Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE NEW YORK TIMES August 7, 1862

The Knights of the Golden Circle Again
The United States Grand Jury of the Indiana District
Present the Organization as Treasonable.

The Grand Jury of the Circuit and District Court of the United States for the District of Indiana has just made the following presentment:
In the District Court of the United States, for the District of Indiana, May Term, 1862.
The Grand Jurors of the United States of America, within and for the District of Indiana, impanneled, sworn and charged in said District at said May Term thereof, having about completed their labors, (and being now ready to adjourn,) feel it their imperative dutyto announce, in a respectful manner, to this Honorable Court, the general features of some startling developments made during their investigations. These developments, when considered in connection with the disturbed condition of the country, by reason of the causeless and atrocious rebellion against the Constitution and laws of the land, are deemed of the gravest importance, and should be made known, that prompt and efficient measures may be taken by the civil and military authorities to meet and ward off the effect of the wicked and treasonable designs of those connected with such developments.
A recent act of Congress made it the duty of the Grand Jury to inquire into any combinations or conspiracies formed by individuals within the jurisdiction of the Court to prevent the execution of any law of the United States. Having heard that organizations with this object in view existed in certain localities, witnesses were sent for, and brought before the Grand Jury. These witnesses came from many counties, and lived in various parts of the State. After a careful and diligent examination of the testimony from witnesses well acquainted with the facts deposed, and having a personal knowledge of the matters, said Grand Jury are constrained to say that a secret and oath-bound organization exists, numbering some fifteen thousand in Indiana, as estimated by the members of their Order, commonly known as Knights of the Golden Circle, and even in the same localities by different names. Their lodges, or "Castles," as they denominate them, are located in various parts of the State, yet they have common signs, grips, and words whereby the members are able to distinguish each other, and passwords to enable the member to enter the castle in which he was initiated, or any other which such member may choose to visit. They have signals by which they can communicate with each other in the day, or the night time; and, above all, they have a signal or sign which may be recognized at a great distance from the person giving it. This last signal, we regret to say, was invented for the use of such members as should, by means of the draft or otherwise, be compelled to serve in the ranks of the army. In such case, members of the Order serving in opposing armies receiving the sign are reminded of their obligation not to injure the member giving it. This signal is given in every instance upon the initiation of a new member, and its observance is strictly enjoined upon every individual belonging to the Order. By the teachings of the organization, it is the duty of its members engaged in the present war, although arrayed on opposite sides, upon the signal being given, if they shoot at all, "to shoot over each other." Many members of the Order, examined before us, admit the binding force of the obligation, and pretend to justify it as correct in principle.
Said Grand Jury would respectfully submit that the effect of such obligation is to set aside the oath taken by every soldier when he enters the service of the United States. The obligation imposed by the organization alluded to is inconsistent with the duties of a soldier who in battle dare not spare the person of his enemy. We must either disarm or destroy him, and especially so long as the rebel may be seeking to take the life of the loyal soldier. To do otherwise would be grosly treacherous, and justly subject the guilty party to a traitor's doom.
From the evidence introduced before said Grand Jury, it would seem that the Order called the Knights of the Golden Circle had their origin in some of the Southern States, and was introduced into this State from Kentucky. Its primary object, when it [???] was to organize the [???] of the institution of African Slavery in the United States, for the purpose of [???] more territory in Mexico and the Central American States, and also the acquisition of Cuba, thereby to extend and [???] a great slave empire, even thought it should dye those countries in human blood. Hence the various raids made upon those countries which have called forth from time to time the proclamations of our former Presidents, denouncing such attempts and threatening the exercise of the power of the Government to put them down. Wicked as these hellish schemes were, said Grand Jury would not have troubled this Honorable Court with this [???] had the [???] of the Knights of the Golden Circle been confined solely to their original designs. Finding how useful such an organization was for the purposes originally intended, said Grand Jury believe that it not only extends at present through every part of the South, and every department of the rebel army, but during the last Winter and Spring was introduced into the State of Indiana and other Northern States. Since that time it has made alarming progress in our midst, when entirely new features attached to it in view of the unnatural conflict now desolating our country. Not only are the loyal soldiers in the army to be treacherously betrayed in the bloody hour of battle, by the signals before referred to, but said Grand Jury have abundant evidence of the membership binding themselves to resist the payment of the Federal tax and prevent enlistments in the armies of the United States.
It is a fact worthy of note, and conclusively shown, that in localities where this organization extensively prevails there has been a failure to furnish a fair proportion of volunteers. Said Grand Jury, after a thorough examination on that point, have been unable to find any instance where a member of said organization had volunteered to fight for the Union under the late requisition for volunteers. Said Grand Jury were informed that an individual of the Order had proposed to make up a company to be called "Jay Hawkers." composed exclusively of "Knights of the Golden Circle." But said Grand Jury believe that at no time was the proposition seriously entertained, but in fact only intended as a cover to hide their treasonable purposes when they found they were about to be discovered.
The meetings of the Order referred to are hold on in by-places, sometimes in the woods, and at other times in deserted houses. Its members frequently attend with arms in their hands, and in almost every instance armed sentinels are posted to keep off intruders. Youths not more than sixteen years of age are in many cases introduced and initiated into its mysteries. The credulous and unwary are often allured into the fold of the Order, upon the pretext that it was instituted for no other purpose than the better organization of their party. Its real character and teachings are sedulously concealed until the oath of secrecy has been in due form administered. Having taken the first degree, the initiate is familiarized with the obligations and opinions of his associates, and is gradually prepared for the second degree. When he is further taught, and found apt to learn, and ready to adopt its principles and teachings, he is obligated in the highest degree, and is turned out upon the country a thorough traitor, with the wicked purposes already specified. Said Grand Jury are happy to know that in many cases individuals, after their first introduction into the Order, seeing its evil tendencies,have abandoned it, although unwilling, on account of their obligations of secrecy, and for fear of personal violence, are reluctant to fully expose its treacherous principles.
Since said Grand Jury began said investigation, it has been discovered that the Order exists among the prisoners of war now in Camp Morton, who refuse to testify, upon the ground that it may implicate the members of their Order in Indiana, and thereby injure the cause of the Southern Confederacy.
For the purpose of evading any legal liability, in case of judicial investigation, it appears that their signs are to be used to enable them to get members of their Order on the jury, in case of criminal charges being preferred against them, and by changes of venue, and appeals from a Judge who does not belong to the Order, to create judicial delays, until they can find a Judge or juror belonging to this Order, and thus escape all legal liability.
Said Grand Jury have no doubt that the Order of the "Knights of the Golden Circle" exists in many localitics in Indiana where their vigilance has not been able to penetrate. They have labored under many difficulties in their researches, and have drawn evidence in most of the cases from unwilling witnesses. Judicial oaths have but little binding force where individuals once consent to abandon the allegiance they owe their country. The general facts, however, so far as they have come to the knowledge of the said Grand Jury, have been submitted to this honorable Court. They feel it their duty to do so. The safety of the country in this hour of peril and civil strife demands it at their hands. The power of such an organization to do harm, acting as one man, with one purpose in view, with their influence, may be appreciated by the honorable Court. It is the place where treason is concocted -- the nest where traitors are hatched.
The Grand Jury, therefore, respectfully ask this Court that this their presentment may be spread upon the records.
WILLIAM P. [???], Foreman; Charles H. Test, George Moon, Wm. A. Montgomery, James Blake, T.B. McCarty, Daniel Sigler, Leonidas Sexton, Ben. G. Stout, James Hill, Daniel Sagre, H.D.Scott, Robt. Parrett, Fred. S. Brown.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SAN BERNARDINO: Knights of the Civil War


