Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shrapnel‘s Knights of the Golden Circle surface again in Mobile, AL

Shrapnel‘s Knights of the Golden Circle surface again in Mobile, AL
Wednesday, Jun 19, 2013
Posted by Stephanie Lawton

I’m a history nerd.

That’s why I based much of SHRAPNEL on real groups and historical events in and around Mobile, Alabama. One of those groups is the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), a group of Confederate sympathizers whose job it was to protect the alleged Confederate gold and smuggle it to safety, where the Union couldn’t get it.

Although common theory is that the gold went west after traveling from Virginia to Georgia, no one knows how and if it got there.

I proposed that it could have gone through Mobile since it’s a port city, it was low on the Union’s priority list and there were a number of forts in the region.

The KGC was recently featured again on The History Channel’s program, America’s Book of Secrets. It features Sonny Brewer and Warren Getler, authors of REBEL GOLD, the book I mainly used for research when writing SHRAPNEL.

[View the complete episode here.]

Here’s the kicker and the reason I’m mentioning the KGC again: At about 6:34 in the video, there’s a map with specific points on it that allegedly indicate locations of Confederate gold.

Yep, that’s Mobile starred in the center

Tags Alabama, Confederate gold, Confederate treasure, Evernight Teen, KGC, Knights of the Golden Circle, Mobile, Rebel gold, shrapnel, Stephanie Lawton

The Knights of the Golden Circle Research and Historical Archives

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

America's Book of Secrets

Once again the History Channel has offered up an episode dealing with the Knights of the Golden Circle.

America's Book of Secrets: Lost Treasures (44:09) TV-PG

American treasure hunters are convinced that there are missing fortunes scattered all around the country just waiting to be found.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013



 Author David Keehn

Posted on: 12:49 pm, June 13, 2013, by 

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – The new book, ‘Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Secession, Civil War’ is filled with mystery and intrigue and looks at a secret southern society in the mid 1800′s that set out to establish a slave empire in Mexico. Author David Keehn shared more details. You have the chance to meet David, Thursday, June 13th at 12pm for his signing at The Virginia Historical Society, 428 N. Blvd.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


June 11, 2013

EXCERP: "According to a presentation by Elizabeth “Bebe” Cody to the Floyd County Historical Society in 1992, Kerr had become privy to some information about a group of local Southern sympathizers called the Knights of the Golden Circle. In a 1919 book called “Indiana and Indianans,” author Jacob Dunn asserts that Kerr may have at one time been a member of the political arm of the group."


Drapery was hung and flags lowered as life in New Albany came to a standstill on a Friday afternoon in August of 1876. Michael C. Kerr, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and resident of the river town, had died only days before of tuberculosis at a spa in West Virginia, a place he had traveled to recuperate from his lengthy illness. He was only 49.

So esteemed was he in government that the acting vice president at the time, Thomas White Ferry, accompanied Kerr’s remains on the long trip back to Indiana. Kerr had been second in line to the presidency behind Ferry, partially due to the death of the previous vice president and the unfilled vacancy. Many of his contemporaries, as well as subsequent historians, have speculated that had he lived longer, Kerr very well could have one day reached the Oval Office.

According to a newspaper report, more than 25,000 citizens of Indiana and Kentucky lined up along Main Street to see the funeral caravan. Local government, in fact, asked for shops and other businesses to be closed for the solemn showing and subsequent burial in Fairview Cemetery.

“The anvil became voiceless, offices were deserted, the whir of the engines was still, and for the time all commercial life was suspended. About the city, flags displayed at half mast,” reported an August, 1876 edition of The Daily Ledger.

Even though New Albany embraced the speaker as a native son, Kerr hadn’t always been a Hoosier. Born on March 15, 1827, in Titusville, Pa., to parents of modest means, the young student journeyed to Kentucky to study law. In 1851, Kerr graduated from the University of Louisville School of Law and promptly moved to New Albany the following year.

