Ghost Knights Of New Orleans
Chapter One - Taking the Oath
In the closing days of the War Between the States, with defeat standing before me, this Southerner considered a decision between love and treasure, and while I opted for both over the one, my plans were interrupted by a great national conspiracy that pulled me toward its center.
’Twas intrigue and treachery on a grand scale, a scheme that threatened to swallow my life, and had the Yankee government ever penetrated its inner workings, a host of men across the country, myself included, would not have lived to recount any story, much less me with the following narrative in hand.
What follows is an account explaining how I joined a certain secret society working toward causes I now see as beyond dubious and how my activities on behalf of the cabal and associations I made within it provided me a ringside seat to one of the greatest conspiracies in the history of the United States.
I stood beside General Stand Watie near Doaksville, Indian Territory on June 23, 1865 as he handed his sword to Federal officers, an act making him the last Confederate general to surrender to Northern forces, some two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
I watched painfully as the bravest man I had ever known gave up the good fight for reasons far outside his control and to men far his lesser. At that moment, I determined to return to New Orleans, the city of my birth, to meet one of the most beautiful ladies in the South, and certainly one of the most cunning, and then collect a treasure cache as rightly mine as anyones. Those thoughts, while pleasant, served as only a partial remedy for the pain of the moment.
You’ll trust that I shall divulge the details of the lady, the treasure, and assorted matters of national historical importance in due course.
The war began for me, Drouet Broussard, Confederate scout, spy, and courier, shortly after those peoples comprising what is known as the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory—the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles—officially allied with the Confederacy in an agreement brokered by noted attorney, writer, Freemason, and Confederate General, Albert Pike.
Albert Pike—remember the name, for the tentacles of him and several others spread far and wide before, during, and after the Great War.
At the war’s beginning, each of those tribes severed ties with the United States government and commenced a course with the Confederacy, an honorable, yet albeit mistaken decision when considered in hindsight. After the war, the victorious Yankees chose to use these tribes’ allegiance with the South as a reason to strip them of political autonomy and render them dependent upon the government in Washington City for protection and sustenance. I wish Pike had failed in negotiating the alliance. Had he fallen short, we would see those tribes comprising five distinct and fairly autonomous nations in that region of Oklahoma today. While few of us pondered these questions in April of 1861, when the guns of war first boomed, I am forever honored knowing I fought beside such warriors, especially those who fought under my friend, the Indian Swamp Fox, General Watie, a man who showed me the meaning of courage, honor, and tenacity.
General Pike, a close friend of my father who had visited our New Orleans home many times over the years, paid a visit to my family shortly after he secured allegiance from the aforementioned tribes in the Indian Territory. While in New Orleans, he also secured my service as a scout and spy on behalf of those Indian forces. Pike explained that the deal he arranged with the tribes stipulated that the Confederate Government take over all obligations of the United States, that the Confederacy protect against invasions and uprisings in the respective Indian Nations, that the Indians be represented with delegates in the Confederate Congress, that the Indians furnish troops for their own defense, and that they never serve outside Indian Territory. Pike’s manner indicated a sense of responsibility on his part for these Indian warriors, and I took his request for my services as a result of that concern.
At the time, I never asked myself why Pike felt compelled to enlist these Indian tribes into Confederate service, but over the years, I ascertained his exact reasons.
Pike knew of my experiences at the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, an institution where I excelled as a top student under the direction of none other than Major William Tecumseh Sherman. The academy opened in 1860, and I became a beneficiary cadet some months later, receiving instruction there right up until Louisiana seceded on January 26, 1861. Major Sherman resigned as superintendent the following April. During that same time, many of the cadets departed the academy so as to enlist in the Confederate military. I joined the exodus for the same reason. Soon thereafter, Pike queried me about serving as a scout, courier, and spy, roles requiring that I work in close conjunction with the Confederate Indians of Indian Territory.
Pike and Father first met decades earlier through their membership in the Masonic Lodge, an organization enjoying the strong involvement of both men. During the mid-1850s, they commenced a closer friendship with one another and with a cadre of other men who often met at our home to discuss affairs of which I knew nothing about at the time. Their hushed tones behind closed doors indicated the purposes of their meetings were not intended for public awareness. Others in attendance were men such as Judah Benjamin and Senator John Slidell. Both of these men were attorneys by trade who had served as United States Senators from Louisiana. Both went on to serve the Confederacy, Benjamin as Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury and Slidell as a foreign diplomat in France. In the years before the war, all maintained a steady stream of communication via mail correspondence and privately-delivered messages. The details of their collective work I shall divulge within these passages in due course.
