Knights of the Golden Circle

by Caveat Lector

Knights of the Golden Circle
The “Golden Circle”
    The historical mysteries surrounding the American Civil War are actually fairly numerous. Ghost hunters have long known that if you want to find a haunted location just look around any Civil War battlefield. The fact of the matter is that you can find books of ghost stories related to this on the discount shelves of most large book stores. If you want my personal recommendation it won’t be for a book but a magazine:
Blue and Gray Magazine.
     This magazine has published some excellent issues on haunted locations of the American Civil War. Some of the background research they provide would greatly assist the serious paranormal researcher.  Now some of these might only be available at this point through Ebay or a specialty bookstore but they are well worth the investment.
     Right now I am more concerned with far less supernatural mysteries of the war. It seems to me that the end of just about any and every war leaves questions unanswered. Sometimes the only people who could answer the questions go to the grave without ever leaving a single letter or note to provide a clue. I think some survive the war only to fade into obscurity. They never even know they could have provided the answer to future historian’s questions.
     I think the ‘Knights of the Golden Circle’ are one of these mysteries. The KGC actually predates the Civil War; they were originally a group working towards the expansion of Southern slave interests into various Caribbean states. They advocated the annexation of these countries to become slave states in order to insure their political majority in Washington. Their efforts are not to be taken lightly; back before the Civil War you can find historical accounts of various ‘filibustering’ expeditions. These were formal invasions staged by American citizens of small sovereign nations with the intent of taking them over to establish independent states.  Some of my research indicates that the KGC was at least sympathetic if not constructively supportive of these efforts.
    Probably the most famous of the ‘filibusters’ was William Walker. Heck, I even think they made a movie about his little historical misadventure!
William Walker
The 1987 movie about Walker.
    Now I haven’t found a direct connection between Walker’s efforts and the KGC but the Knights were certainly sympathetic to such efforts. The coming of the Civil War would shift their efforts into a considerably different direction. The goal now was not the expansion of Southern slave interests but the survival of what was now a Southern slave state. This is when the efforts of the KGC start becoming increasingly mysterious. They were always a somewhat reclusive group but with the bombardment of Fort Sumter they rapidly took on the mantle of a subversive organisation to Federal authorities. They largely went underground in the Northern states and it is somewhat murky as to the extent of their activities.
    Eventually the leaders within the Confederate government saw that they couldn’t win a long war with the Union. In terms of material and human resources the Southern state was in no position to wage a war of attrition with the North. It was then seen by some in the South that unconventional measures would be necessary for their survival. It seems that there isn’t much in terms of official historical records that survived the war. Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin burned almost all the records of Confederate clandestine efforts shortly before the fall of Richmond in April 1865. Benjamin would then flee the South and live in exile in England for the rest of his life. He would also never leave a hint about what he knew about Confederate secret operations during the war.
Judah P. Benjamin
Confederate Secretary of State

Connections between the KGC and clandestine efforts of the Confederacy are murky at best. One of the best books I have ever found that deals with some of this is:
Come Retribution:
The Confederate Secret Service and
the Assassination of Lincoln
William A. Tidwell with
James O. Hall and
David Winfred Gaddy
1988, University Press of Mississippi
ISBN 0-76070-381-7
Come Retribution
   This books goes a long way towards answering some of the questions about Confederate clandestine efforts during the war. It also demonstrates that the Confederate Secret Service was more than aware of the KGC. It is more difficult to establish how closely they worked with each other. There were people associated with the KGC that were involved with John Wilkes Booth and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The Confederacy saw the KGC as a way to establish an armed resistance movement within the Northern states but this never blossomed into what they really needed.
    With the end of the war the role of the Knights of the Golden Circle would change again. There was no longer a Southern state for them to assist. This is when a true mythology begins to come about around the KGC and the “Lost Cause”. There were former Confederates that chose to flee the country after the collapse of the South. It is interesting to look at what happened to many of these folks that left. Just look up ‘Confederados’ on the internet sometime. Some of them managed to escape to Brazil and set up a colony of sorts there.
Sons of Conderate Veterans – Brazilian Chapter
Some descendants of the original ‘Confederados’ during
a festival celebrating their Southern Heritage.
    I haven’t found any information supporting any alleged connections between the ‘Confederados’ and the KGC. It seems to me that the Confederates that chose to flee the country eventually either came back peacefully or committed themselves to their new homes. Still I’ve found questions that remain about activities of the KGC after the war. Probably the most famous recent example of this was the movie ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’.
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
    If you get the DVD, at least with the one Laurie and I got, they have a nifty little featurette on the Knights of the Golden Circle. It doesn’t provide much more than a few minutes of cursory information but it is fun to watch. The movie itself ends up in the Black Hills around Mount Rushmore; this was another draw for us to get the movie. We love the Black Hills.
    Now when it comes to serious current research on the KGC I’ve found a couple of very interesting books and websites. I’m going to start with a Yahoo discussion group that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves:
    I really do find this discussion group somewhat amazing. It seems like a week doesn’t pass without a posting of some incredible bit of information. If you follow up on some of the postings here you can find some interesting background information around everything from Confederate secret operations in Canada to just what Jesses James ties to the KGC might have been. I can not recommend this group enough. Even if you don’t have much to contribute it is worth it just following the things they turn up.
   I think this book got a lot of treasure hunters taking the legends of the lost gold of the Confederacy quite seriously again. It also has a lot of information on the Knights of the Golden Circle:
Shadow of the Sentinel:
One Man’s Quest to find the
Hidden Treasure of the
Warren Getler and Bob Brewer
2003, Simon & Schuster
ISBN 0-7432-1968-6
Shadow of the Sentinel
    This book contends that the KGC was a very real movement after the war. One of their major concerns was with raising the gold they thought would be needed to fund a new Southern rebellion. It looks like the rebellion never came to be but the gold might have been collected. You have to remember that this is just one of the legends around lost Confederate gold. The thing that makes this stand above some of the other books on the topic is the authors have facts to support their ideas. They even have a little gold to support their ideas as well…