SLAVERY AND THE CIVIL WAR: PART II
JUDAH P. BENJAMIN
Judah Philip Benjamin (1811-1884) was a great man, the best known, the most distinguished Jew in mid-nineteenth-century America. He was born on St. Croix, in the Islands, then English territory; his father, a poor man, moved to the United States when the child was quite young. After a brief stay in North Carolina the Benjamins settled in Charleston where the youngster was fortunate to secure a good education. There was a tradition in town that he had also received some Jewish training at the hands of a local Jewish charitable society. Though the family was not particularly observant Jewishly, the father was active in the Reformed Society of Israelites for a while till expelled. Like other lads from the South, Benjamin went North to Yale, but left the school under a cloud when he was sixteen. The problems and the difficulties that he experienced obviously had a profound influence in shaping this Charlestonian’s later career. He was a young man in a hurry, desperately determined to get ahead, to be somebody, to attain recognition. Thus it is easy to understand why he went west to New Orleans, the city of opportunity. He worked hard, became a lawyer at twenty-one, married a Catholic girl at twenty-two, and a year later, with Thomas Slidell, produced a digest of Louisiana court decisions.
Having achieved success as an outstanding lawyer in a very few years he set his heart on becoming a Southern gentleman. Thus his next step was to buy a sugar plantation and to build a beautiful mansion. Financial reverses forced him back into the law. In just a few years he became one of the great lawyers of the South, a myth even in his own day. Benjamin, wrote a contemporary, received a retainer of $500,000 in the California New Almaden Mine Case; actually his maximum fee was probably closer to $10,000 and that was huge at the time. He needed money to support himself, his parents, and his immediate family. His marriage was not a good one, for his wife and child moved to Paris where he visited them frequently. Benjamin was a far-visioned legal entrepreneur. He helped organize a railroad to link New Orleans with the North and the Great Lakes and worked to build a railroad and canal across Mexico to tie the South with the Pacific, China, and India. He recognized that the South would have to expand commercially and possibly politically southward to find compensation for its declining influence in the legislative halls of the North. Constantly reaching out Benjamin turned to politics, and after a brief period of service in the Louisiana state legislature he was elected to the United States Senate. That was in 1853; he was then forty-two years of age.1
Benjamin was not the first Jew in the Senate; just about a decade earlier David Levy Yulee had been sent to the upper house as Florida’s first senator after it was admitted to the Union (1845). Unlike his father, Moses Elias Levy, an antislavery pro-Jewish visionary, David Levy Yulee was a typical ambitious Southern planter. He believed in states rights; he wanted to maintain and extend slavery; Negroes did not merit civic equality. Like the men about him he joined in the cry for secession after the election of the slavery-limiting Republican president. Unlike Benjamin he was no great orator nor a particularly brilliant man. Both men chose secession; neither really had any choice for both Florida and Louisiana seceded from the Union in January, 1861. Benjamin believed in slavery and had defended it in the Senate, but he was no impassioned states-rights firebrand like William Lowndes Yancey. He was a brilliant lawyer logically incisive, a brain for hire; he could in one case proclaim with fervor and conviction that a slave was a human being with feelings, passions, and intellect, and could also argue, equally convincingly, that slavery was a moral institution.
When some Northern senators attacked Benjamin he was doubly vulnerable; he was a proslavery advocate and he was a Jew. Pouring the vials of his wrath on Northern “doughfaces”—sympathizers with the South—Senator Ben Wade referred to them as Israelites with Egyptian principles. This phrase was soon applied to Benjamin. As the gentleman from Louisiana prepared to leave the Senate in February, 1861, his Northern confrere, the shrewd and equivocating gentleman from Massachusetts, Senator Henry Wilson, declared that Benjamin was trying to overthrow the government of his adopted country which “gave equality of rights even to that race that stoned the prophets and crucified the redeemer of the world. “2 Another officeholder, Governor Brough of Ohio, referred to Benjamin as “a Jew by birth and a politican by trade.”
Benjamin .served the Confederacy in many ways. Jefferson Davis, his friend, appointed him first as Attorney General and soon after Acting Secretary of War. This, too, was an office of short duration; he was compelled to resign in the face of bitter criticism because he had failed to supply munitions and reinforcements to save Roanoke Island, an important post. Benjamin could not save the place because ammunition was in short supply; he dared not exculpate himself by telling the truth. General Joe Johnston and the Confederate Congress were unhappy that the national defense was in the hands of a Jew named Judah; an enemy of the Secretary once referred to him as Judas Iscariot Benjamin. Once more President Davis elevated his confidant; he made him Secretary of State. It was now Benjamin’s mission to secure diplomatic recognition and intervention by England and France; this would break the Union blockade. Politicians in both these nations might have lent themselves willingly to this purpose, for they knew that a divided America would be a weak America. They feared this young transatlantic giant. Nevertheless the astute Secretary of State could do little in this task of turning the great powers of Europe against the Union; it was difficult for France and England to support a slave state; they themselves had long before emancipated their Negroes and prohibited the slave trade. Though the Confederates played France off against England, the French made no definitive move. The English, too, took no action; they needed American grain; and although they suffered without American cotton their factories and mills were busy supplying both Civil War contenders. Canada might well fall into American hands if London turned against Washington. In this unsuccessful attempt to secure help from Europe, Benjamin employed a diplomatic agent, Edwin De Leon, one of three South Carolina brothers, all men of ability. David, the oldest, was the army surgeon; Thomas Cooper De Leon, the youngest, was a novelist, parodist, and journalist; a play he wrote ran for 100 nights, a record in the 1870’s. Edwin, too, was a novelist as well as a lecturer and politician; in antebellum days he had served as consul general in Alexandria. After the South went down to defeat he remained abroad for many years and in the early 1880’s introduced the telephone into Egypt. On his death in 1891 he was buried in this country in a Catholic cemetery alongside his Irish wife. Neither of his brothers married. All three were ardently loyal Southerners completely disinterested in Jewry and Judaism. Their life and death is symbolic of the decline of the cultured Jewry of the prewar South.3
Edwin De Leon had once made the statement that Providence and God had determined that blacks were to be slaves. There is no reason to believe that Benjamin was committed to such religiopolitical concepts. He did believe in the South and its cause but he was not the creature of his emotions; he never fooled himself; he knew the Confederacy was not winning the war either here or abroad. The Emancipation Proclamation forced his hand. Because the South needed soldiers desperately Benjamin was ready to enlist slaves and if need be emancipate them and live with them as fellow Americans. In truth this was a counsel of desperation but it shows the quality of his thinking. With the slaves becoming freedman he could hope for English recognition, the raising of the blockade, and the emergence of the Confederacy as an independent state. His was a rational mind; his prime goal was to save the state not preserve slavery. He accomplished nothing; his bold stroke was too late; the South was too far down the road to defeat. When Lee surrendered, Benjamin fled the country. This man, later called “the brains of the Confederacy,” knew that if he were caught he would be imprisoned and severely punished not merely because of his position but because he was a Jew. He had reason to be fearful; Yulee, really an inconsequential person, was sent to jail for about a year. Benjamin sailed for London and there at the age of fifty-four began life over again. Within three years after his arrival he published a law book so popular that it became a standard work and ran into several editions even during his lifetime. This was his Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property. In an almost incredibly short time he became one of the best known appeal lawyers of the country commanding very substantial fees. He had thus made a great career on two continents.
