A pro-Confederacy secret society during the American Civil War, the Order of American Knights (OAK) was founded by Phineas C. Wright in 1863 in St Louis, Missouri. Similar to the Knights of the Golden Circle but more deeply committed to a militant approach, the Order quickly spread throughout the Midwestern states, absorbing much of the membership of the Knights of the Golden Circle and spreading as far east as New York state. The leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Clement Vallandigham, then in exile in Canada, also accepted the post of Grand Commander of the Order of American Knights. See Knights of the Golden Circle.
The Order’s major strength was in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Michigan. Its membership reached somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 in 1864. It had a complete military organization, from the general staff of the Supreme Commander to the local township Temples, organized as companies each headed by its Captain. Despite this, the Knights never managed to oppose Federal troops effectively, and their military activities were limited to occasional guerrilla activities in Illinois and Indiana. With the backing of the Confederacy, the Order attempted to launch a revolt in the Midwest in July 1864, with the goal of breaking the entire region away from the Union, but the attempt failed dismally.
The OAK went out of existence after the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, but its legacy can be traced in the Midwest for decades thereafter. The same states that provided the bulk of OAK membership were also, six decades later, among the most successful recruiting grounds for the revived Ku Klux Klan. See Ku Klux Klan.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006