Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Jews and the Civil War

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader

Jonathan D. Sarna
Adam Mendelsohn
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 445
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qft61
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Jews and the Civil War
    Book Description:

    At least 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. A few served together in Jewish companies while most fought alongside Christian comrades. Yet even as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the front lines, they encountered unique challenges.In Jews and the Civil War, Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn assemble for the first time the foremost scholarship on Jews and the Civil War, little known even to specialists in the field. These accessible and far-ranging essays from top scholars are grouped into seven thematic sections--Jews and Slavery, Jews and Abolition, Rabbis and the March to War, Jewish Soldiers during the Civil War, The Home Front, Jews as a Class, and Aftermath--each with an introduction by the editors. Together they reappraise the impact of the war on Jews in the North and the South, offering a rich and fascinating portrait of the experience of Jewish soldiers and civilians from the home front to the battle front.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8679-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Before Korn: A Century of Jewish Historical Writing about the American Civil War
    (pp. 1-26)
    Adam Mendelsohn

    The history of scholarship on the American Jewish experience of the Civil War can be neatly divided into two eras. From the 1880s—when Jewish participation in the conflict first attracted sustained attention—until 1950, the field was dominated by enthusiastic amateur historians. A second era began in 1951, when Bertram Korn, an ordained rabbi who had served as a Marine Corps chaplain in the latter stages of World War II, publishedAmerican Jewry and the Civil War, based on his doctoral thesis at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.¹ In spite of producing several other significant volumes, Korn is best...

  5. Overview: The War between Jewish Brothers in America
    (pp. 27-46)
    Eli N. Evans

    For Jews in America, the Civil War was a watershed that involved Jewish soldiers from all over the nation. Jews served in both armies and helped in the war effort in many other ways. Serving their countries under fire and fighting side by side with their Gentile comrades in arms accelerated the process of acculturation, not only through their self-perceptions, but also because of the reactions of the community around them. Jewish immigrants who had only recently arrived in America and thought of themselves as Germans came to see themselves not only as Americans, but as Americans who belonged. And...

  6. PART I Jews and Slavery

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 47-50)

      The twelve-volumeJewish Encyclopedia(New York, 1901–1906), the first comprehensive work embracing all aspects of Jewish history, religion, and life, contained no article about slaveholding among American Jews but a significant article on the “Antislavery Movement in America.” While the article acknowledged Jewish slaveholding (“it is not hard to account for the fact that so receptive and assimilative a people as the Jews should have adopted it from the people among whom they were living”), it focused on those Jews who opposed the “peculiar institution.” It credited the rise of antislavery sentiments among Jews “for the enormous number of...

    • 1 Jews and New Christians in the Atlantic Slave Trade
      (pp. 51-86)
      Seymour Drescher

      In studying the westward expansion of Europe after 1500, “the development of an Atlantic economy is impossible to imagine without slavery and the slave trade.”¹ During three and a half centuries, up to twelve million Africans were loaded and transported in dreadful conditions to the tropical and subtropical zones of the Americas. This massive coerced transoceanic transportation system was only one element of a still broader process. Probably twice as many Africans were seized within Africa for purposes of domestic enslavement or transportation to purchasers in the Eastern Hemisphere during the same period. The coerced movement of Africans long exceeded...

    • 2 Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South, 1789–1865
      (pp. 87-122)
      Bertram W. Korn

      Slavery was the dominant social and economic fact of life in the Southern states. It was also the focus of the increasing strife between the North and South which culminated in the secession of the Southern states, the formation of the Confederate States of America, and the effort of the North and West to reform the Union which, in its military phase, is known as the Civil War. While it is true that there were many other factors which contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War, it is equally true that there would have been no armed conflict if...

  7. PART II Jews and Abolition

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 123-124)

      Although the American Jewish population was relatively small in the decades before the Civil War, Jews and Judaism held an outsized position in the cosmology of several leading abolitionists. Many abolitionists drew motivation and inspiration from their evangelical Protestant convictions. They moved in circles that sought the conversion of Jews to Christianity through active missionizing. And a handful of their voluble political antagonists, particularly Mordecai Noah and Judah P. Benjamin, were conspicuously Jewish. Anti-Jewish animus, as a result, surfaced occasionally, for example, when the leading abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Edmund Quincy mouthed unflattering stereotypes.