Though attacked as a Jew almost from the day he came to the Senate he never became a Jew even by resentment. Though his wife saw to it that he was given a Catholic burial when he died in Paris in 1884, he never in any degree denied his Jewish origins or ignored his Jewish siblings; he was simply not interested in Jews or Judaism. He was an assimilationist; success at his chosen profession seemed to mean everything to him. His career is interesting and important for it documented the fact that in free America a Jew could attain almost any office and this in a day when most Jews throughout the world were still second-class citizens. Benjamin had become a United States Senator; he had refused an appointment to the Supreme Court; he had politely but firmly declined the post of Minister to Spain. As yet no Jew in the United States had risen as high as this poor immigrant boy, the son of a fruiterer.4
When Benjamin was Attorney General in Montgomery in the early days of the Confederacy he may well have met an immigrant Bavarian Jewish businessman there by the name of Mayer Lehman who had come to this country in 1849; Montgomery was not a large city. In 1864 Governor T. H. Watts selected Lehman to bring aid to the Alabama soldiers imprisoned in Northern stockades and jails where they suffered from lack of food, clothing, and medical supplies. With Union permission Lehman was supposed to ship $500,000 worth of cotton across the Yankee lines or to Europe where the money realized might be used for this humanitarian purpose. Accompanied by an associate, a Christian minister, Lehman went to Richmond, saw Jefferson Davis, but never succeeded in inducing the Union General, U. S. Grant, to permit the cotton to be sent through his lines. In the Spring of 1865, having accomplished nothing, the Montgomery businessman returned home. When just a few weeks later Lee surrendered, Lehman, knowing that there was no future for him in the South, left the state of his adoption and moved to New York City. There he was a financier, went on the Cotton Exchange, and when he died in 1897, had become a wealthy man. His son Herbert, born in New York City in 1878, grew up to serve his state as governor and as senator in Washington. The father Mayer Lehman had tried unsuccessfully to feed a few sick Alabama soldiers; the son Herbert Henry Lehman, as Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, spent billions feeding 10,000,000 hungry and sick refugees all over Europe.5
SOLDIERING IN THE NORTH
One may hazard the guess that Jews like Judah P. Benjamin, Col. A. C. Myers, David L. Yulee, and the De Leons could make a career in the South because men of culture were relatively few there. The South was a region of much illiteracy and millions of untutored blacks. The North, East, and West, the nonslavery regions, sheltered about ten times as many immigrants as did the South. Many of these Central European Jews joined the Union Army; a number became distinguished soldiers. They could not make much progress in politics at the highest levels as in the South but as literate, intelligent, and courageous soldiers they carved out military careers for themselves. Back home in Central Europe they were all underprivileged; here, some of them became “generals.” Actually most of these “generals” never rose beyond the rank of colonel but because of their distinguished service they were brevetted as brigadiers, an honorary rank that carried no financial emoluments. Here are a few illustrations: Jonas Frankle was first a major in the Seventeenth Massachusetts Infantry, later a colonel in the artillery. His name is that of a distinguished German Jewish philanthropist who in the 1850’s endowed Breslau’s Jewish Theological Seminary on which the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York City is patterned. Undoubtedly Frankle’s original name was Jonas Fraenkel.
Leopold (Levy) Blumenberg, foreman in an umbrella factory, had served as a noncommissioned or commissioned officer in the Danish-Prussian War of 1848-1850. Having experienced discrimination as a Jew he left his homeland with his Christian-born wife and settled in Baltimore. There, as a vocal Republican and antislavery man, he and his home had to be guarded against the threat of Southern partisans. During the war Major Blumenberg was commanding officer of a Maryland regiment, but after he had been severely wounded he became a provost marshal. An expert rifleman he was highly respected by German émigrés and assumed a leading role in their rifle clubs. Philip J. Joachimsen, a Silesian, was colonel of a regiment of New York militiamen; Max Einstein of Pennsylvania had been a brigadier even before the war but fought through the conflict as a colonel. “Jewish” names of course are no positive criterion for identification. The West Pointer, General Henry Moses Judah, was a Christian, descended several generations back from an Orthodox colonial Jew. Three Salomons became generals: two from Wisconsin, Charles Eberhard and Frederick, were probably Christians by birth; Edward Selig Salomon was a Jew. Edward had been elected alderman of Chicago at the age of twenty-four after only six years in the country. During a brilliant army career in which he distinguished himself in several battles he rose in rank and was finally brevetted as a brigadier in March, 1865, even before the war was over. At that time he was but twenty-eight years of age. Leopold Newman was apparently the only native American among the lot. After being educated at Columbia he practiced law, engaged actively in politics, wrote both poetry and stories, and studied French and German literature. He was a lieutenant colonel of a New York infantry regiment when he died of wounds received in battle. Contemporary tradition has it that he was brevetted general as he lay dying. Colonel Frederick Knefler, a Hungarian immigrant who had been a follower of Kossuth, became a brigadier before Lee surrendered. He spent most of his life in Indianapolis where his father, a physician, was well known in the Jewish community. General Knefler, however, had intermarried and had cut all ties with the faith of his fathers.6
Not all good soldiers rose in the ranks to become generals. One of the most remarkable of this group of German Jewish newcomers was Louis A. Gratz. This Posener landed in New York in 1861, a lad of seventeen or eighteen. Not being able to do anything else he became a city peddler making about 25¢ a day when he was lucky; then he turned to country peddling sometime wading up above his ankles in mud. Overworked, miserably unhappy, suffering from exposure, he was hospitalized and barely managed to stay alive. For him the army was an escape. Still in his first year in America, he enlisted as a common soldier and due to his brilliance and devotion to duty, within two years, he had become a major commanding the Sixth Kentucky Cavalry. Working long hours at his studies he perfected himself in English and by the time the war was over he was an educated, cultured, American gentleman. When he was finally separated from the service in 1865 Major Gratz was acting assistant adjutant general of the Third Division of the Twenty-Third Army Corps. After the war he stood out as a successful corporation lawyer and rose to be Supreme Dictator of the Fraternal Knights of Honor. When he had landed in 1861 he was a typical Jewishly-identified Posen youngster; after the war, like many others, he intermarried and divorced himself completely from his people and his religion. Some of his contemporary Jewish associates never even knew that he was born a Jew.