Known for his keen intellect, Kerr ran as a Democrat for city attorney and then Floyd County prosecutor, winning both. In 1856 he served in the state legislature, followed by the distinguished and lucrative position of recorder to the Indiana Supreme Court. With this added income and new prosperity, he and his wife built a Gothic Revival-Italiante style home in New Albany in 1864 now affectionately known as the Kerr House.

Of course, Kerr’s political ascension wasn’t without conflict. In the same year he built his beautiful new house, friends had convinced the lawyer to seek the Democratic nomination for his Congressional district. But trouble was brewing.

According to a presentation by Elizabeth “Bebe” Cody to the Floyd County Historical Society in 1992, Kerr had become privy to some information about a group of local Southern sympathizers called the Knights of the Golden Circle. In a 1919 book called “Indiana and Indianans,” author Jacob Dunn asserts that Kerr may have at one time been a member of the political arm of the group.

It seems that upon finding out about plans for a military revolution in Indiana, including an attempt to “subdue” the governor and wage an attack against Louisville, the young statesman reconsidered his allegiance and divulged the information to Republican leader and Indiana Gov. Oliver Morton. The suspects were rounded up and no military coup ensued. After Kerr’s death, Morton honored his Hoosier colleague.

“His name will be remembered with pride and with affection in Indiana. He was one of her most highly favored and gifted sons, and it gives me satisfaction to bear testimony to his patriotism,” Morton said. “He was regarded by men of all parties in Indiana as an honest man, an able man, a patriotic man, and that his death was mourned by all his neighbors, and by all who knew him, without distinction of party.”

Kerr ended up being elected to Congress by a slim margin the same year of the would-be revolt, and served almost continuously from 1865 to 1873, the exception of which was the year 1872 when he lost an at-large congressional seat by fewer than 200 votes.

While in Congress, Kerr gained a reputation for being an educated partisan among his peers. Those who knew him attested that despite not being the most eloquent of speakers, his rational, well-researched arguments contributed greatly to floor discussions. A Constitutionalist, avid state’s rights advocate and opponent of a “greenback” economy, Kerr remained true to his beliefs and could not be easily swayed from his deep convictions, so his colleagues said in a book published by Congress called “Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Michael C. Kerr.”

Coming from Southern Indiana during the time immediately following the Civil War, Kerr did display an intense racial bias. Against black suffrage and the amendments granting such rights, the Indiana congressman made inflammatory statements against people of color, warning against “mongrel schools” and forced association. In his 1998 book “The Smart Culture: Society, Intelligence and Law,” Robert L. Hayman quoted Kerr as having said, “Is it statesmanship to introduce into the body of electors, the governing and law making classes, the most inferior, ignorant, and corruptible races on earth?”

Despite his racial intolerance, Kerr continued to advance his career in politics through hard work, honesty and trust. In 1874, his congressional allies elected him U.S. Speaker of the House. Undertaking the requirements of the new role weighed on the New Albanian. His health had begun to decline during this time, as evident by reports from his peers. Throughout the legislative session, Kerr visibly deteriorated to the point he needed to take some time to recuperate. After only serving one term as speaker, he died shortly after the session ended.

During the memorial addresses on Capitol Hill, fellow Indiana Congressman William Holman eulogized Kerr and noted his achievements as well as his legacy.

“Michael C. Kerr is dead. The record of a good life is complete,” Holman said. “May that record perpetuate his virtues and services he has rendered to his country as long as time shall endure.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review Knights of the Golden Circle: SESSCW

Keehn: "KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War"
[Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War by David C. Keehn (Louisiana State University Press, 2013). Hardcover, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:197/315. ISBN:978-0-8071-5004-7 $39.95]

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Emerging onto the national scene during the summer of 1859, the semi-secret society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle had lofty goals. With their expansionist plans put on hold by the election of a Republican president in 1860, David Keehn's Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War argues that the KGC's leaders and members were guiding forces in taking several southern states out of the federal union, with key roles in seizing forts and arsenals and providing manpower for the Confederacy's provisional army.