      For the most part Jews...

    • 3 Revolution and Reform: The Antebellum Jewish Abolitionists
      (pp. 125-144)
      Jayme A. Sokolow

      Many antebellum abolitionists condemned discrimination throughout the world and tried to enlist the aid of traditionally oppressed ethnic groups in the antislavery crusade. They were spectacularly unsuccessful, however, in soliciting Irish support.¹ The antebellum Jews’ apparent unwillingness to participate in the emancipation struggle also puzzled and hurt the abolitionists. In the 1853 report of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, they wondered why the

      Jews of the United States have never taken any steps whatever with regard to the Slavery question. As citizens, they deem it their policy “to have everyone choose which ever side he may deem best to...

    • 4 The Abolitionists and the Jews: Some Further Thoughts
      (pp. 145-156)
      Louis Ruchames

      About twenty-five years ago, in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society,¹ this writer delivered a rather vigorous critique of the views of Isaac Mayer Wise and Bertram Korn—especially of the latter’s volume,American Jewry and the Civil War²—concerning the abolitionists and other antislavery leaders. The paper was essentially polemical in nature. It consisted, for the most part, of a defense of the antislavery movement against the accusations that had been made against it by Wise and Korn, who, in the words of this writer, pictured abolitionists “as power-hungry politicians, heedless of...

  8. PART III Rabbis and the March to War

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 157-160)

      The American Jewish community took no official position on slavery or secession. Since there was no chief rabbi of the United States, and Judaism in the country was not organized hierarchically, the great political questions of the Civil War era elicited a broad range of Jewish views, as many as there were rabbis and congregations. No individual rabbi spoke for the community at large.

      Nevertheless, the voice of one prominent rabbi, Morris Raphall of New York, rang out louder than the rest. Speaking on the National Fast Day (January 4, 1861) called by President James Buchanan to promote national unity,...

    • 5 Isaac Mayer Wise and the Civil War
      (pp. 161-180)
      Sefton D. Temkin

      When, on April 12, 1861, the Confederate forces, by attacking Fort Sumter, kindled into flame the quivering feeling that had developed between North and South, Isaac Mayer Wise was forty-two years of age. He had arrived in New York from Bohemia fourteen years before, had settled in Albany shortly afterwards, and had removed to Cincinnati in April, 1854, there to serve as rabbi of Congregation B’nai Yeshurun and as headmaster of the Talmud Yelodim Institute attached to it. Within a month after arriving at Cincinnati, Wise had begun preparations for the publication of a Jewish weekly; the first issue of...

    • 6 Baltimore Rabbis during the Civil War
      (pp. 181-196)
      Isaac M. Fein

      The number of Jews in the United States tripled during the decade preceding the Civil War. From about fifty thousand in 1850, it grew to about one hundred and fifty thousand by 1860.¹ Since Baltimore was an important center, and a port of landing at that, the rate of growth of its Jewish population was, naturally, larger than that of the country at large. In 1840, there were in Baltimore less than two hundred Jewish families.² By 1855, only fifteen years later, the number grew about sevenfold, to between twelve to fifteen hundred families.³ In 1859, the estimated number of...

  9. PART IV Jewish Soldiers during the Civil War

    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 197-200)

      From the first, Jewish writing about the Civil War extolled (and enumerated) the participation of Jews in the conflict as soldiers and sailors, of-ficers and enlistees. Paradoxically for a subject repeatedly foraged by historians, we know surprisingly little about the experience of Jews in the armies of the North. Partly this reflects the difficulty of assembling the sources necessary for writing a richly textured account of Jewish life in uniform. But primarily it suggests the vestigial legacy of several generations of historians who collected and collated material to serve political, apologetic, and presentist—rather than historical—agendas. The former approach...

    • 7 Divided Loyalties in 1861: The Decision of Major Alfred Mordecai
      (pp. 201-226)
      Stanley L. Falk

      When Confederate batteries opened fire on beleaguered Fort Sumter on the morning of April 12, 1861, Major Alfred Mordecai, a senior officer in the Ordnance Department, United States Army, was testing artillery carriages at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He immediately hurried back to his post as commanding officer of Watervliet Arsenal, a major ordnance installation located just outside of Troy, New York.¹ Like thousands of other Americans, he found himself faced with the problem of divided loyalties.

