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Civil War Times: May 2000 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 23, 2000 
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Civil War Times
Civil War Times

THE END OF THE WAR

Thank you, Dr. Castel, for your article in the May issue. Although I count myself a believer in the theory that the Civil War was largely fought and won in the West, I have not until now adequately appreciated the contributions of General William Rosecrans.

Roger Hardy
Big Bear Valley, California

The May issue is marvelous. The Trudeau, Carmichael and Gallagher pieces may be the three best ever combined in a military magazine. The Castel piece is persuasive but possibly incomplete in these two particulars:

1. In any explanation for why the North won and the South lost, I think Abraham Lincoln's edge over Jefferson Davis needs mentioning.

2. I propose that if Lincoln had been in the Confederate White House, he would have won the war with Lee, Jackson, Stuart, and Longstreet on his side. Conversely, had those generals served the North, the war would have ended in 1864, if not before.

Bob Oates
Los Angeles, California

JEFFERSON DAVIS AND THE JEWS

I would like to congratulate you for printing Peggy Robbins's article "Jefferson Davis and the Jews" (March). The Jewish experience in the American Civil War is an interesting and important facet of the Civil War story that is overlooked by most historians.

Benjamin's story is a fascinating one that I wish would have come out more in the article. Instead, Robbins dwelled on the dispute between President Davis and Foote. Granted, Davis defended Benjamin against Foote and numerous other critics, and maintained a friendship with him until the end. Benjamin was a whipping boy for both North and South. The North used the fact that he was Jewish to attack Southern pride, and the South blamed him for all their defeats simply because he was Jewish. Yet, Benjamin was a non-practicing Jew who had no interest in religion. Still, Benjamin accepted the abuse, took the blame, and even offered to resign, all for the good of the Confederacy, but Davis stood by him and refused to allow his resignation.

Robbins's article at least brings up the issue, and I hope other writers will follow suit. There is a vast amount of unassembled information on this topic just waiting to be discussed.

Arnold A. Smith II
Akron, Ohio

I looked forward to receiving my March issue, anticipating the article "Jefferson Davis and the Jews." I hoped to get some fresh insights and perhaps learn some new things about Jefferson Davis and his relations with his Jewish constituents.

Imagine my disappointment when I read the article. It wasn't about Davis and the Jews. It was about one Jew, Judah P. Benjamin. Even that was secondary to Davis's famous rivalry with Henry Foote. As if that wasn't enough to disappoint me, the article contained several errors about Benjamin.

He wasn't the first Jew to sit in the U.S. Senate. David Levy Yulee of Florida preceded him by 6 years (Yulee, though, had renounced his religion). Benjamin was not born in the British West Indies. He was born in the Virgin Islands, which at the time belonged to Denmark. Benjamin's father enjoyed British citizenship, which helped Benjamin join the English bar after the Civil War. Benjamin's family did not settle in New Orleans. Benjamin went to Yale in 1825, and two years later left for New Orleans, alone.

You might consider publishing a piece devoted to Benjamin, who is a fascinating character in his own right, with or without the Jewish emphasis.

Harry A. Ezratty
Baltimore, Maryland

NITPICKING

In reviewing Brooks Simpson's Ulysses S. Grant, David E. Long makes some condemning statements regarding Grant that do not hold up ("Reviews," May). Long wrote that the "defeat at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in early June 1864 was possibly the most devastating setback inflicted upon the Army of the Potomac during the war." What about the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Fredericksburg?

Dr. Long blames Grant for the delay of truce negotiations at Cold Harbor and for downplaying casualty estimates. Historically, the underestimation of battle losses was as much a strategy as a naval blockade. To fault Grant for this is nitpicking. While I agree with Dr. Long that "the Cold Harbor tragedy was one of Grant's worst moments of the war," Long seems unable to give Grant any credit at all.

Long accuses Simpson of attempting "to convince us to adopt Grant as the Civil War's other unstained hero (besides Lincoln)." If, however, in his book, which I admit I have not yet read, Dr. Simpson lauds such things as Grant's campaign in Mississippi from Grand Gulf and Port Gibson through Jackson to victory at Vicksburg, he is only the latest of many admirers of a brilliant military campaign.

As much as Mr. Lincoln won the war in the halls and councils of government, General Grant won the war on the field of battle. He was the hero, at least in the North, of the Civil War. Mr. Long's criticisms cannot change that.

Christopher J. Earle
Madison, Connecticut

ANOTHER SOUTHERN GAR HALL

The Grand Army of the Republic hall in St. Cloud, Florida, is certainly not the only existing GAR hall south of the Mason-Dixon Line ("Travel," March). About 35 miles north of Tampa is the small village of Zephyrhills, in Pasco County, Florida. It was founded at about the same time as St. Cloud and for the same purpose. The original meeting hall still stands and remains a meeting place for veterans.

Charlotte Abell
Zephyrhills, Florida

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