The Civil War in Missouri

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Report of the Judge Advocate General on “The Order of American Knights,” Alias “The Sons of Liberty”

1864
MHM Library

Colonel John P. Sanderson took over as provost marshal in St. Louis when General William S. Rosecrans became commander of the Union’s Department of Missouri in January of 1864. Both Sanderson and Rosecrans were suspected by the War Department of cowardice at the Battle of Chickamauga. In order to improve his reputation, Sanderson pursued disloyal citizens vigorously, sometimes with a disregard for facts.Sanderson hired several detectives who sought out disloyalty in St. Louis and beyond. In his exposé, Sanderson grossly exaggerated the accomplishments of the Order of American Knights (OAK), a secessionist secret organization that was mostly defunct by 1864. However, the claims he made were used with some success in the 1864 election to discredit anti-war Democrats by aligning them with the OAK.