      Major Mordecai was a distinguished army scientist who had made great contributions in weapons development and ballistics during a military career that spanned more...

    • 8 Jewish Confederates
      (pp. 227-252)
      Robert N. Rosen

      In March 1865, Samuel Yates Levy, a captain in the Confederate army and a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island, wrote to his father J.C. Levy of Savannah, Georgia, “I long to breathe the free air of Dixie.” Like the Levy family, southern Jews were an integral part of the Confederate States of America and had been breathing the free air of Dixie for more than two hundred years.

      When the Civil War began, there were sizable Jewish communities in all of the major southern cities. Louisiana boasted more than five congregations. New Orleans had the seventh-largest Jewish population in...

    • 9 From Peddler to Regimental Commander in Two Years: The Civil War Career of Major Louis A. Gratz
      (pp. 253-264)
      Jacob Rader Marcus

      Early in 1861 a German Jewish immigrant, not yet twenty-two years of age, landed in New York City. The name by which he was to be known in this, the land of his adoption, was Louis A. Gratz. Judging by the surname, which was Grätz in German, the original home of his family was either in the Austro-Silesian town of Grätz or in the German-Polish town of the same name in the province of Posen. Although there is no conclusive evidence by any means, the likelihood is that the Louis A. Gratz family stemmed from this latter town, the same...

  10. PART V The Home Front

    • [Part V Introduction]
      (pp. 265-266)

      Until recently the home front, the vast civilian terrain beyond the battle-field shaped and scarred by the Civil War, attracted only limited attention from historians. Over the past two decades, scholars have begun to fill this considerable lacuna, drawing on a trove of diaries, memoirs, and letters left by women and other noncombatants whose lives were nonetheless profoundly affected by the conflict. Whereas once attention was focused primarily on formal relief efforts—Bertram Korn devoted a chapter to the patriotic activities, medical care, charitable organization, and other institutional responses spurred by the war—interest has now shifted to the psychological...

    • 10 Eugenia Levy Phillips: The Civil War Experiences of a Southern Jewish Woman
      (pp. 267-278)
      David T. Morgan

      War causes dislocation and misery in unpredictable ways—oftentimes to the unsuspecting civilian as well as to the soldier in the front lines. Women, far from the fields of battle, have been known to become involved indirectly and to suffer because of their involvement. And so it was during the Civil War with Eugenia Levy Phillips, who, probably more than any other Southern woman of prominent political connections and high social standing, paid a heavy price in humiliation and suffering for her abiding loyalty to the Confederacy. Here is a bizarre story, the story of a woman who seems to...

    • 11 Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood in the Civil War Writings of American Jewish Women
      (pp. 279-306)
      Dianne Ashton

      “If I do not keep the friends I have, I shall indeed be bereaved,” wrote Emma Mordecai, a refugee from Richmond, Virginia, in May 1864. That belief guided Mordecai’s adjustment to life in her sister-in-law’s home in the Confederate countryside, where she had gone to escape the dangers and privations besieging Richmond as the armies of Lee and Grant fought fewer than ten miles away.¹ Although Mordecai faced greater danger than most American Jewish women, many of whom lived in the North, she was not alone in relying heavily on friendships for the duration of the war.

      Jewish women of...

  11. PART VI Jews as a Class

    • [Part VI Introduction]
      (pp. 307-310)

      Historians used to trace the roots of American antisemitism to the post–Civil War era, usually to 1877, when the banker Joseph Seligman was excluded from the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs on account of his religion. Earlier slurs, scholars believed, were sporadic, insignificant, and without serious malicious intent.

      Bertram W. Korn’sAmerican Jewry and the Civil Warchallenged this view, dealing extensively with what he characterized as “Judaeophobia” during the Civil War era. Northerners and Confederates alike, he showed, used Jews as a convenient scapegoat for the social and economic ills of the day, which the war exacerbated....