Congress had authorized medals of honor for the army in 1862, a little more than a year before the battle of Chickamauga where Gratz distinguished himself. Almost completely surrounded by Confederates, and determined that he would rather be killed than rot in Andersonville or Libby Prison, he made a desperate dash for safety and broke through the encircling forces escaping capture. His chaplain was shot down at his side, his orderly was killed and his adjutant captured. Gratz certainly merited—though he was not given—one of the medals of honor which for the first time were awarded in 1863. Seven Jews did receive that coveted award for bravery in battle above and beyond the call of duty. Among them was the teen-aged drummer boy Benjamin Levy who had enlisted when sixteen. There were a number of Jewish drummer boys in the Union army: Joseph Aarons of the 109th Pennsylvania Regiment was only twelve years of age; the Sephardic Solomon Pinheiro, another Pennsylvanian, had enlisted when fourteen. Later he transferred to the Navy and at the age of eighteen was put in charge of an old steamboat that was loaded with gun powder and towed toward the Confederate bastion, Fort Fisher. This attempt to blow up the fort failed but Pinheiro managed to escape with his life. Benjamin Levy, the medal of honor winner, pocketed his drumsticks in battle, seized the rifle of a sick comrade, and when the color bearers were shot down picked up the flags and saved them from capture. For this courageous act he was made color sergeant on the field.
The incomparable August Bondi, the eternal adventurer, left his wife and family and farm and joined the Fifth Kansas Cavalry. During a battle a Confederate lying in the fields pleaded for water and while the issue was joined Bondi stepped out in front, raised his hands, and though the shooting continued advanced to the wounded Confederate, kneeled, and gave him a drink. Then he returned to his troops amidst the cheers of the Confederates. Later when Bondi himself was wounded he was succored by a Confederate colonel who thought the Union cavalryman was a fellow Mason. When the colonel moved on he sent a farmer, also a Southerner and a Mason, to help the wounded man. In December, 1864, when Sergeant Bondi was mustered out of the service, he reported laconically in his autobiography that his paymaster had conspired to cheat him.7
THE HOME FRONT
When Bondi rode off in November, 1861, leaving his wife and children behind he knew that his mother would watch over the family. After the men and boys went into the army and did what they had to do the women, girls, and older folk worked on the home front to take care of the wives and children of the men in the army. There was great need, for the government in those days made no adequate provision for soldiers’ families. Like the later Red Cross there was a semi-official agency which called itself the United States Sanitary Commission; its efforts were complemented by a Christian Sanitary Commission, something like the army YMCA’s of World War I. Always willing to carry more than their fair share of the load, Jews in both the North and in the South helped the general agencies that gave aid to the families of the fighting men. Jewish clubs, societies, and synagogs made generous contributions, and at times had tables of their own at the Sanitary fairs. Though only about 6 percent of the general population, Cincinnati Jewry on one occasion contributed over 30 percent of all the funds collected. Jewry in the Civil War had no national war agency like the Jewish Welfare Board of World War I. There was talk of establishing such an organization. Jews did set up soldiers’ aid societies to help their own, holding fairs and balls and bazaars to raise money. Jews’ Hospital in New York admitted Gentile soldiers who needed care; preliminary plans were made to establish a national Jewish military hospital in Washington, and Nathan Grossmayer of that city wrote and asked Lincoln to build a hospice for crippled soldiers and veterans without regard to their religious origin; disabled soldiers should not be reduced to begging. Knoxville Jewry laid out a cemetery primarily to bury Jews who had succumbed to their wounds or who had died in battle; Jewish soldiers were always sure of burial in a consecrated House of Eternity if there was a nearby Jewish congregation.8
Despite the war most Jews of the North and the South never totally forgot the ties that bound them together. They had much in common; they were Jews, Germans, Orthodox religionists, and, as a rule, Democratic in politics. Somehow or other they managed to exchange letters and insert advertisements, and thus maintain communications between their divided families. Lewis Leon, the North Carolinian, gave a Yankee picket a note to forward to a New York newspaper informing his parents there that he was still alive and well. Lieutenant Simon Brucker of the 29th Illinois Volunteers was in occupied Norfolk for the High Holy Days and went to services with the Rebels. Although the local girls gave him a rough time nevertheless they all worshipped together. Down in Natchez, after the Union forces had taken the town, the Jewish boys from the North fraternized with the girls of the congregation; one of these men married a Natchez belle. Jews of the North also sent aid to their defeated Southern coreligionists. National Jewish fund-raising appeals did not come into their own until the Kishinev massacre of 1903, but individual local efforts occurred. In the Spring of 1865 the North sent large quantities of matzos to Savannah which had surrendered in December to Sherman’s troops. When the South Carolina Israelites appealed to Northern Jewry for aid they were not repulsed. After Lee’s surrender the New York Jewish Record suggested that the Jews of the metropolis form a special benevolent association to aid the Jews of the South.9
PROBLEMS OF DISCRIMINATION
After Bondi was wounded he was finally transferred to a Union post hospital under a flag of truce. Had he sought religious solace he would have had to turn to a Christian minister or to a tract distributor some of whom were fervent missionaries. Wise abhorred these soul snatchers and in 1862 gleefully reprinted the following verse:
If I were a cassowary,
On the sands of Timbuctoo,
I would eat a missionary
Skin and bones and hymn book too.10
The Chaplaincy Law passed on July 22 and August 3, 1861, after much discussion authorized only “regularly ordained minister[s] of some Christian denomination.” The Cincinnati Presbyter was indignant as the thought of appointing chaplains who did not profess Jesus as the Christ. The philosemitic congressman Vallandigham pointed out that Jews would be disadvantaged and suggested an amendment that would make provision for non-Christians. His objections were ignored. Since Jews were fighting and dying they asumed that there could be no objection to a Jewish chaplain. Accordingly, the “Jewish” Fifth Cavalry, the Cameron Dragoons, elected Michael Mitchell Allen to lead them in prayer. He was a cultured gentleman of an old American family and knew enough Hebrew and Jewish lore to serve his people. No doubt with the approval of the Jewish colonel, Max Friedman, he conducted nondenominational services which were held on Sunday; the majority of the men in the regiment were very probably Christian. A zealous YMCA worker drew the attention of higher authorities to the violation of the Christian chaplaincy law and Allen was compelled to reign.
