JBuzz News July 18, 2012: Taking to the battlefields with Jewish Civil War reenactors

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Taking to the battlefields with Jewish Civil War reenactors

Source: JTA, 7-18-12

The Jewish presence is felt as Civil War reenactors commemorate 150 years since some of the conflict’s major battles….READ MORE»

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12

WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95

 

Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”

 

Jews in the Civil War: Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey

Source: The Philadephia Jewish Voice, 5-13-11
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now). This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War…READ MORE

Jonathan D. Sarna: What the Civil War meant for American Jews, then and now

Source: The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, 3-10-11

WALTHAM, Mass. — The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is upon us. April 12 is the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the war’s opening shot. From then, through the sesquicentennial anniversary on April 9, 2015 of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and five days later of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, every major event in the “ordeal of the union” seems likely to be recounted, re-enacted, re-analyzed and, likely as not, verbally re-fought.

The American Jewish community, meanwhile, has expressed little interest in these commemorations. A few books, a play, a film and a forthcoming scholarly conference form the totality of the Jewish contribution to the sesquicentennial. When I suggested a talk on the Civil War and the Jews in one setting, the organizers questioned the relevance of the topic. Only a small minority of Jews, they observed, boast ancestors who participated in the Civil War. By the time most Jewish immigrants to America arrived, the war was but a distant memory.

Fifty years ago, for the Civil War centennial, the level of interest within the Jewish community seemed noticeably higher. New York’s Jewish Museum mounted a grand exhibit titled “The American Jew in the Civil War.” Fully 260 photographs, documents and objects appeared in the multi-gallery show. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled….READ MORE: The Jewish Chronicle – What the Civil War meant for American Jews then and now

Adam Goodheart: Rabbi Morris J. Raphall and the Rebellion

Source: NYT, 3-7-11

New York, March 1861

The great national debate over slavery brought fame very suddenly to a certain owlish, bespectacled clergyman. Not long before, he had been almost unknown beyond the walls of his own synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun on Green Street in lower Manhattan. Now his name was in newspapers, and his sermon in bookshops from Boston to New Orleans. Like so many men of God – both then and now – he stepped out of obscurity when he stepped into politics, quoting ancient texts to answer modern questions.

“The Bible View of Slavery”: this was the title of the pamphlet that had brought Rabbi Morris J. Raphall such notoriety. He had first delivered the address on Jan. 4, 1861, on the occasion of the national “day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer throughout the Union” proclaimed by President James Buchanan in response to the secession crisis. The learned sage delved deep into the Hebrew Bible – citing the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Job and even Exodus – before concluding that “slaveholding is not only recognized and sanctioned as an integral part of the social structure … [but] the property in slaves is placed under the same protection as any other species of lawful property.”

Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, 1860.Library of Congress Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, 1860.

An ardent Unionist, Rabbi Raphall proclaimed from the pulpit that he was “no friend to slavery in the abstract, and still less friendly to the practical working of slavery. But I stand here as a teacher in Israel; not to place before you my own feelings and opinions, but to propound to you the word of G-d, the Bible view of slavery.” The descendants of Noah’s son Ham – that is, Africans – had been cursed by God, he said, so that “in his own native home, and generally throughout the world, the unfortunate negro is indeed the meanest of slaves.”

To be sure, Raphall also found reason to chastise American slaveholders. According to the Bible, he said, “the slave is a person in whom the dignity of human nature is to be respected; he has rights. Whereas, the heathen view of slavery which prevailed at Rome, and which, I am sorry to say, is adopted in the South, reduces the slave to a thing, and a thing can have no rights.” Still, in the end, abolitionists who tried to meddle with slavery were opposing the Lord’s will…. READ MORE