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Notes from Limmud 2008

Jews fighting Jews in the American Civil War

Elkan Levy

The American Civil War broke out on 12 April 1861 when some Confederates in Charleston fired on a Union detachment on an island in Charleston harbour. The war lasted exactly four years, ending 9 April 1865 when General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox courthouse.

The USAn Jewish community expanded very rapidly at this time. It numbered 50,000 in 1850; by 1860 that had trebled. It constituted mainly immigrants from western Europe; there was not a great deal of immigration from Russia and the Baltic States at this time. The "teeming refuge" [misquote!] from Eastern Europe referred to by Emma Lazarus, and engraved on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty hadn't happened yet. The immigrant Jews were mainly German, or Sephardim who had come not from Europe but from Latin America.

In 1850 the Jewish centres were mainly on the east coast: New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Louisville, KY. Within [lacuna; probably: x years, these had expanded to include] St Louis, San Francisco (as a result of the Gold Rush), Boston, Cleveland, New Orleans, Newark, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago [and possibly some others I missed].

A lot of American Jewry was not organised around synagogues, but around fraternal orders like Bnai Brith, which started in America. The American Jews had no really charismatic leaders. The community then and now is not unified at a national level, in the way that Moses Montefiore acted as a unifying leader in the UK.

The big issue at this time was slavery; this was central to American society at this time. In 1850 President Zachary Taylor kept slaves in the White House. Slavery was regarded by American society as "our peculiar institution", but it was central to the econpomy of the south. The immigration from Europe did not go to the south. Without slavery, the south knew that economically it was in greeat trouble.

What were the Jews doing about slavery? Many were involved. Many were involved in the triangle trade between England (significantly Liverpool), Africa and the States. The Lancashire cotton industry relied on cotton from the south of the US at the time.

There was a major slave trader called JF Moses of Lumkin, Georgia. Conversely, many Jews had freed slaves. Judah Touro had owned slaves but then freed them. Many were active on both sides of the abolition debate. Michael Halprin, an abolitionist was mobbed by a pro-slavery crowd at the Democratic Convention in 1858. The Democrats were largely pro-slavery; Lincoln was a Republican.

No [lacuna: Democrats? Jews?] ever expressed opinions before the war about the righteousness of slavery.

One of the leading rabbis, Isaac Leeser, came from Germany to Richmond, VA to become rabbi of Congregation Mikveh Israel, where he served until 1858. He was the first man to preach in English; he founded JPS. He founded Maimonides College, which still exists today. Leeser was a difficult man; he wrote long, difficult and incomprehensible sermons, and wrote similarly long, difficult and incomprehensible articles. He was a traditionalist, and laid much of the foundations for the Conservative movement.

Samuel Isaacs, a Dutchman from London, was similar.

Isaac Meyer Wise, born in Germany, came to Cincinnati. He founded the American Reform Union, and Hebrew Union Collrege. He was supported by David Einhorn, rabbi of Congregation Har Sinai in Baltimore. They were extreme reformers and extreme abolitionists; which was difficult because although Maryland was a neutral state, it was only just neutral, having pro-Confederate leading.

[Firstname] Raphael, a Swedish-born man from London, was secretary to Chief Rabbi Hirschel, then rabbi in Birmingham until 1849. He seems to have had difficult relationships with his wardens; and they certainly didn't pay him enough. He went to the States for a visit in 1849 and never came back. Facing Singer's Hill shul and going left down by the side of the Mailbox, the Masonic Hall of the Affol [?] Lodge, still standing today, occupies the building that was his shul; most of the Ark is still in place.

Raphael became rabbi of the Bnei Jeshurun shul (now known as BJ's), which in those days was Orthodox. He decided to devote a sermon at the beginning of '61 to the theme of the Bible view of slavery. Now, there had been a long built-up to the civil war: It was obvious once Lincoln was elected that war would happen. Less than two weeks before Lincoln was sworn in, President Buchanan had proclaimed a national day of prayer because of the impending breakup of the Union.

MJ Raphael placed Judaism firmly in opposition to abolitionism. The Bible, he said, was in favour of slavery. He cited the term עבד, "slave", which occurs all over the place, including in the Ten Commandments. He attacked abolitionists, including a protestant clergyman in Brooklyn Henry War Beecher. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Job, he said, men with whom the Almighty conversed and linked His name, all were slave-holders! Does it not strike you that as an abolitionist you are guilty of something almost amounting to blasphemy!?

However, he drew a distinction between Biblical slavery, where the slaves had rights and were treated as humans; and southern slavery, in which they were treated as chattels, as possessions.

This sermon caused a great deal of outcry, denunciation and slanging. The southern rabbis were delighted. Michael Halprin preached a whole series of sermons to refute him point by point. Even in Manchester, in England, sermons attached Raphael. Einhorn attacked him for being too literal. He was advised both by his congregation and by the state government to leave the state for a while for his own protection.

