Expose of the Knights of the Golden Circle - Member Knight

Chapter VI.
Spurring the South Towards War

Correspondence between Southern and Northern Knights—Men and means proffered—the plan to assassinate Lincoln and seize the capital—Lincoln's inaugural—the "coercion" bugbear of the K.G.C. excitement in the cotton states the Military Spirit aroused—Floyd's Treason—statement of the "Stealings"—a revival of the Union feeling prior to the fall of Sumter—the "Confederate States'" Government—the attack on Sumter a southern necessity—the Order becoming unpopular, and an increased military spirit necessary to revive it the border states and the knights thereof—Speech of a Kentuckian—the Rattlesnake's Charm—the Love for the American Flag.

During the winter of 1860-61, an extensive correspondence was going on between Southern and Northern Knights, in which the latter were representing the attachment to "Black Republicanism" as growing "small by degrees and beautifully less." Some of these correspondents even went so far as to undertake to prove that, in case of a revolt of the South, Mr. Lincoln, who had not yet been inaugurated, could not raise half as many men to fight for "the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws," as could be sent South to assist in maintaining "Southern rights." I did not have an opportunity to read or copy any of the numerous letters written by the Northern "chivalry," but was informed, by leading spirits of the Order, that they had every assurance that they would obtain all the help in the North they desired, both in the way of men and means. A certain gentleman in Evansville, lnd., had promised a couple of regiments, armed and equipped. A certain very prominent politician in Ohio had made a similar demonstration of his devotion to the South. Another, of the latter stripe, in New York, had promised a brigade of five thousand men, furnished for the war. The above individuals were to procure their arms, etc., from the United States in the same manner as those of their Southern brethren had taken them in their section.

The inauguration of Lincoln being near at hand, some of the K.G.C. bethought themselves that it would be a very fine idea to assassinate him, and capture Washington, inasmuch as such a thrilling movement would strike terror to the hearts of the "Abolitionists," afford an opportunity to rob the National Treasury, and thus secure the entire field in advance. I am ashamed to own that there were not a few sneaking devils north of Mason and Dixon's line who counseled this diabolical policy, and promised assistance in its prosecution. Now, had it not been for the encouragement given them from Northern quarters, the Southern Castles would never have matured the plan for the Capital's seizure as far as they did.

The plan alluded to, of which the people of the country generally had several hints, was as follows: About one thousand men, armed with bowie knives and pistols, were to meet secretly at Baltimore, where they were to secure the services of the Plug Uglies. Thence they were to proceed to Washington, on the day previous to the inauguration, and stop at the hotels as private citizens, after which their leader was to reconnoiter and select the most effective mode of operations on the succeeding day. This scheme was not encouraged by Jeff Davis, as he was not yet quite crazy enough to think that a few dozen of the "chivalry" could terrify the whole world by one demonstration. Wigfall, however, thought it a "capital" idea, in more senses than one, and urged its vigorous prosecution.

[Note: the Plug Uglies were an American Nativist criminal street gang, known for taking part in the Baltimore "Know Nothing" riots.]

Fortunately, the plot was discovered, to some extent, in time to give Gen. Scott an opportunity to present some very forcible, and, with the K.G.C., decisive arguments against it. I know the Governor of Maryland tried to make it appear that no contemplated plan for the assassination of the President elect existed; but he really knew about as little of the matter as Mr. Lincoln himself, and had he known it, would doubtless have done all in his power to conceal the matter, when he saw the preparations being made to prevent it, in order to preserve the fair fame of Baltimore. Finally, the day for the inauguration (March 4, 1861) arrived, and the presence of Scott's U.S. troops, and the grim appearance of his flying artillery, made the occasion as peaceful as it was imposing. The anxiously looked for inaugural address was delivered, and sent forth on the wings of the telegraph to all parts of the country. In the South it was received as a "coercive" document, while in the North, the majority regarded it as a conservative exposition of policy. Even the majority of Northern Democrats with whom I had an opportunity of conversing, thought the President could have said no less than he did, and abide by the Constitution. The mere intimation contained in the inaugural speech that the laws would be enforced, was all the Knights desired. This was "coercion" enough for them, and, in their estimation, no epithet was too contemptible to apply to those who indorsed it, whether living North or South. Here was another chance to sweep loyal Southern men from their position of honor into the secession hell.

After Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, one of the first questions for him to settle was, "What shall we do with the Confederates and the forts?" A question more difficult of solution never came before an administration. Mr. Floyd, Buchanan's Secretary of War, had devoted about one out of the four years of the preceding administration to the removal of arms in large quantities from the Northern and Border Slave States to the six Cotton States, while Toucey, the then Secretary of the Navy, had sent the large majority of our available ships-of-war to distant foreign stations—so far off, in fact, that they have not, even at the date I am now writing, returned; Charleston rebels had garrisoned Fort Moultrie, and erected the most powerful and effective batteries all around Sumter, supported by a force of seven thousand men; in all the seven seceded states men by thousands were being mustered into the "Confederate" service, drilled and equipped for war; and, more deplorable than all else, there were scores of men in the loyal states who declared they could not support Mr. Lincoln in a "coercive" policy. In short, the new Administration was literally tied hand and foot, and the most that it could do was to await the course of events, and take opportunity by the forelock.

Lest some persons should doubt the truth of the allegations I have made against Floyd, I have thought it well to present the proofs. The following is from the Richmond Examiner, a Southern paper, especially devoted to the cause of secession:

"The facts we are about to state are official and indisputable. Under a single order of the late Secretary of War, the Hon. Mr. Floyd, made during last year, (1860) there were one hundred and fifteen thousand improved muskets and rifles transferred from the Springfield armory and Watervliet arsenal to different arsenals in the South. The precise destination that was reached by all these arms, we have official authority for stating to have been as follows:

Location Percussion Muskets. Altered Muskets.Percussion Rifles.
Charlston (S.C.) Arsenal 9,280 5.720 2,000
North Carolina Arsenal 15,408 9,520 2,000
Augusta (Ga.) Arsenal 12,380 7,620 2,000
Mount Vernon, Alabama 9,280 5,720 2,000
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 18,520 11,420 2,000

"The total number of improved arms thus supplied to five depositories in the South, by a single order of the late Secretary of War, was 114,860. What numbers are supplied by other and minor orders, and what number of improved arms had, before the great order, been deposited in the South, can not now be ascertained."

Besides this, a Memphis paper gives the following list of "seizures" of Federal arms by the Confederates, other than those in Floyd's list:

Baton Rouge 70,000
Alabama Arsenal 28,000
Elizabeth, North Carolina 30,000
Fayetteville, North Carolina 35,000
Charleston 23,000
Norfolk 7,000
Total 193,000

Thus it appears that nearly three hundred thousand of the best arms of the Federal Government were put within the reach of its sworn enemies long before the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency; and yet there were men among us, pretending to be loyal, who, up to the very day of Sumter's bombardment, declared the "South only wanted her rights;", that she could be easily "compromised back into the Union;" and that it would be a fratricidal crime to "coerce" her. According to the advanced views of this progressive age, it is very wrong to "coerce" a regularly organized band of burglars and robbers to justice. I presume that if the devil was to lead his impish legions to the very portals of Paradise, and threaten to bombard the New Jerusalem, it would be very "coercive" in Jehovah to send Michael and his army to repulse him.

Time progressed, and it began to appear that Lincoln's course was to be a peaceful one. This had the effect to induce the Union men of the South—for there were yet many there—to believe that, perhaps, a brighter day was ahead. In fact, the Union feeling was becoming so strong, from the lapse of excitement, that, toward the close of March, Union flags were raised in Mobile and Natchez. The Knights were not blind to this reaction. A little time and reflection, they knew, would ruin their enterprise. Meantime, many who had been "coerced" into castle were withdrawing, and it became clearly obvious that, without some new excitement, the cause of the devil would suffer a most inglorious defeat in Alabama, at least. The truth is, the people in nearly all the Cotton States were growing tired of so much extra taxation and slavish drudgery for the mere sake of sustaining the name of the "Southern Confederacy."

As a means of keeping up "the interest," the Montgomery Congress appointed and sent commissioners to Washington to treat with the President, a good deal after the manner that his Satanic Majesty treated with Jesus Christ on the mount. If these commissioners were not officially received, it was to be taken for granted that Lincoln intended "coercion;" and yet no human being, with any knowledge of the Federal Constitution, could explain how the President could negotiate with the "Confederate Commissioners" without violating his oath. The Confederate Congress, which had met at Montgomery, framed a Constitution, elected a President, (Davis) a Vice President, (Stephens) and formed a provisional, or, more properly speaking, bogus government, could not confer the constitutional authority upon Lincoln to receive their bastard commissioners; Mr. Lincoln himself could not do it without having a new constitution forged for the occasion—which a good many Northerners seemed anxious he should do; so what, in the name of common sense, could be done to prevent that thing, so much dreaded by Northerners, and so terribly hated by Southrons, called "coercion?"

