David C. Keehn
2013, Louisiana State University Press, 308 pp., $39.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
There is a rarity in the realm of the Civil War when a subject comes along that many have never really analyzed. Here, in Knights of the Golden Circle, David C. Keehn analyzes the secret society in a way no one has done. By taking the roots of the group and bringing it up to the world of the Civil War was utterly fascinating. Because we always hear of the Knights of the Golden Circle but are never analyzed, Keehn’s work stands out as one of the major contributions to academia concerning this secret society. Certain events which have been clouded in mystery are finally answered in this text and to some, the outcome is a bit horrifying.
David C. Keehn is an attorney from Allentown, Pennsylvania and received his history degree from Gettysburg College. He also holds a juris doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. This is the first work he has written and hopefully will not be the last.
In the sidelines of many narratives of Civil War history, there is mention of a group called the Knights of the Golden Circle. Many times in my own reading of the texts, I have not understood what the group was or what they stood for and many times I disregarded it or forgot to look up what they were. Here, in David Keehn’s book, they are explained in excruciating detail which is needed due to the lack of information presented in other histories. The Knights of the Golden Circle wanted to extend the institution of slavery into the areas of Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean and Central America and after the Civil War was over attempted to continue their actions only to be arrested or hide their links to the organization. One thing which was noticeable and may be noticeable to many others who read this book is the closeness between the Freemasons and the Knights of the Golden Circle. Though not the same organization, the language of their tenants tends to be similar which lends people to believe that Masons were behind some of the operations of the war when, in fact, it was the knights. With their origins in the Order of the Lone Star, they found a way to contract and army and legalize invasions of another country. For so long, the knights had their sights on the area of Mexico and were often close to “filibustering” or invading the country. Of course, current events slowed that process and instead some of the knights played their way into the folds of the American Civil War. When it came to the Election of 1860, many knights who did not like the Southern candidate, either Southern Republican or Southern Democrat, would have rather voted for Lincoln because it would force the hand of the South to secede. Even the people involved in the assassination plot of 1861 to kill Lincoln in Baltimore had ties to the Knights of the Golden Circle. Lastly, John Wilkes Booth was a member of the organization and was the reason he was able to see the execution of John Brown.
Knights of the Golden Circle is an excellent book and I cannot recommend it enough. This subject matter is unexplored to the point where many know nothing about this organization. With Keehn’s book, that is no longer a problem. With a flowing narrative, and sometimes action packed, Keehn has renewed an interest in the secret societies during the Civil War. Highly recommended.