The Civil War was really fought to decide whether each state of the Union had the right to determine its own affairs. There are arguments about whether there should be pro-slavery states or anti-slavery states; they said if you admit a pro-slavery state [to the Union], you would have to admit an anti-slavery state too. Lincoln's proclamation freeing the slaves, which freed slaves who were not in states in the Union, was not issued until after the War had already started.

There were eleven states in the Confederacy: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Missouri became a Confederate state in 1861, and the western part of Virginia seceded from the Confederacy and returned to the Union. There were three neutral states. The President was of course Abraham Lincoln. The President of the Confederacy was Jefferson Davis, who was the son-in-law of Zachary Taylor; he had been a senator beforehand. When Davis' first wife died, after a short while he remarried a much younger lady called Verina, and on their honeymoon took her to visit his first wife's grave (!).

The Confederacy's capital was initially Montgomery, Alabama; but then they moved it to Richmond, Virginia. This was a mistake as it brought it, towards the end of the war, within the North's reach. It was a very close encounter of the two areas. And, in turn, the Union capital was only two or three miles away from Confederate territory.

Most of the army was trained at West Point; [Union and Confederate soldiers] knew each other and were even family members. Lincoln had four brothers-in-law who were Confederate general. It was essental for the north to act and invade the south. Most southerners wouldn't have gone to war for slavery but wanted to preserve their independence; most northerners wouldn't have gone to war [for abolition, but [presumably] wanted to preserve the Union]. Also the south fought for recognition from England and France, but ultimately the north won the war in this regard.

There are problems with the historiography of the war, because the north named its battles after streams, but the south after towns; leading to the same battles having different names: e.g. the battle known as Antietam in the North and Sharpsburg in the south.

Casualties were horrendous, for a number of reasons, including the development of rifles; which had longer range and were more accurate than in the Napoleonic War. The Americans lost more men in this war than in all subsequent wars put together, including both world wars and Vietnam. 21% of all American men were either killed or wounded. If you went into the army, you were four times more likely to be killed by disease than in battle, either due to unsanitary conditions or bad food.

At the beginning of the war, Ulysses Grant was out of the war for drunkenness, but within seven years [would become President]. And William Tecumseh Sherman at the start of the war was invalided out on grounds of insanity!

Robert E. Lee married George Washington's step-great-grandfaghter. She brought as part of her dowry a slave plantation at Arlington. Lee freed the slaves and lived there. When the war broke out, Lincoln summoned him and offered him supreme command all the northern forces. Lee went home and wrestled with this, because he didn't approve of slaves, and didn't approve of secession, but decided his loyalty had to be to his state, and was then offered supremee command of the southern army.

In to ensure that Lee could never return to his home, Meeks started burying Union dead on the front lawn of Lee's house. This was the origin of Arlington Military Cemetery.

Judah P. Benjamin was very secretive about his history and his past. Before he died, he destroyed all papers about his life apart from six or so fragments. In 1832 went to New Orleans, and became a prominent lawyer. He married Natalie St Martin from a prominent Creole family; they had a single child, Ninette. There seems to have been a scandal, as she moved with her child to Paris, and Benjamin had to go to France from time to time to visit her.

He had bought a slave plantation in Virginia; he then sold it and became the senator for Louisiana. (Despite which, he said, "Speak not to me of economy; it is so fatiguing"!) His most famous exchange on the Senate floor had to do with slavery. Because Benjamin supported slavery, he was accused of being an Israelite in Egyptian clothing. Benjamin replied, "It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain."

Benjamin had been referred to as the brains of the Confederacy. He became the Secretary of State. One of the problems they had was manpower in the Army: the Confederates had only 750,000 to 1.2 million men, against a Union Army of 2.5–2.7 million.

Benjamin had the idea that any slave willing to bear arms for the army would immediately be released and inducted into the Army. Lee was in favour of this; Jefferson Davis was in favour, as it removed one of the problems with the UK recognising the south, since the UK had abolished slavery: Lincoln's freeing of the slaves of the south made it impossible for the UK to recognise the south. But all the entrenched instincts in the south were against him, and his idea was not adopted until a month before the defeat of the Conferederacy, at which point it was too late to save it.

The south had an ordinance saying that chaplains shall be merely ministers of religion—not saying which religion. We know of a rabbi who served as a bugler; and another who was recognised as a "minister of the Gospel in the Henbrew Church", and also a bugler.

These people were perhaps buglers because of their facility of blowing the shofar. In September 1914 there was a shortage of בַּעַלֵי תְּקִיעָ in London for the same reason: they'd used people from the JLGB.

The North said that chaplains had to be Christian; this was taken up by a non-Jew who was the leader of the Copperheads—northerners sympathetic to the south. Cameron's Dragoons elected a Jew, one Mr Michael Allen of PA, as its chaplain. This may not have been unconnected with the fact his commanding officer was one Max Freeman, and many of the people in the [Dragoons?] were Jewish.