Jews throughout the country were indignant. They were determined to have Jewish chaplains even if they honored their presence by absenting themselves from their services. Testing the law the Cameron Dragoons elected the Reverend Arnold Fischel but he, too, was not permitted to officiate. The Board of Delegates of American Israelites then sent Fischel to Washington in the late winter of 1861 to lobby with Lincoln and Congress for an amended statute, and while he ploughed politically he worked also as a volunteer chaplain in the hospitals, ministering to the Jewish sick and wounded. In order to support Fischel—he required about $20 a week—the BDAI appealed to Northern Jewry for funds. The appeal was unsuccessful and Fischel had to leave his post. It would seem there was no relation, unless it was an inverse one, between the Jews’ refusal to support a chaplain and their insistence that they be given one. The Jews were furious; exclusion from the chaplaincy was the first step toward depriving Jews of office! The law was in clear violation of the First Amendment! Catholics had chaplains, why not Jews? Finally on July 17, 1862, with the aid of the sympathetic Lincoln, the law was amended; “regularly ordained ministers of some religious denomination” could serve. New York state which had a Christian chaplaincy law also modified the statute.11
Two Jewish hospital chaplains were appointed. Hazzan Jacob Frankel, a “sweet singer in Israel,” was selected by the Jewish clergy in Philadelphia and sang to his men in the Washington hospitals; Bernhard Henry Gotthelf of Louisville served the Jewish soldiers in the hospitals of his city and neighborhood. There was no post chaplaincy appointment but there was one Jewish regimental chaplain, Ferdinand L. Samer, who was elected to pray for the Black Hunters (Schwarze Jaeger), the 54th New York Volunteers. This German American regiment was probably overwhelmingly Christian but the men wanted a cultured gentleman to lead them in prayer even if he was a Jew. Sarner had a Ph.D. degree from Germany. There were no Jewish ministers in the armed forces of the South. The only Confederate Jewish chaplain was a Christian, a convert who ministered, of course, to the Christians in his Texas regiment. This was the Cumberland Presbyterian, the Reverend Charles Goldberg. The South had fewer Jews and fewer newcomers; its Jewish soldiers, mostly natives, were often lukewarm religionists. It may well be, too, that the Jews of the South sought low visibility.
Petitions for general furloughs for the High Holy Days were made by Rabbi Max Michelbacher in Richmond, the Southern capital; most of these were refused although some may have been granted. Unless there was actual fighting going on a soldier could nearly always get a pass to go into town to attend services. Nothing could stop a group from going off in a corner to pray by themselves. On Yom Kippur a soldier of the North fasted and fought and when the battle was over withdrew to the woods to pray in peace. The Jews in the Thirteenth Ohio Cavalry buried their own dead, and a number of men in the Twenty-Third Ohio observed the Passover in the mountains of western Virginia in a fashion all their own. They improvised a seder, the festal meal, by sending to Cincinnati for matzos and prayer books. They foraged for chickens and eggs and roasted a lamb like their forefathers on their departure from Egypt. For bitter herbs to commemorate the suffering in a land of slavery they ate weeds and as a symbol of the haroset, the cement with which their ancestors fashioned bricks for Pharaoh, they substituted a finished brick. For wine they used hard cider which they guzzled until some of the men had to be carried out. All in all it was a marvelous seder! Elsewhere in Virginia the Northern combatant Myer Levy, spying a lad eating matzo, asked for a piece. The youngster ran into the house shouting: “Mother there’s a damn Yankee Jew outside.” Levy was invited in for Passover dinner.12
ANTI-JEWISH PREJUDICE IN THE SOUTH
As far as it is known Jews were not denied chaplains in the South because of prejudice; there was no exclusionary law. But Jews were attacked as smugglers, speculators, and slackers. When Marx Mitteldorfer of the 1st Virginia Cavalry was charged with cowardice he rode far in advance of his comrades in the troop; after that he was known as “The Fighting Jew.” An anti-Jewish Confederate Congressman, who later defected to the North, regaled Congress amidst applause with tales about how the Jews were taking over the country and trading with the enemy; if the South won the war the people would no longer be vassals of the Yankees but of the Jews. Largely agrarian, the Confederate states looked with suspicion upon Jews—shopkeepers—as aliens and infidels, crucifiers of the Christ. The Southerners were depressed by a war fought on their soil; they were struggling against great odds, and the inflation deprived them of food and clothing; Mitteldorfer, the cavalryman, paid $1,500 for the boots that he wore. A scapegoat was needed and the Jew was always available for that role. A Richmond rabbi insinuated that the actual exploiters, Christians in the food business, were spreading rumors that the Jews were the profiteers; this was a diversion maneuver on the part of the real engrossers. As a rule Jews were in the soft goods business, not food supplies where the pinch was felt most keenly.