Pike took an interest in me after Father informed him of reports from the academy in which professors acknowledged in glowing language my abilities in the classroom and in the field. Such talk brings laughter to yours truly, as I am keenly aware that my innate strength is the ability to blend in anywhere and everywhere, no more and no less. Fighting alongside Stand Watie and his Cherokee warriors for nearly four years only served to heighten my abilities to conceal, to elude, and to disappear. If those people from the southeastern woodlands do not know the trick, then it has not been invented. Most importantly, though, fighting alongside Watie honed my greatest strength—the power of knowing who I am and how to be true to myself. The Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy did not offer instruction in such matters.
Father held the antiquated belief that privileged Southerners remained exempt from actual military service for the Confederacy, so it was against his wishes that I shook hands with Albert Pike and agreed to perform as a scout and spy among the Indian Nations and fight alongside the warriors of the Five Civilized Tribes.
I stand proud of my service to the Confederacy and to the brave Indian warriors with whom I fought. My work in the field helped secure the capture of the J.R. Williams, a Yankee steamboat carrying commissary goods and food for Yankee sympathizers recently returned to the Indian Territory from Kansas and Missouri. Because of information I gleaned from Yankee officers during poker games in Fort Smith during the month of June 1864, Stand Watie and four hundred of his men successfully waylaid the vessel as it rounded Pleasant Bluff near the mouth of the Canadian River while floating from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson. Watie took four hundred Sharps rifles and six hundred new revolvers off of that Yankee boat. To this day, I use a Sharps and wear two revolvers appropriated from that great ambush.
A few months later, in September of 1864, we captured a Yankee supply wagon on its way from Kansas to Fort Gibson to supply Indians loyal to the Federals in the area. We came away with food, clothing, weapons, and other provisions worth well over a million dollars that day, all because of the decisive action of General Watie. Watie always demonstrated certainty and boldness in action, a singular sense of decisiveness that I never forgot.
To be sure, though, I also saw my share of defeat during nearly four years of service. The Battle of Honey Springs comes first to mind as I recall those days. At Honey Springs, for all intents and purposes, the War Between the States in Indian Territory came to a decisive end. The Yankees were emboldened by recent victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and they also feared a Confederate takeover of nearby Fort Gibson, so they determined as necessary a full-scale assault on the Confederates in the area. During the month of July 1863, General Douglas Cooper waited at Honey Springs for General William Cabell and nearly four thousand Southern reinforcements.
Yankee General James Blunt somehow received word of Cabell’s imminent arrival on the scene and decided to attack before those reinforcements arrived. To do that, Blunt and his forces endured an all-night trek to the area in and around Honey Springs and commenced engaging Confederates as they came into their view. Blunt’s forces enjoyed vastly superior weapons to our Southern fighters on that day. They fought with the best rifles, artillery, and ammunition in the Yankee government’s arsenal, while our outnumbered and out-gunned Confederates fought with smoothbore muskets and flintlock shotguns which, because of the morning rain, fired with the most unreliable consistency.
Had Cabell’s forces arrived sooner, our Southern forces would have enjoyed a comfortable advantage in men with better weapons and dry powder.
While in Fort Smith in the late afternoon of the previous day, I learned of Blunt’s intention of trekking post haste to Honey Springs. I nearly killed two horses attempting to get to Honey Springs before Blunt did. I did not make it in time.
The year before, in March of 1862, I accompanied General Watie at Pea Ridge, Arkansas where we fought under General Benjamin McCulloch. We fought tenaciously even in defeat. We captured Yankee artillery positions and covered the retreat of our Southern forces as Yankees took control.
At Pea Ridge, General Pike led his Indian Brigade of about one thousand soldiers, including a unit of Texas Cavalry. After the battle, when a number of Northern soldiers were found scalped and mutilated on the battlefield, Yankee fingers began pointing in the direction of Pike. The affair led to Pike resigning his commission and, on his way through the door to private life, telling Confederate officials that his Indian troops would never have been at Pea Ridge to begin with had the Confederacy honored its pledge to limit their fighting to battles and skirmishes within Indian Territory.
Many were the days in Indian Territory as we fought against a foe superior in numbers and far better equipped that my thoughts strayed to Father’s club, the Pickwick on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, and a glass of Sazerac. At the time, I knew the conversations at the Pickwick between Father and his fellow club members often centered around my foolishness in allowing Pike to pull me away from my circle at home and into the wilds of eastern Indian Territory, a land of hard fighting, hard liquor, and hard beds on the ground at night.