In the mean time, something was to be done with Forts Sumter and Pickens. If they were not evacuated, that was to be considered "coercion;" if they were to be reinforced, that was awful "coercion;" finally, if their starving garrisons were to be furnished something to eat, that was "treacherous coercion." In short, everything looking toward the retention of the Federal property was construed into "coercion." The "Confederate Commissioners" proposed to purchase the United States property within their boundary, in order to "save bloodshed." The leaders in the bogus government desired to create the impression that they intended to exhaust every peaceable method for securing the acknowledgment of their independence before resorting to arms, while, in reality, the uppermost desire in their piratical hearts was that they might have a battle; for, without a battle or two, there was not the least hope that the Border Slave States could be induced to secede. In proof of this assertion, I refer the reader to the historical fact that, when Mr. Lincoln had, through the advice of his military functionaries, concluded to evacuate Sumter, the authorities at Charleston refused to allow it on any other than their own conditions. They would agree to nothing but an unconditional surrender; would not allow that the fort should be claimed as United States property, nor that Major Anderson should even be allowed to salute his flag, on leaving it.

The ostensible objects, therefore, in sending the "Confederate Commissioners" to Washington were, in the first place, to procure a battle; in the second place, to avail themselves of sufficient time and sympathy to make ample preparations for the future; and, in the third place, by their hypocritical pretensions to a desire for peace, to inflame and draw off the Border Slave States.

Prominent members of the K.G.C. in the latter-named states had written to the authorities in Montgomery, informing them that the Order was becoming so unpopular in their region that, in many instances, castles were obliged to surrender their charters; that their neighbors were becoming even disgusted with the Provisional Government and the movements of the seceded states, and that without something to excite their Southern pride, the cause would be lost beyond redemption. A battle at Sumter or Pickens would excite that pride, and advantage must be taken of the first opportunity for a collision. I was in Kentucky about this time, (latter part of March, 1861) and many of the best citizens of that state told me that they (the Kentuckians) had no sympathy with South Carolina, the leader of the rebellion; that they even hated her, but that, in case of a "coercive policy" on the part of the Federal Administration, State pride would carry them with her.

Southern pride is a thing of remarkable sensitiveness; so sensitive, in fact, that, when wounded, it induces men who pretend to be very intelligent to overlook all their political, social, and personal interests for the mere sake of resentment. I heard a man deliver a speech in Owensboro, Kentucky, in which he declared that secession was unconstitutional, and that every intelligent man knew there was no such tiling as "the right of secession;" that, under existing circumstances, there was no excuse justifying the act; that the mere election of any man according to the prescribed mode of the Constitution, did not justify any state in leaving the Union; that Lincoln had done nothing to warrant such an action; that it was not probable he would; and that, in reality, every man who favored or advocated secession was, according to the laws of nations and according to the laws of the United States, a traitor and a rebel.

"But," said he, "our interests, our sympathies are with the South, and we must go wherever she does. If we do not, we are lost, irrecoverably lost."

He then referred to the fact that, during the late presidential canvass, he had labored zealously for the election of Bell and Everett; that he had always been a Union man, had ever loved the Union, and that no man had ever done more to prevent dissolution than he, as long as he thought it rational to indulge hope, but that the secession of South Carolina was, to him, the death-knell of the Union. Then, in the most touching and eloquent terms, he alluded to the old American flag; said that with his very mother's milk he had imbibed an indescribable love and reverence for that flag; that his grandfather had spent the vigor of his youth and the flower of his manhood in defending the banner of the free in '76; that his father, with his only uncle, (David Crockett) had both fallen upon the battlefield, each fighting, as long as life and action remained, to sustain the honor of the glorious old stars and stripes; that no flag on earth could ever occupy the place in his affections that the old American ensign had.

"But," said he, "I do not like the hands it has fallen into. I am a Southern man, we are all Southern men, and a Northern sectional candidate has been elected by a section a vote. Our sister Southern States have become indignant at this action, and have seceded from the Union; and although we—many of us, at least—part with the old Union and the old flag with sighs and regrets, we are forced to do it, or submit ourselves to a tyrannical and oppressive 'Abolition' majority, where we will be worse than slaves. There would have been no necessity for this act of rebellion—for rebellion it is—if our sisters on the Gulf coast had staid in the Union, and thereby preserved a Democratic majority. So that it is not really any objection to the old Government, or hatred to Lincoln, that carries a great many of us with the seceding states, but a consciousness of our absolute inability to stand alone and single-handed against the North, who undoubtedly will, now that so many Southern States have gone, rule us with a rod of iron."

The foregoing is, substantially, a speech made in Owensboro', on the evening of March 28, 1861, by J.W. Crockett, of Kentucky. I have quoted it from memory. The best I could do, therefore, was to give the substance. The style of the speaker can never be conveyed to one that never heard him. J.W. Crockett is an orator of great force and surpassing eloquence, and I do not remember to have ever heard a speech that produced the effect on me that this one did. The speaker was naturally a noble man, of generous impulses and warm sympathies, of hopeful soul and patriotic heart, but in the worst company that could have been selected for him. As he spoke of the glory of the old flag and the love he bore it, tears gathered in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks, which were covered with the blush of shame; the expression of his large gray eye was that of mingled sorrow and regret, while his manly breast heaved tumultuously, almost to the choking of his utterance. In short, he seemed as "a strong man bound," without the power of escaping from those who were applying to him the excoriating lash of disunion, and forcing him to utter their sentiments, not his. He had been taught by his mother to love the country and the flag for which his father had died; he had been taught by her to respect the truth and acknowledge the superior claims of justice; he had been taught to avoid evil and keep out of the way of evil doers. But the insidious serpent of secession had coiled itself about his soul, fastened its poisonous fangs upon his heart, and destroyed his manhood.