What is true is that when war was declared Jewish storekeepers scoured the countryside and bought up stocks of goods knowing that the blockade would radically curtail all replenishments. Inevitably prices rose bringing recriminations. Newspapers attacked Jewish shopkeepers, and a grand jury in Talbotton County, Georgia, blamed the Jewish merchants. The Strauses, one of the few Jewish families in town if not the only one, left for Columbus, Georgia, despite the importunities of their neighbors who assured the Strauses that they were not meant. In two or three other Georgia towns the people took the law into their own hands and drove the Jews out. They were “unpatriotic.” In one place the wives of soldiers stormed into a Jew’s store with drawn pistols and helped themselves.13
ANTI-JEWISH PREJUDICE IN THE NORTH
Raiding stores owned by Jews was not altogether unknown outside the South. In Colorado some army volunteers who were short of supplies marched on to Hellman & Kuhn’s in Denver, took what they needed without pay, and then filed back to camp. Aroused by the war, God’s punishment for the sins committed, the Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and Ohio proposed to Congress in 1861 and 1864 that the Constitution be amended to designate the United States as a Christian nation which acknowledged the Lord Jesus Christ. This attempt worried Leeser and other Jewish leaders who had no desire to become disadvantaged citizens, but the proposal made little headway. As in the South there were anti-Jewish papers in the North; vituperative attacks on the Jews of the Union were not uncommon. Reminiscent of the onslaught on the Jeffersonian Jewish Democrats by the reactionary Federalists, the Democrats were smeared as Copperheads and Jews, and the Jews in turn were attacked as Democrats. How much, asked the Chicago Tribune, is General McClellan getting from the Rothschilds to betray this country to the Confederates? When the Jewish Democrat or pacifist Hazzan Lazarus Barnhart carried a banner with the inscriptions: “Thou shalt not commit murder,” and “The True Christian does not shed the blood of his fellow men,” he was dubbed a murderer of the Savior by the Harrisburg Telegraph. The Boston Transcript attacked the Confederates Benjamin and Yulee by saying they have no land of their own, therefore they want to destroy this country; by extension the remarks applied to all Jews. Jews were berated in some sheets as draft dodgers, slackers, profiteers, and as smugglers of goods into enemy territory. An Associated Press dispatch from occupied New Orleans said that New Orleans and Southern Jews ought to be exterminated.14
Invective directed against Jews in Civil War days was not limited to the press but emanated on occasion even from notables. This is understandable because these men were politicians and few if any inhibitions of ethics or decency restrained them when they set out to influence their auditors. The Israelites were fair game; the term Jew was one of contempt; even Jews avoided it. For Senator Andrew Johnson, Yulee was a “contemptible little Jew”; Benjamin would betray his country if the price was right. Yet in 1874 when the ex-president helped dedicate the Nashville synagog no words were too complimentary for the fine Jewish citizens of the city. Another Tennessean, Parson William Gannaway Brownlow, Methodist circuit rider, editor, Republican, and governor, was such a notorious Jew hater that Squire Ochs refused to serve under him as an officer during the war. When asked his reason by Brownlow Ochs denounced the parson publicly as a Judeophobe. Brownlow apologized frankly and manfully and Ochs served under Captain Brownlow as his first lieutenant. When Senator Wilson of Massachusetts ran as vice president on the Grant ticket the Jews recalled that he had stooped to berate them; Edwin Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general and his rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, betrayed his disdain for Jews in his private correspondence. Bates may have been confirmed in his antipathy toward them because Moritz Pinner had been one of the Missouri Republican leaders who fought the nomination of Bates for the presidency.
Occasionally what may appear to be anti-Jewish actions may simply have been ignorance. When a Cincinnati businessman was arrested in Corinth, Mississippi, by Union officers and accused of being a spy, they found his phylacteries (tefillin)—biblical texts encased in small boxes and worn on the arm and forehead during the morning hours of prayer. The men who arrested this Jew were sure they were secret communications with the enemy. Luckily for the hapless victim, a Christian clergyman was called in who probably explained that there was nothing subversive in the Hebrew original of the verse from Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”15
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN BUTLER
After a fashion General Benjamin Butler was typical of the notables who nourished simplistic ideas about Jews. They were very low on his status totem pole. In 1864 while commander of Fortress Monroe he dispatched a telegram telling the world that he had “captured 150 rebels, 90 mules, 60 contrabands (blacks), and 5 Jews” who were trying to run the blockade. Lincoln thought it was a clever telegram and it gave him a good laugh. Status-conscious Jews saw nothing funny in being rated below mules and Negroes. They wrote and protested against the dispatch and Simon Wolf, Jewry’s volunteer Washington lobbyist, went to see the general and expostulate with him. It was all a mistake, said Butler, a mistake made by his subordinates. The general saw Jews lurking on all sides in Jefferson Davis’ cabinet: Benjamin, of course, and then there were Christopher Gustavus Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury, and Stephen Russell Mallory, Secretary of the Navy. Obviously the Jews were running or overrunning the Confederate government. Why the latter two, one might ask? Anyone connected with money, the treasury, had to be a Jew, and Mallory was born in the West Indies just like Benjamin, the Jew. These categorizations were conclusive evidence for the general. When in the 1870’s, like Andrew Johnson, Butler also was called on to talk to his Hebrew neighbors, he had nothing but words of praise for these fine upright Boston citizens. Butler was a Civil War politician at his worst; he was not distinguished for his integrity.16
GENERAL ORDERS, NO. 11
