Knights of the Golden Circle, Book Review

Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War; by David C. Keehn; published 2013 by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; ISBC 978-0-8071-5004-7; 6 inches by 9 inches hardbound; 290 pages with black and white photographs.  

“Unlike secret societies that sought mystical otherworldly knowledge, the Knights pursued a real-world agenda of Southern Hemisphere expansion and promotion of southern rights.  The KGC’s secret knowledge was a practical program of Manifest Destiny expansion incorporated by true believers in the here and now.  Furthermore, the Knights focused on military drill and training in preparation for militant action.”  –Knights of the Golden Circle, page 188.

My first experience with the Knights of the Golden Circle, was reading the book, Enemies in the Rear, or the Golden Circle Squared, by Frances Hoover.  Enemies in the Rear and newspaper articles found in the Berks and Schuylkill Journal portrayed the Knights as a group of northerners, who supported the Southern causes of States’ Rights and expansion of slavery, and from a Berks County perspective, people who just wanted the government to leave them alone.  When David Keehn contacted me regarding his new book, Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this organization.  What I read, pardon the cliché, blew my mind.  Forget what you think you know about Enemies in the Rear, what was passed down through whispers from generation to generation and really, what you know about the start of the Civil War.  The Knights of the Golden Circle, was a militant secret organization started by George W. L. Bickley, which up until the mid-1860s focused on American colonization of Mexico, eventually down into South America.   The Knights, while swearing allegiance to the United States and publically declaring they would not go against the Constitution, raised and armed militias that descended upon Texas, awaiting permission from the Mexican government to cross the border and claim their lands.  As the election of 1860 approached, the Knights had a philosophy shift and broke with Bickley.  The Knights had a key role in assisting the Southern Governors with secession, in some cases determining the outcome such as in Texas, the formation of the Confederate Government and the Army, and a few of the Knight’s militia units overtook some of the Federal Forts and confiscated arms in southern states.  Upper echelon Knights, became high placed advisors in the new government and commanded regiments in the field.  The extent and reach of the Knights was surprising and fascinating and I kept asking myself… “Why haven’t I heard of them before?”  Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War, should be considered by anyone wanting to know more about this organization and to gain a better understanding of how the American Civil War took shape.

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2 thoughts on “Knights of the Golden Circle, Book Review

  1. I will definitely buy this book. Isaac B. Werner’s teacher was the author of “Enemies in the Rear…”, so I have been interested in the impact of the Knights on the Wernersville community. Isaac did not serve during the Civil War, but the cousin with whom he headed West after his father’s death and when the cousin returned from military service did serve in the Union Army. Isaac expressed a rather negative attitude toward former Union soldiers in his Kansas community, but primarily with regard to their allegiance to the Republican Party during the hard times when the People’s Party was drawing farmers, miners, and factory workers to the populist movement. Maybe this new book will help uncover information about Isaac’s attitudes that my research has not fully satisfied. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

    • Actually, this book has very little to do with the Knights in Berks County. It is about the “National Organization” and their attitudes and mentality. In the final chapter of the book, the author touches on the Reading Connection, in that he believes that it was a different organizations titled: OAK. After he explains the philosophy of the OAK, it made more sense and fell in line with what is seen in Francis Hoover’s Book, Enemies in the Rear. The KGC were mistakenly identified because it was at a time where their role in the war was coming out. It might not give you the insight you are looking for in response to Isaac’s attitude, but it is definitely eye opening.

      David Keehn will be doing a Second Saturday program for us, I believe in April 2014. I’ve met him, he is very nice and is continuing his research. I hope he publishes something that covers this region and the OAK.

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