Originally conceived as a brotherhood of individuals seeking both protection of southern rights within the U.S. and slaveholding hegemony over the troubled Americas (the "Golden Circle" referring to Central America and the Caribbean), the KGC's first target was northern Mexico. The leadership took great pains to distance itself from the filibuster tradition, publicly avowing that its members would comply with the neutrality laws, so much depended on invitation from Mexican sympathizers. When expected cooperation from the Juarez government was not forthcoming, the entire project fizzled.  It's unclear what would have happened in the unlikely event that Mexican KGC support materialized, as there's no indication that funding or manpower expectations were ever met.

With Lincoln's election in 1860, the KGC's focus quickly switched gears toward supporting secession and arming for defense. Keehn's study focuses specifically on Knight activities in Texas, Virginia, and Kentucky. According to the author, the KGC largely disappeared from the scene when its members were absorbed into the Confederate army. Differing with previous historians and contemporaneous Union propaganda, Keehn believes that the anti-administration Order of the American Knights (OAK) and the later Sons of Liberty that spread throughout the Midwest and Border States during the second half of the Civil War should really be considered new entities, with their own rituals and goals, rather than offshoots of the KGC. The final section of the book discusses the possibility of KGC involvement in the various Lincoln kidnapping and assassination plots, but arrives at no firm conclusions.

While a great many Civil War era studies mention the KGC, insights into its founder are distinctly lacking, making Keehn's extensive biographical treatment of George Bickley one of his most valuable contributions. The author was also able to uncover documents detailing the organizational structure of the KGC (composed of three steps or "degrees" -- military, financial, and leadership -- the latter the most secretive) and some of its rituals. The picture of Bickley that emerges out of Keehn's research is that of a persuasive public speaker and tireless promoter who over time acquired a reputation as a bit of a shyster.  He also proved unable to guide any undertaking to a successful result.  His Mexico venture utterly failed as did all attempts to keep the military wing of the society under his personal command.  A KGC convention instead elected to disperse authority to the individual "castle" leaders, leaving Bickley essentially powerless.  During the war, he was arrested by U.S. authorities, his statements while under confinement increasingly erratic. Released in October 1865, he died two uneventful years later.

One of the book's primary themes is Keehn's contention that the scope of KGC influence and operations has been badly underestimated in the current historiography. He contends that the KGC was a guiding force in Texas's secession movement and in sweeping Virginia's secessionist minority into power. The problem with this argument is the lack of convincing documentation or even knowledge of who was or was not a KGC member. With all of Keehn's great work in synthesizing the current scholarship and uncovering new sources (especially newspapers), the volume contains essentially no manuscript material from either leaders or rank and file members that specifically address KGC activities, a situation not surprising given the secretive nature of the group. To persuasively promote the idea of the KGC as a prime mover in the secession movements of at least two states, one must provide evidence of plans and actions derived directly from the group and its hierarchy. There's little to none of this in the book. The fact that the KGC chose to disperse authority to local castles instead of creating some kind of central command structure itself would seem to preclude any kind of coordinated campaign.

Even if one finds a central argument of the study to be ultimately unconvincing, Knights of the Golden Circle remains a work of tremendous worth. More work remains to be done, but it is clearly the deepest examination of the origins and activities of the KGC to date, the 'go to' subject history for some time to come. Undoubtedly, the boldness of Keehn's assertions will spark a lively conversation among academics in the field. Whether or not other scholars will take up Keehn's challenge to delve even deeper is difficult to predict given the lack of attention in the past, but he's certainly provided the building blocks for many future efforts.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

David Keehn is scheduled to speak

David Keehn, author of Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War, is scheduled to speak at the following two venues this month.


June 13, 2013 (Thursday) 12 noon.
Virginia Historical Society, Banner Lecture Series.
428 N. Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220.
Phone: (804) 358-4901
Slideshow Presentation on Knights followed by Book Signing.
$6 for non-members.


June 22, 2013 (Saturday) 2 p.m.-3:15p.m.
Gettysburg Civil War Institute [Enrollees only]
Concurrent session presentation titled,
“In Search of Northern Collaborators: Morgan’s 1863 Raid,”
followed by 5 p.m. Book-signing and Banquet.