In January, 1863, Edward Bates forwarded a letter of protest from a St. Louis B’nai B’rith lodge to President Lincoln. The petition, said the Attorney General, was given him by Bush, a respectable man even “tho a Jew.” Bates added in his covering note to Lincoln that he had “no particular interest in the subject.” The subject was the December 17, 1862, General Orders No. 11 of U. S. Grant expelling all Jews from the Department of the Tennessee which included areas in Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Mississippi. What happened? Who was responsible for G.O.No. 11? Why was it issued? As early as July, 1862, General Sherman had expressed his opposition to all traders and particularly to Jews who were buying cotton. Sherman did not like Jews. On November 9, Grant issued an order forbidding Israelites to come South. They were not to enter his area of authority. Other anti-Jewish orders followed indicating quite clearly that Grant’s final act of expulsion was not a spontaneous outburst of the moment as he once said. On December 8th Jews and other vagrants were expelled and the controversial General Order followed on December 17th. “Jews as a class violating every regulation of trade . . . are hereby expelled from the Department within twenty-four hours.” On January 4, 1863, Henry W. Halleck, general-in-chief in Washington revoked G.O.No. 11; three days later, the Order was revoked by Grant. Thus the anti-Jewish disabling order extended over a period of about two months. The final ukase of December 17 expelled not only Jewish traders but all Jews, a number of them well-established citizens. It is ironic that while G.O.No. 11 was in effect, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freeing Negroes in rebellious Southern states also went into effect; that same week Jews—men, women and children—were driven out of Paducah, Nashville, Holly Springs, Oxford, Mississippi, and probably from a number of other towns in a manner reminiscent of the medieval ages and the Russian Romanovs at their worst. Among those forcibly exiled were two men who had served as volunteers in 1861.17
The Jews affected protested immediately. A Paducah delegation which went to see the President on January 3 received a sympathetic hearing: “And so the Children of Israel,” he said, “were driven from the happy land of Canaan?” ‘Yes,” answered one of the delegates, “and that is why we have come to Father Abraham’s bosom asking protection.” To which Lincoln responded: “And this protection they shall have at once.” Halleck who issued the revocation of G.O.No. 11 at the President’s behest wrote Grant: “There is no objection to expelling traders and Jew peddlers” but you cannot proscribe an entire religious class. Grant was not punished for good generals were scarce, but the resolution to table a censure almost failed. Congress divided along political lines; the Republicans looked upon Grant as their man; as one paper put it, he was worth more to the Northern cause than all the Jewish votes in the United States.
Grant’s Order was a terrible shock to American Jewry; this was reminiscent of the Europe whence they had fled; this was not America which they loved with starry-eyed devotion. The expulsion along the Mississippi was only the prelude to something worse; anything could happen now. Letters, resolutions, and petitions poured into Washington, to Lincoln and the Congress; the BDAI protested. Who was really behind this cruel decree? Was it Grant’s officers engaged in cotton buying, the authorities in Washington who hoped to stop speculation and smuggling—or to profit from it—civilian competitors of Jewish traders, Sherman, or Grant himself? The General finally admitted that he was the responsible officer.
What was behind the Order? Although the Treasury Department had rules regulating specie relations with the South, the enemy, they were being violated. Jews among others were smugglers and were also buying cotton from the South and paying for it in gold which was bound to depreciate the value of the greenback; this was harmful to the Northern cause. Hyman Hertzberg, a former Confederate veteran, wrote of his feats as a smuggler of goods into the South; his adventures almost brought his arrest as a spy. Only his Masonry saved him. Paradoxically the Northern authorities encouraged the purchase of cotton even if paid for in hard money. Cotton buying was legal because the need for cotton was imperative in the North and industrial Europe. Governmental regulations established to control cotton purchases were said to be violated primarily by Jews. Grant’s wife’s family and his father Jesse Grant were engaged in this traffic. Jesse had a contract with a number of Cincinnati Jewish businessmen. He would secure the permits from his son and provide army transportation; the Jews would finance and sell the staple and split the profits. It was a lucrative deal for both sides. Obviously cotton buying would have been even more lucrative for all other speculators if Jewish buyers could be totally eliminated; with less competition cotton could be bought cheaper. When for a brief period the Jews were pushed out of the trade prices to the farmer fell as much as fifteen cents a pound.
There was a great deal of competition for the cotton; war tensions were high; latent prejudices came to the surface and there was a definite attempt to drive Jews out of the business. Jews were aggressive, competent, successful, and experienced traders. Many army and navy officers all over the South and Southwest were out to make their fortune through the buying and selling of cotton. War brought them a chance of a lifetime and they were determined to let nothing stand in their way. Yet though tolerated, encouraged, and sporadically regulated by Washington this traffic was trading with the enemy and aroused popular resentment. Thus G.O. No. 11 had support from many quarters; without in any way limiting the deals of the prime cotton buyers, the order of expulsion provided a scapegoat for an activity that was deemed scandalous. The Jew is nearly always the most obvious, the most acceptable scapegoat, hence G.O. No. 11.18
GRANT AND THE JEWS
Grant was an inept administrator and an egregious failure as a President but in spite of G.O. No. 11 he was no Jew baiter. When he ran for President in 1868 many Jews opposed his election bitterly; they never forgave him for the December 17, 1862, expulsion order. On the other hand hardline Jewish Republicans like Simon Wolf of Washington supported him. Ignoring the evidence, Wolf said that Grant knew nothing about the Order; Wolf named a newborn son after the man he admired and who had appointed him to office. Grant’s G.O. No. 11 haunted the President even after his death; the minister who delivered the eulogy at his burial attempted to exculpate him. Grant always had Jewish friends; when he was a junior officer and they were storekeepers he was very friendly with the Seligmans. As President Grant appointed General Edwin S. Salomon governor of Washington Territory and helped the Jews of Rumania by appointing Peixotto as consul general to that unhappy land, although it has been suggested that he made this appointment because of a sense of guilt for what he had done in 1862. In later years he continued to be gracious to the “chosen people” for he was concerned about their welfare in Russia and served as a sponsor of an anti-Russian protest meeting after the pogroms of 1881. Rabbi E. B. M. Browne served as an honorary pallbearer representing American Jewry at his funeral. Self-appointed, of course.