Nor is he the only one who has been falsely lured from the path of loyalty into the disunion hell. Hundreds, if not thousands, of others are in the same deplorable condition. Who is silly enough to presume that men thus humbled by the remembrance of the past, men thus oppressed by the weight of a guilty conscience, can fight for what they know to be an unjust cause, as the soldier of freedom can battle for the Union, the Constitution, and the star-spangled banner? I am fully convinced that, before this war is ended, hundreds of Knights who have been "coerced" into castle and the advocacy of secession, will ask protection under the flag of the Union. Will not the response of every true American be, "They shall have it?"

But I am about to allow my feelings to carry me too far from the point. The object in quoting so largely from the speech of J.W.C. was to show that the Southern people were growing absolutely tired of secession, and that some even of the K.G.C. were beginning to reflect, and repent of their crimes. The Confederate leaders were not blind to these facts. Something, therefore, to frenzy their blood, and prevent them from returning to sanity, was indispensable to self-preservation. Meantime, South Carolinians were "spoiling for a fight." They had gone to too much expense and trouble not to have one. Mr. Lincoln having refused to sacrifice his own and the nation's honor on the altar of the "nigger baby," by not submitting to Jeff Davis's demand of an unconditional surrender of Forts Sumter and Pickens, it was considered that a fine opportunity for arousing the spirit and pride of the "chivalry" had arrived. It was now generally understood to be the policy of the Administration to retain the forts without reinforcements. But as the garrisons could not live without something to eat, and as their supplies were about exhausted, the reprovisioning of the forts was unavoidable. The attempt to carry food to Sumter by an unarmed vessel was the signal for its bombardment, April 12, 1861, which resulted in its final surrender. Meanwhile, it had been threatened that, at the shedding of the first blood, an army would immediately be ready to march on Washington; and numbers of weak-minded men in the Border States were saying that, although they had voted for Bell and Everett, and done all they could to prevent dissolution, yet, in case a fight occurred, they would be forced to go with the South.

Really, this thing called Southern sympathy is the most remarkable thing I have ever come in contact with. To illustrate: Some time before the battle at Fort Sumter, a secession flag was being raised in Mobile, around which were gathered several men who had, until the departure of their state from the Union, been warmly opposed to disunion. Among these was a man who, in all respects, bore the marks of a gentleman. When the flag was run up, and the crowd were cheering it lustily, this man, to be in the fashion, took off his hat, waved it three times round his head without saying a word; and just as he was replacing it, turned from the intent gaze of a bitter secessionist who stood at his elbow, and drawing a long sigh, remarked, in a suppressed tone, to himself:

"But that is not the star-spangled banner. It will never be the flag of America; and who can hope for the protection under it we enjoyed under the stars and stripes?"

Another instance: I was in Kentucky immediately after the Sumter engagement, and the Knights in the town I was stopping at having thoroughly "fired the Southern heart," and forced nearly every man either into their own way of thinking or to utter silence, were, on the 15th of April, engaged in hoisting a J.D. flag, with fifteen stars instead of seven. In the assembly gathered for this treasonable purpose was a gray-haired veteran of ninety-six years, who had served through the war of 1812, and had also fought in the frontier wars; was a colonel under Harrison, and was in the battle of Tippecanoe. When the emblem of rebellion had been thrown to the breeze, and the half-drunken crowd were expressing their approbation in demoniac yells, the old soldier, for the first time in several years, raised himself erect, and, with tears in his eyes, remarked:

"I am as good a Southern Rights man as anybody, but I can never recognize that flag. I could fight the Yankees or the devil under the stars and stripes, but under no other ensign."

Thus it is with thousands who will compose the rebel army. The infatuation which induces the belief that they are to fight in defense of their "homes," "rights," and "sacred soil," which are being invaded by a ruthless foe, is nothing to compare with the patriotic love and veneration for the stars and stripes which pervades the entire body of our soldiery. And this feeling has not altogether died out with those who will fight against that flag, under such misguided leaders as Jeff Davis and Beauregard. The Southern people have, in every war in which we have hitherto been engaged, displayed great courage and gallantry; but I firmly believe that the demoralizing influence of the unholy cause in which they are now required to enlist, will render them totally incapable of retaining their former prestige,

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