After Pea Ridge, Pike made his way south to a secluded and guarded cabin in southwestern Arkansas called Caddo Gap. Once there, he sent me a message through the network that I meet him at once. There, I met with him in the dark of night some several weeks after the defeat at Pea Ridge. The cabin stood guarded by sentries on all sides. From a respectable distance out in the pines, I called out the necessary words to the sentries who immediately barked back permission for me to come ahead.
A sentry opened the front door to the cabin, and I walked through to see once again the bearded, long-haired gentleman who recruited me into Confederate service barely two years prior to that night.
We began a conversation that lasted long into the evening and into the following morning. Our exchange touched on items I regarded as mere shadows of reality then, but those things are quite tangible now.
Pike advised that I temporarily halt my services on behalf of the forces in the Indian Territory and return to New Orleans straightaway. Pike then showed me the signed paperwork by my superiors allowing this excursion to take place.
“Drouet, New Orleans will not long be free of Yankee tyranny. In a matter of only a few months—if that long—Northern ships shall appear in the gulf and float their way up the Mississippi to a point only mere blocks from our mint on Esplanade Avenue. We need you there when this happens.”
“Yankees soon to be in New Orleans? How do you know this?”
“Matters are not always as they appear; a fact of which your own father is too keenly aware. While this Great War engulfs our energies at present, it does not stop a game that has been afoot for many years preceding it.”
“Why do you mention the New Orleans mint? Its use as a mint ceased a year ago. The building is now used for housing our Confederate troops stationed in that city.”
“There are gold coins, bars, and shavings still in the building that must not fall into Yankee hands. The job falls on you to keep this from happening. The Circle will make use of that gold to advance our purposes after the war, regardless of which side wins. You are to extract the booty out of the mint building and place it where it shall be safe until such time as our society needs it at a future time.”
“How do you know there is gold left in the building?”
“Because one of our operatives placed it there in a hidden spot during his employment at the mint.”
“You speak of something that involves my father?”
“Yes, a very serious business, and it involves many other men, some of whom you may remember coming and going at your own home while you were merely a boy.”
I vividly remembered numerous meetings over the years at our home attended by my father, Pike, Slidell, Benjamin, George Bickley, the apparent leader of the group, and others. I never asked questions back in those days, but while I stood there before Albert Pike on that dark night in the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas, my mind certainly raced for answers.
“Drouet, I have kept up with your activities in this war since I first brought you into it. I like how you operate—efficiently, quietly, and without notice. You will be needed after we lose this war, and that is one of the reasons I asked you here tonight.”
“Lose the war?”
Pike sat silent and seemingly in deep introspection for several moments before answering.
“I’m afraid we cannot win this war. It has drug on too long now and allowed the government in Washington City to marshal the many forces at its disposal—its industrial might, its many hundreds of thousands of fighting men. Drouet, it is over.”
“I cannot believe you say this, general. Just a few weeks ago, you commanded our men on the battlefield as men died all around you, and now you speak nonchalantly of our defeat.”
“Just trust me when I say that the cause for which we fight does not die when we are defeated in this war—and defeated we will be.”
“You mentioned my father. Is he in some kind of danger? What is going on that I do not know about?”
“All within our Circle are most certainly in danger, even if one of our members speaks of our endeavors.”
“What do you need from me?”
“It is the Great Circle, not I, that needs you.”
“I will do whatever I need to do in order to help my father.”
“We need a courier. One who delivers payments. One who delivers information. One who does what the Circle needs him to do when we need him to do it, and one who works as a shadow as he does it.”
“Payments? To whom?”
“To those who have performed services on behalf of the Circle and to those we need to keep quiet. Also, to those who might speak and incriminate our members. But, Drouet, I must tell you that I cannot tell you anything more until you, like your father did many years ago, pledge your loyalty—indeed, your life—to the great Circle of which we have been speaking. And even if you make such a pledge, you will learn our most guarded secrets only over time.”
“If my father took this oath of which you speak, then so will I. Let’s be on with this business, especially if my father’s life is on the line.”
Pike then handed me a sheet of paper.
“This is it. Read this to yourself. When you are ready to make your most solemn promise, you will read it aloud.”
I read the oath and then, looking to Pike, nodded in the affirmative my intention to make the vow. Pike then went outside and called in the sentinels.
“Drouet, all of these men are members of the Circle who took the same pledge as your father, the same vow you are about to take yourself. Proceed.”