?? Fischel of Sherith [?] Israel, the oldest congregation in New York, went down to Washington to sort out the issue, with letters of introduction to Lincoln, and was told don't even bother going to see Lincoln, he's much too busy. Lincoln was involved at the time in the Trent Affair: The South had sent two delegates to Europe, on a British ship, the SS Trent. The north had stopped the ship, taken them off, and imprisoned them. The British were furious; this nearly led to war between the British and the States. That this didn't happen was because (a) Prince Albert succeeded in toning down the dispatch (even though he was dying at the time), and (b) Lincoln said they'd fight one war at a time.

Fischel did get to see Lincoln the next day, though. Lincoln said he'd fix the problem, Fischel became the first Jewish chaplain. A number of Jewish Reform authorities tried to undermine his authority, though, because he was Orthodox. There were a number of Jewish chaplains including one wounded at Gettysburg.

The problems of one contingent of Jewish soldiers at Pesach are described in this account:

Our next business was to find some suitable person to proceed to Cincinnati, Ohio, to buy us מצות. Our sutler being a co-religionist and going home to that city, readily undertook to send them. We were anxiously awaiting to receive our matzos and about the middle of the morning of ערב פסח a supply train arrived in camp, and to our delight seven barrels of Matzos. On opening them, we were surprised and pleased to find that our thoughtful sutler had enclosed two Hagedahs and prayer-books. We were now able to keep the seder nights, if we could only obtain the other requisites for that occasion. We held a consultation and decided to send parties to forage in the country while a party stayed to build a log hut for the services. About the middle of the afternoon the foragers arrived, having been quite successful. We obtained two kegs of cider, a lamb, several chickens and some eggs. Horseradish or parsley we could not obtain, but in lieu we found a weed, whose bitterness, I apprehend, exceeded anything our forefathers "enjoyed". We were still in a great quandary; we were like the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. We had the lamb, but did not know what part was to represent it at the table; but Yankee ingenuity prevailed, and it was decided to cook the whole and put it on the table, then we could dine off it, and be sure we had the right part. The necessaries for the choroutzes we could not obtain, so we got a brick which, rather hard to digest, reminded us, by looking at it, for what purpose it was intended.

At dark we had all prepared, and were ready to commence the service. There being no חזן present, I was selected to read the services, which I commenced by asking the blessing of the Almighty on the food before us, and to preserve our lives from danger. The ceremonies were passing off very nicely, until we arrived at the part where the bitter herb was to be taken. We all had a large portion of the herb ready to eat at the moment I said the blessing; each eat his portion, when horrors! what a scene ensued in our little congregation, it is impossible for my pen to describe. The herb was very bitter and very fiery like Cayenne pepper, and excited our thirst to such a degree, that we forgot the law authorizing us to drink only four cups, and the consequence was we drank up all the cider. Those that drank the more freely became excited, and one thought he was Moses, another Aaron, and one had the audacity to call himself Pharaoh. The consequence was a skirmish, with nobody hurt, only Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh, had to be carried to the camp, and there left in the arms of Morpheus.

In a separate incident, a Union soldier in Virginina in 1963, seeing a kid sitting on a front step eating a pece of matzah, asked for some. The kid screamed "Mom! There's a damn Yankee Jew outside!" So Mom invited him in for Seder.

The young ladies of [lacuna] decided not to talk to any of the northern soldiers. This didn't work. After the war, one of them came back and married one of the southern girls.

There were a number of problems with the army. In Dec. 62 General Grant, then in charge of Western Tennessee, issued the order:

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 within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.

Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.

No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application for trade permits.

By order of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant

It's not clear why Grant did this. This caused order would go on to cause him a great deal of trouble in the 1868 presidential elections.

Grant wouldn't let anyone to go in to see him about it. There'a record of one Jew not being allowed to stay 24 hours to sell his horse and cart.

Someone demanded to see Lincoln [and got to do so by] the 17th December. By 4th January, Lincoln had overridden everybody and cancelled the order.

Phoebe Yates Levy married a non-Jew called Pember. At the outbreak of the war she was a young widow. she went to Richmond, and ended up as matron of the Chimborazo Hospital, probably then the largest hospital in the world. She got a lot of opposition from the medical establishment because she was a woman, despite this being within a decade of Florence Nightingale.

One of the accusations made against her is: what's she going to make to feed all the patients? So she gets hold of a load of chickens, and makes for them all chicken soup.