There is a strange if not weird twentieth century sequel to General Orders No. 11. Major General Ulysses S. Grant III, grandson of the Civil War hero, was chairman of the Civil War Centennial Commission; he was also commander-in-chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. In a statement which he commended to the Loyal Legion he blamed the Civil War on the Jews. They had aspired to gain economic control of the United States. Back of this diabolic plot were the Rothschilds and Disraeli in England and their American agent Judah P. Benjamin; when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln he was acting on Benjamin’s orders. The original of this article had appeared in the anti-Jewish Social Justice for February 12, 1940, the organ of the Jew-baiting Father Charles Edward Coughlin. When reproached General Grant III said it had been issued primarily for distribution to a friendly group, the Loyal Legion. It was certainly not his intention, so he said, to attack any race or faith; this is exactly what his grandfather had said in 1868 in explaining his notorious General Order.19
LINCOLN AND THE JEWS
When a joint Cincinnati and Kentucky delegation descended upon Lincoln because of G.O. No. 11, the President told the irate Jews: “I don’t like to see a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He said he had no prejudice against Israelites and they probably accepted his statement although some, like Wise, may have been annoyed by “Christian” references in at least two of his public papers. Lincoln did have a number of Jewish friends. Two Israelites cast their electoral votes for him in 1860 and one in 1864; two others served as delegates in the Republican National Convention in 1860 and one in 1864. After the election, as Lincoln was preparing to go to Washington, Abraham Kohn, Chicago’s city clerk, sent him an American flag on which the verses from Joshua 1:4-9 were painted. Among these is the phrase: “Be strong and of good courage.” Kohn was an influential politician and Lincoln cultivated him.
The President had many Jewish admirers. When Solomon N. Carvalho painted Lincoln’s portrait he placed in the background a tiny Diogenes dropping his lantern in amazement; he had finally found an honest man! Lincoln was pulling Isaac M. Wise’s leg when he solemnly assured the Cincinnati rabbi that he had some Jewish blood in his veins, or Wise was pulling the longbow. As a lawyer and politician mixing with Germans and Jewish businessmen Lincoln may well have picked up a couple of German and Yiddish phrases. In New York City Lincoln told the very influential antislavery Jewish politician Sigismund Kaufmann that he knew that “Kaufmann” meant merchant and that “Schneider” meant tailor. Adolphus S. Solomons and the President were quite friendly. Solomons enjoyed government printing contracts and as the owner of a photograph atelier took the last picture for which the President sat a few days before the assassination. In one of his jocular moods Lincoln told Solomons a cute story about two men: A Mr. Shofle (Low Life) and a Colonel Chootsper (impudence). These Hebrew-Yiddish phrases might well have been picked up by Lincoln in Springfield from such friends as the clothing manufacturing Hammersloughs.
With some justice Congressman Lincoln might have said “some of my best friends are Jews.” Among the few of whom this was true was Abraham Jonas, a Quincy, Illinois, merchant, businessman, Mason, and lawyer. The two men were frequently in touch with one another. Jonas, a brilliant and able Jewish politician, was chairman of the Republican committee of arrangements at the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy in October, 1858. Shortly after Lincoln became President he appointed his friend postmaster in Quincy and in 1864 when Jonas lay dying Lincoln paroled Charles H. Jonas, a son who was a Confederate prisoner on Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie, in order that he might say goodbye to his father before he passed away. The son arrived just in time to be recognized by his parent. Among the deserters in the Union Army sentenced to be shot were two Jews. One was executed; another was about to be shot when Simon Wolf intervened successfully on his behalf. The President first refused to do anything; desertions in the armies of both the North and the South were unusually heavy. Wolf pointed out that the young man had left his company to visit his mother who lay on her dying bed and when the President remained adamant Wolf asked him: If your mother was dying wouldn’t you have gone? Lincoln then telegraphed a stay of execution which was to take place in a few hours; the interview with Wolf was held at 2:00 in the morning. The boy was restored to his company and died fighting in the Battle of Cold Harbor. When Wolf told Lincoln of the lad’s fate the President answered: “I thank God for having done what I did.”20
The Jew who was closest to the President was the man whom the New York World attacked as an “obscure toe-nail trimmer.” This was Dr. Isachar Zacharie, a British-born “physician” and chiropodist who took care of the President and a number of other notable Americans. “Dr. Zacharie,” wrote Lincoln, “has operated on my feet with great success and considerable addition to my comfort.” Friends and opponents of the Great Emancipator were not willing to let it go at that. The World insinuated it could not understand “this remarkable intimacy” with “the Chief Executive of a great nation.” The wits had a holiday: When there are problems, Dr. Zacharie knows where the shoe pinches. “Lincoln could not put his foot down if he was troubled with corns.” If the Union generals were slow in moving it was because their toe nails were growing into their flesh! Zacharie was frequently in the living quarters of the White House, knew the family socially, and served the President as a diplomatic agent of sorts. He made trips to the South and reported to Lincoln. The exact nature of his missions is unknown; it may be that he explored the possibilities of a peace. When the President was assassinated in the Spring of 1865 he was already beloved by Jews even in darkest Russia. In May of that year a Jew living in Rostov-on-Don wrote in fractured English to the American consul in Odessa: “Poor America! Abraham Lincoln! Thou . . . belongest not to thyself and America only, but to the whole world!”21
Though the personal relations of Lincoln to the ebullient Dr. Zacharie with his resplendent whiskers and his dazzling diamond breastpin are not historically significant, they are interesting; they tell us more about Lincoln than about his chiropodist. Important to Lincoln and certainly to the administration were the Jewish clothing manufacturers who produced uniforms for the troops in mass quantities in New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and other places. Typical certainly of the large-scale clothiers was the Cincinnati Jewish consortium of Mack, Stadler, & Glazer who had turned out over 191,000 army pants, overcoats, jackets, and blouses by December, 1861. Cincinnati Macks were Jesse Grant’s partners in the raw cotton business. One of the most important and one of the largest of the country’s clothing manufacturers was Joseph Seligman, a fervent Republican, who was probably known to the President. The family had war contracts with the quartermaster department running into the millions of dollars; some if not most of the work was done through subcontractors. Under various company names the Seligmans had been operating out of New York City as merchants since 1846. There were eight Seligman brothers, all Bavarians: Joseph, the oldest and the brains of the family, came to this country in 1837 at the age of eighteen with a thorough German education. The brothers who were brought over in the course of years began as peddlers and then opened stores in Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, and California. And in the typical German-Jewish immigrant pattern they then became wholesalers and European importers selling apparel, dry goods, and even cigars in their New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco establishments. By the late 1850’s they turned also to the manufacture of clothing.