    • 12 “Shoddy” Antisemitism and the Civil War
      (pp. 311-334)
      Gary L. Bunker and John J. Appel

      At the outset of the Civil War, the fruit of anti-Semitism was ripe for harvesting.¹ Ethnocentric beliefs expressed a preference for white, native-born Protestants. Because immigration between 1850 and 1860 had swelled the Jewish population,² and the tenets of Judaism did not match the popular standard of religious acceptability, Jews were automatically indicted on two of the three counts: the vast majority of Jews were not native-born; and, except for the anomaly of isolated conversions, few passed the litmus test of religious legitimacy.³ Although historian John Higham identified General U.S. Grant’s December 1862 expulsion of Jews from his jurisdiction “as...

    • 13 Jewish Chaplains during the Civil War
      (pp. 335-352)
      Bertram W. Korn

      The American tradition of the military chaplaincy is as old as the United States itself. Clergymen served with the armies of the individual colonies almost from the first battle of the Revolution, and provisions for the payment of chaplains were enacted by the Continental Congress as early as 1775. The first regular army chaplain was commissioned in 1781, immediately following due authorization by Congress in its legislation for a second regiment to supplement the small national military establishment. From then on, post and brigade chaplains were an accepted feature of the army table of organization.

      These chaplains were all Protestants,...

    • 14 That Obnoxious Order
      (pp. 353-362)
      John Simon

      “That obnoxious order,” Julia Dent Grant called it. She dislikedGeneral Order Number Eleven, issued by her husband, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, on December 17, 1862. The order read:

      I. The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department, and also Department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department. II. Within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order by Post Commanders, they will see that all of this class of people are furnished with passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification, will be arrested and held in...

    • 15 Civil War Exodus: The Jews and Grant’s General Order No. 11
      (pp. 363-384)
      Stephen V. Ash

      The popular mind commonly envisages the Civil War in images of battle-field heroics and exalted statesmanship to the exclusion of the more petty manifestations of the human spirit—greed, hatred, prejudice. But the latter were epidemic in America in the 1860s, spawned and nurtured by the virulent nature of the world’s first modern war. An event in late 1862—the forced removal of innocent Jewish families from Paducah, Kentucky—exemplifies this ugly phenomenon clearly and brings to light some less familiar aspects of America’s experience during those years. Though historians have not ignored this episode altogether, they have not yet...

  12. PART VII Aftermath

    • [Part VII Introduction]
      (pp. 385-386)

      Jews emerged from the Civil War with greater self-assurance and a renewed determination to make a place for themselves in American society. Toward these ends, some Jews moved South, seeking to take advantage of economic opportunities during Reconstruction as the South struggled to rebuild.

      Thomas D. Clark examines an economic niche that attracted many Jews to the devastated region: country storekeeping. The sudden demise of the plantation system radically reshaped the Southern economy and opened new vistas for enterprising middlemen. Farmers were eager to purchase merchandise and supplies and needed intermediaries to distribute their crops to distant markets. The itinerant...

    • 16 The Post–Civil War Economy in the South
      (pp. 387-398)
      Thomas D. Clark

      The Confederate soldier straggling home after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox came home to ruin. Many Southern towns and all of the railroads were laid waste by the invading Union Army. Four years of conflict had taken a terrific toll of property and human life. More important even than this was the fact that Southern energy was depleted not only during the war but for many years to come in the future. No historian can ever estimate the price of total destruction in many parts of the South because much of this was in the form of loss of highly potential...

    • 17 Candidate Grant and the Jews
      (pp. 399-410)
      Joakim Isaacs

      In 1868, when the Republican Party nominated General Grant for President, for the first time since the founding of the United States, the idea of a Jewish vote and the question of a Presidential candidate’s alleged anti-Semitism became a central political issue. The Jewish community at the time was not organized as it is today. The age of the Anti-Defamation League was in the future, and the B’nai B’rith, the only large Jewish organization, busied itself with internecine quarrels over whether meetings should be opened with a prayer and whether Gentiles should be admitted to membership. The B’nai B’rith kept...

  13. For Further Reading
    (pp. 411-418)
  14. Index
    (pp. 419-434)
  15. About the Editors
    (pp. 435-435)