Her sister Eugenia married Philip Phillips who became a Congressman in New Orleans. When New Orleans was taken by the north, the soldiers were upset so he issued an order that any southern woman mocking a northern soldier shall be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. (Palmerston, in the House of Commons, said he couldn't understand why [lacuna])

Eugenia Philips was arrested whilst a [soldier's funeral cortège passed, and she [?failed to rise]]. She got hauled in front of General Benjamin Butler, but wasn't going to yield to him. He said he would have her sent to a malaria station called Ship Island, and detained there three months. She nearly died. (She was a frail lady, and not expected to live long, but ended up dying at the age of ninety-three.)

Simon Baruch qualified as a doctor, and was appointed that day as assistant surgeon-general to one of the Confederate [word missing]s. He walked into the theatre and was offered the scalpel: "Would you care to operate, doctor?" when he had's never before that even so much as lanced a boil!

In 1863, the Conferederacy reached its height at Gettysburg. After that the Conferedacy never did particuarly well.

In 1864, Lincoln needed reelection, and needed a success,. He told Sherman to do something astonishing. So he did, and captured [Atlanta, I think], then marched through the countryside for a month and turned up at Savannah. He telegraphed Lincoln saying "I give you Savannah, as a Christmas present". (Compare Lloyd George, General Allenby and Jerusalem.)

The end of the war ruined Samuel Isaac who was the main arms dealer in London; he made a fortune but invested it into Conferedate bonds. He then made a fortune again by building the railway tunnel under the Mersey.

Lincoln was assassinated on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach. they had planned victory ceremonies The image of him having died for his people on Good Friday, as Jesus had, was quite uncomfortable for the Jews.

The war came to an end when the CSS Shenandoah lowered its flag for the last time. They found it up near Alaska. It sailed all the way round the Cape of Good Hope, and lowered its flag for the last time in Liverpool.

In the wake of the war, Grant became president, Sherman remained in the army and was influential in building the Trans-American Railroad. Robert E. Lee became the present of a military college in Lexington, Virginia.

A nasty vicious [lacuna]
John Singleton Moseby went back to his hometown and resumed his practice.

Judah P. Benjamin had a problem because there were people who wanted to try him. He escaped in disguise through Florida and came to England. He was called to the bar at that time. You could not become a solicitor if you were not a British subject, but you could become a barrister. He became a QC. When the leader of the Liverpool Bar [lacuna]. Had he not spoken with a strong American accent, he probably would have been elevated to the peerage.

He wrote a legal treatise, still in print today: Benjamin on Sail. He then retired, and went to Paris to live near his daughter. When he died, his French Catholic machatonim were very embarrassed they had this Jew in the family, so they buried him with a stone that simply said Philippe Benjamin. It was not until the 1930s that the Daughters of the Conferedacy realised who he was and re-titled his gravestone.

Simon Baruch, the doctor, was the person responsible for "Manhattan is a a body of land surrounded by sewage." He had a number of sons, of whom Bernard was a financial adviser to Roosevelt and Truman before and after WW2.

Finally, to summarise the effect of the war in a single sentence: Before the war, people would say "the United States of America are". After the war, they said "The United States of America is."

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2009-01-25 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cartesiandaemon.livejournal.com
You're right, that quote in the middle is awesome.

Date: 2009-01-25 03:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zsero.livejournal.com
Most of the army was trained at point;

West Point.

Date: 2009-01-25 03:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Thank you—the speaker was going at the borderline of what I could keep up with, and in the case of the quotations, I concentrated on getting down key phrases in the hope I could google the rest afterwards.
Edited Date: 2009-01-25 03:58 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-01-25 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
Corrected form:

I watched a film about slavery. It was slavery in the UK not US. I don't know the name of the film nor the main person involved. His friend became later the youngest Prime minister of the age of 24 in history. Anyway, he and his friends managed to abolish the slave trade. The first date the film showed was 1817. I don't know how long they fought in the House of Commons for this. It was a very exciting film based on real history. I don't know when the UK freed all slaves and made slavery completely illegal.

Date: 2009-01-25 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
The film was probably about William Wilberforce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce).

Abolition of slavery in the British Empire was a gradual process (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism#Slavery_in_Great_Britain). Slavery was ruled illegal in the UK in 1772, and the slave trade was made illegal in 1807; however slavery in the colonies was not abolished until 1833 (and later in a few places).

Date: 2009-01-25 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hatam-soferet.livejournal.com
FTW! Thanks for posting :)

Date: 2009-01-25 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Yay; fans! :o)

Date: 2009-01-25 07:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] awful-dynne.livejournal.com
Thanks for posting this! Even after having studied the Civil War pretty in depth throughout my schooling(for example, in fifth grade the class was split in half, we moved the desks to make it clear that there was a division and one side of the room was the Union and the other the Confederacy and for a good month studied the Civil War from the point of view of whichever side we were on, culminating with a battle outside on the field and hardtack!) this gave a whole new perspective and new information(I didn't know that Jefferson Davis was the son-in-law of President Taylor). Thank you again for such an interesting view of history! :)

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