Fighting anti-Semitism in post-Civil War US

Posted on 31 August 2017 by admin

The recent anti-Semitic rants of torch-bearing Nazis and KKKs, marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the tragic events which followed, were vivid reminders that racial and religious hatred is still a challenge to the American ideals of liberty and equality.
In the same week, somewhat hidden in the “back pages” of the news, was the announcement that the first comprehensive digital archive of Jews who fought in the Civil War, known as The Shapell Roster, is expected to be completed and made public by 2018.
This story has its beginnings in the increased anti-Semitism of the 1880s due to the large numbers of eastern Europeans escaping from the devastating pogroms of Russia, many finding refuge in the United States. Resentment of newcomers is an old story.
In December 1891, an anti-Semitic article appeared in The North American Review, a new literary publication, which stated that Jews generally tried to avoid serving in the military. This was followed by a letter from a Civil War veteran who claimed he never knew of any Jewish soldiers nor any other soldiers who knew of any Jews in the Union army.
Since a bounty system was in place, allowing draftees in the Union Army to pay a bounty to someone to take their place, the implication was that Jews paid bounties and never served.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and many Jewish veterans let their objections be known to The Review.
A small group of Jewish Union and Confederate Civil War veterans met to form an organization which pledged to stand up to the anti-Semites.
Known today as The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., they are the oldest continuous veterans organization.
Simon Wolf, a Jewish attorney, diplomat, and active benefactor to Jewish charitable causes, saw the North American Review’s anti-Semitic article as an opportunity to show that Jewish Americans have served as patriots, soldiers and citizens throughout its history.
It took Wolf almost four years (1895) to compile government personnel records totaling 10,000 Jewish names, 7,000 from the North and 3,000 from the South.
In addition, he included the Jewish soldiers’ and sailors’ contributions in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the War With Mexico.
Here are some interesting facts involving Jewish soldiers on both sides during the Civil War.
President Lincoln awarded seven Medals of Honor to Jewish soldiers. This is the highest award that can be issued to a member of the military.
There were various Jewish families of brothers who served: six Cohens of North Carolina, five brothers of Jonas (four Confederate, one Union) from Mississippi and other family groups of Moses, Goldsmith, Levy, Wenk, Feder, Emanuel and Koch, etc.
Also included in Simon Wolf’s findings of Jewish Civil War veterans are names of 24 Union staff officers, 24 Confederate staff officers, 11 Confederate Navy officers and over 300 pages alphabetically listing names of thousands of Jewish soldiers from both armies, classified according to states.
After completing the 576-page account of the Jewish population’s contribution to America’s military, Simon Wolf sent a copy to Mark Twain, who had previously questioned the amount of Jewish support given during the Civil War.
After examining Wolf’s book, Twain reversed his position, stating that the numbers show a even greater ratio of participants than the non-Jewish population. Twain apologized for his ignorance.
Additional records of Jewish Civil War personnel not made available to Simon Wolf have since been uncovered by the Roster Project and will be added to his original list of Jewish military personnel.
The additional discovery of Jewish soldiers’ artifacts such as ketubahs and letters to Jewish mothers should bring even greater excitement to this future online Civil War exhibit, due to be available in 2018.

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