Jews and the Civil War
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
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A grand exhibit entitled “The American Jew in the Civil War” opened at the Jewish Museum in New York on December 11, 1960, to mark the centennial of the Civil War. A metal silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, based on a statue by the Jewish sculptor Max Kalish, dominated the foyer. The galleries featured true-to-life replicas of the tomb of a Confederate Jewish ...
Introduction: Before Korn: A Century of Jewish Historical Writing about the American Civil War
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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 ...
Overview: The War between Jewish Brothers in America
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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 ...
Part I. Jews and Slavery
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The twelve-volume Jewish 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 ...
1. Jews and New Christians in the Atlantic Slave Trade
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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 ...
2. Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South, 1789–1865
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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 ...
Part II. Jews and Abolition
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 ...
3. Revolution and Reform: The Antebellum Jewish Abolitionists
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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. ...
4. The Abolitionists and the Jews: Some Further Thoughts
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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 ...
Part III. Rabbis and the March to War
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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. ...
5. Isaac Mayer Wise and the Civil War
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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, ...
6. Baltimore Rabbis during the Civil War
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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 ...
Part IV. Jewish Soldiers during the Civil War
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From the first, Jewish writing about the Civil War extolled (and enumerated) the participation of Jews in the conflict as soldiers and sailors, officers 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 ...
7. Divided Loyalties in 1861: The Decision of Major Alfred Mordecai
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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 ...
8. Jewish Confederates
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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 ...
9. From Peddler to Regimental Commander in Two Years: The Civil War Career of Major Louis A. Gratz
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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 Gr
Part V. The Home Front
10. Eugenia Levy Phillips: The Civil War Experiences of a Southern Jewish Woman
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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 ...
11. Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood in 279 the Civil War Writings of American Jewish Women
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... 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 ...
Part VI. Jews as a Class
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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. ...
12. “Shoddy” Antisemitism and the Civil War
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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 ...
13. Jewish Chaplains during the Civil War
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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 ...
14. That Obnoxious Order
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Why did Grant issue such an order? This remains a puzzle with only a partial solution. On the day of the order’s issue, Grant advanced into Mississippi along the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad, and reached Oxford. From there he instructed Major General William T. Sherman to lead an expedition down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, the ultimate ...
15. Civil War Exodus: The Jews and Grant’s General Order No. 11
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The popular mind commonly envisages the Civil War in images of battlefield 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 ...
Part VII. Aftermath
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 ...
16. The Post–Civil War Economy in the South
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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 ...
17. Candidate Grant and the Jews
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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 ..
For Further Reading
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About the Editors
Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2010