickley © American Historical Review 1941.
  • Dunn, Roy S.; The KGC in Texas, 1860-1861 © Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1967.
  • Frazier, Donald S.; Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest © Texas A& M University Press 1995.
  • Hicks, Jimmie; Some Letters Concerning the Knights of the Golden Circle in Texas, 1860-1861 © Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1961.
  • Klement, Frank; Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies and Treason Trials © Louisiana State University Press 1984.