Jews and the Civil War: A Reader
edited by Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn, New York University Press, 2010, $45
On December 17, 1862, in the midst of his trying Mississippi Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant issued what was probably the most repugnant order of his military career. Fed up with unscrupulous merchants then speculating in seized Confederate cotton, the Union commander hastily wrote General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military department within 24 hours.
“The Jews thus became for Grant and his harassed officers a convenient symbol of all the frustrations and annoyances with which they were contending,” Stephen Ash writes in an essay in New York University Press’ intriguing new anthology. Grant never apologized for the order, though he did rescind it a few weeks later, with the encouragement of Abraham Lincoln.
In spite of pervasive anti-Semitism in the nation at that time—more prevalent in the North than in the South—about 6,000 Jews served in the Union armies and another 4,000 or so donned Confederate gray. Yet these essays, none originally written for this anthology, focus less on battlefield exploits and more on how Jews viewed slavery and abolition, the roles played by rabbis and women on the home front, and Jewish participation in the postwar South.
Jacob Marcus does chronicle the remarkable two-year rise of Louis A. Gratz from peddler to commander of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) and his later appointment to the staff of General Samuel Carter. Robert Rosen’s engaging essay on Jewish Confederates comes from the subject’s premier historian.
In his prescient introduction, Adam Mendelsohn pays homage to the scholars who paved the way to understanding the Jewish experience of the Civil War, including Isaac Markens, Bertram W. Korn, Max Kohler and Simon Wolf. With the approach of the sesquicentennial, Mendelsohn writes that he awaits “a fresh synthesis by a new generation of historians.”
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.