In 1861 or at the latest in 1862 they took on a promising side line; they began to sell American war bonds in Europe, primarily in Germany and in Holland. This was not an easy job. There was resistance because the United States was still a slave country; slavery was not repudiated till 1863. The Seligmans could do little business as bond salesmen in England and France, for those two world powers looked upon the North as a rival. The Germans and Dutch were more sympathetic. Millions upon millions of dollars of bonds were sold, and though these huge sums helped finance the war, historian Charles E. Dodd’s statement that these sales were almost as important as the victory at Gettysburg is an exaggeration. Having learned the business the brothers, as J. & W. Seligman & Company, finally became international bankers. They opened an office in New York City in 1864 and, in the course of time, branches in London, Paris, and Frankfurt, as well as in San Francisco and New Orleans. The family tradition that Joseph was offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury in 1869, after A. T. Stewart was barred for technical reasons, cannot be documented.22
The European work of the Seligmans as bond salesmen was fortified if not surpassed by the unofficial diplomatic activity of August Belmont, an established banker of international repute who was appointed chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1860. Belmont had no use for Lincoln, a dangerous radical but when war was declared he rallied to the defense of the Union. He was in touch with Seward, Chase, and Lincoln advising and helping. Belmont traveled in Europe warning statesmen and his friends the Rothschilds, that the Confederacy was a poor financial risk. Wealthy, prestigious, and convincing, he helped influence some of the most important people in France and England to withhold aid and recognition from the new Southern states. It was not an easy task, for there were powerful forces in both lands who for commercial and political reasons looked with favor on the Confederacy. The English in particular needed cotton:
Though with the North we sympathize,
It must not be forgotten,
That with the South we’ve stronger ties
Which are composed of cotton.… 23
THE IMPACT OF THE CIVIL WAR ON AMERICAN JEWRY
Belmont’s warning that the South had no future as an independent state was borne out by events. By 1865 the physical, moral, intellectual, and commercial resources of the South were depleted. Along with the land, Jewish congregations and communities moved backwards; some synagogs held no board meetings for months on end; the old-line Southern Jewish culture faded away; it died with the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House. Actually it had begun to die long before that when its spiritual and cultural Jewish capital, Charleston, began to decline in the 1820’s. This short-lived brilliant Jewish community, the glory of the South, was exhausted when its soil gave out. Charleston lost its greatest names to the cismississippi Southwest, the New West of that day: Harby, Moïse, Cohen, Levy, Heydenfeldt, Benjamin, Hyams, Carvalho, and Cardozo. Sooner or later these men left for greener pastures and with them went a tradition, a cultivated taste for literature, art, music, the theatre, good conversation, and the elegant amenities of a romantic age. The new Jewish immigrants who began to dot the villages and towns of the South in postbellum days were decent hard-working German and Polish townspeople, but they were anything but old-line Southern gentlemen; they started a new community culture and cycle.
The story in the North is different, very different. Its Jewish newcomers had been moving ahead in commerce and industry ever since the 1840’s. They had experience, ability, and by 1860, some capital. They would have made progress without the war but the long conflict stimulated the demand for goods and commodities which these men were prepared to supply. Whether the war stimulated commerce and industry in all sectors of the North may be moot, but there seems little doubt that it quickened the apparel industry which the Jews were beginning to make their own. By the end of the war Jewish merchants and garment manufacturers were rising economically and socially. Within a decade the Gentile new rich of the 1860’s were to lash out socially at the Jewish arrivés of the ‘70’s, intensifying older antebellum prejudice and social distinctions. Success encouraged Judeophobia.
The battles which the Jews waged against the chaplaincy law of 1861 and G.O. No. 11 of 1862 are important because they taught the Jews, drove them, to fight for their rights. Victory in securing Jewish chaplains, following on the heels of Raphall’s invitation to bless Congress, meant that Judaism was given a larger degree of equality alongside Protestantism and Catholicism. More and more, Judaism was to become one of the recognized American religions. Fighting for civil liberties and in the armed forces gave the Jews a sense of dignity, maturity, self-respect. Rank in the army and navy brought social status; men who had risen to command, turned to politics and became leaders in civil life as they had been on the battlefront.
War stresses conformity at home and in the army; it is a forcing house accelerating the process and pace of Americanization. Jewish immigrants in the armed services speedily acquired American mannerisms and ways of living, dressing, speaking, and thinking. The battles, the victories, the defeats, the common purpose turned out patriots in a hurry. Henry Heineman (Heyneman), a native of Munich, made a vow that if Richmond fell he would walk from Boston to Washington. When Richmond was abandoned in April, 1865, he shouldered a knapsack and an American flag and started his 550 mile walk to the nation’s capital. This was his victory! Acculturation in the cities and in the armies was speeded up in the four years of tension; conformity came but at the expense of traditional Judaism. Eager to be at ease in an overwhelmingly Christian culture and environment, many Jews surrendered their rituals and taboos with an almost ungodly haste. This determination to identify with Protestant culture, with America and its Christian ethos as a national religion, furthered the acceptance of Reform Judaism in ever wider circles. The war taught Jews—what they have long sensed—that much can be accomplished through organization. This lesson was not wasted on them. The problems, the disabilities that had risen during the war, had been resolved if only through a common working together; the inevitable challenges of the future—religious organization, education, civic defense, foreign relief—could be met only by a Jewish coming-together on a national scale. The war hammered away at the one word and concept “Union”; disunion was a disaster. And because the American Union survived a great country was possible and where there was a great land there could also be a great Jewry.24