Rabbi Chaplains

Another catch-up Disunion article, this one looking at the contribution of American Jews to the Union Army, specifically through a piece of legislation that initially barred rabbis from the chaplaincy.

One of the interesting asides is that Clement Vallandigham, notorious Copperhead, was a voice of reason in appealing for the change in wording. There are a few Civil War personalities who I’m seeing differently as I learn more about them (or perhaps as I age? Get off my lawn!), and Vallandigham is one of them. I’ll cover this a bit more in-depth tomorrow.

Rabbi Dr. Arnold Fischel arrived at the White House on the morning of Dec. 11, 1861, prepared to act as a one-man lobby for the constitutional rights of Jews. He had traveled alone from New York, on his own dime, bringing several letters of recommendation from prominent Republicans and one from the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, then just three years old and the country’s only national Jewish organization.

One of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries told Fischel that there was little chance of a meeting. But the rabbi was persistent, taking his place among hundreds of people hoping to see the president, some of whom had been waiting for three days. To Fischel’s surprise, Lincoln immediately received him with “marked courtesy.” The rabbi stated the reason for his visit: On behalf of the American Jewish community, including several thousand soldiers fighting for the Union, he hoped the president might reconsider a discriminatory law forbidding his people to serve as chaplains.

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  1. Pingback: Penny for His Thoughts : The Civil War Podcast

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