Gen. Edwin "Bull Head" Sumner sent troops to San Bernardino to discourage the Knights of the Golden Circle.
Spies were everywhere.
Rumors snaked through communities, growing as they went.
People wondered whose side their neighbors were on.
Lawmakers moved to break California in two.
And members of a shadow society crept into positions of power.
In 1861, the mood on the cusp of the Civil War was anything but detached in San Bernardino County. The balance between Northern and Southern sympathizers in the state, and especially in Southern California, was tenuous. At the turmoil’s center was Holcomb Valley.
In his book, “Los Angeles in Civil War Days,” John Robinson recounts some of the goings-on.
On June 3, he writes, Edwin A. Sherman, the editor of a Unionist paper called the San Bernardino Patriot, wrote a letter to Gen. Edwin “Bull Head” Sumner, commander of the Department of the Pacific, warning him of sedition in the thriving gold mining area near Big Bear Lake.
“Secret meetings continue to be held all over this lower country, and secession and disunion are boldly avowed in our streets,” Sherman wrote. “Shooting continues to be the order of the day, and drunken desperadoes and Southern cutthroats damn the Stars and Stripes and endeavor to create disturbances most of the time.”
Another paper, the Southern News, claimed 200 secessionists were prepared to march into Los Angeles and seize the government stores there, Robinson recounts. By the time the news reached Northern California, the 200 men had grown to 2,000.
And amid such rumors was the name of the Knights of the Golden Circle. Estimates of the group’s size in California range as high as 100,000. Robinson thinks 16,000 is a more realistic number. The bulk of the membership was in Southern California.
The history of the secret society goes as far back as 1835. By the 1850s, it had established a huge following in the South. Its goals were not just to preserve the South but to expand it by taking over Mexico.
In part, the group saw it as a duty to help the Mexican people by “Americanizing” them. But there were other, probably larger, motivations as well.
Addressing a convention of the knights in North Carolina in 1860, the group’s president, George Bickley, told the gathering that some of its members were already working with people in Mexico “to infuse such an American element in that country as will lead to the establishment of a permanent and just government.”
Bickely envisioned 15,000 Knights of the Golden Circle invading and capturing Vera Cruz. The move, he said, would divert attention from the saber-rattling of the North and South.
He also believed a conquered Mexico would be apportioned into 25 new states that would align with the South, overwhelmingly tipping the balance of power.
The knights also planned to covertly infiltrate the stronghold of the North. Part of this strategy was successful in California, particularly in San Francisco and the Central Valley, where members held key military and political positions.
But other than encouraging and aiding bands of volunteers in making their way to Arizona Territory and Texas to enlist, the group never took any cohesive action in California. The fear that they might, however, was widespread.
In his eventual response to Sherman’s letter, Sumner sent two companies to San Bernardino under the direction of Maj. William Ketchum. Hearing rumors of an impending attack, Ketchum urgently requested reinforcements.
Those reinforcements never arrived, and, as with much of the hype about the Knights of the Golden Circle, neither did the attack.
It was one fight the city managed to stay out of.
Reach Mark Muckenfuss at 951-368-9595 or
Mark Muckenfuss