That Obnoxious Order

The first link on this page leads to Jonathan Sarna’s lecture “That Obnoxious Order”, a 30 minute lecture on Grant’s anti-Jewish order. Sarna’s speaking style is entertaining, and his research is intriguing: He suggests Jesse Grant, the general’s annoying father, might have been a driving impetus to Ulysses’ actions.

Center for Jewish Studies – Download free content from University of Wisconsin-Madison on iTunes.

America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action

The same author from yesterday’s article wrote earlier about Grant’s infamous anti-Jewish order from 1862.  Sad to see the words of some of the greatest heroes laid bare with anti-semitism.

A few months earlier, on August 11, General William Tecumseh Sherman had warned in a letter to the adjutant general of the Union Army that “the country will swarm with dishonest Jews” if continued trade in cotton were encouraged. And Grant also issued orders in November 1862 banning travel in general, by “the Israelites especially,” because they were “such an intolerable nuisance,” and railroad conductors were told that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad.”

As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Kentucky, and Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi – and a few were sent to prison. When some Jewish victims protested to President Lincoln, Attorney General Edward Bates advised the president that he was indifferent to such objections.

Lincoln rescinded Grant’s odious order, but not before Jewish families in the area had been humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

via The Jewish Press » » Shame of the Yankees – America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action.

Southern Jews and the Confederacy

In his exhaustive Civil War Narrative, Shelby Foote made an offhand mention about Lee’s lines around Richmond being stretched so thin he couldn’t even give his Jewish soldiers a day off for Passover. I always figured this was a weird little throwaway line, but by this telling of it, Lee’s army had quite a sizeable Jewish population.  While this is a very slanted article, it’s an interesting one for detailing Jewish involvement in (and according to the author, acceptance by) the Confederacy.

Yet many of us in the South, including those descended from old Jewish families of the Confederacy, still struggle to expose the truth about why Southern soldiers fought, the courage they showed against overwhelming odds, and the sacrifices they made.

The history of the Confederacy is full of long-forgotten tales of Jewish heroes, warriors, and leaders. This is a story little known today, absent from history books and an embarrassment to liberal Jewish historians ashamed of the prominent role played by Jews in supporting, defending and fighting for the Confederacy. It is a government about which they know little except for its association with slavery.

via The Jewish Press » » Southern Jews and the Confederacy.

General Sherman and Father Sherman

Another father/son story, though this one doesn’t have a terribly happy ending. W.T. Sherman – that freethinker who delighted in his army’s killing of Bishop Polk – begat a son who became a Catholic priest.  Interesting that the younger Sherman inherited his father’s manic depression, and also his feistiness; note how many of his descriptions are military or combative in theme.  You can see how the Jesuits (“God’s stormtroopers”, as one of my history profs called them) would have appealed.

In the spring of 1878, General William T. Sherman opened a letter from his oldest son Thomas, a young man for whom he held great hopes. At 22, Tom had studied at Georgetown and Yale, and had graduated from law school. Sherman envisioned a bright future for Tom, one which would ensure the family’s security. The letter, however, left him shocked, distressed, even furious.

Tom wrote that he wasn’t going to continue as a lawyer, but was joining the Jesuits that summer. The General told Tom in no uncertain terms that he had betrayed him, his sisters and mother, who looked to him for support in their old age. (He always felt his army salary didn’t go far enough.) It’s not clear that Sherman ever fully forgave his son.


Old World Religion, New World Conflict

While Catholic soldiers always prove an interesting focus for research, the Catholic Church as an entity was uncharacteristically silent from 1861-5. As this article investigates, this may have been due to the Church having a dog(ma) in each side of the fight.

On the eve of the Civil War, as citizens were taking sides, and taking up arms, leading Unionists questioned where the Church stood on the issues of slavery and secession. In May 1861, the Third Provincial Council of Cincinnati attempted to clarify the Catholic position on the crisis. The Council stated that the “spirit of the Catholic Church is eminently conservative and while her ministers rightfully feel a deep and abiding interest in all that concerns the welfare of the country, they do not think it their province to enter the political arena.” It further elaborated on the Catholic “unity of spirit” that recognized “no North, no South, no East, no West.” Yet historian Mark Noll states that the American Catholic position, while not as “fully developed domestically as they were abroad” created a theological challenge to prevailing American beliefs. Catholics challenged the Protestant notions that linked democracy and Christianity, capitalism and Christianity, and the individualism Protestants interpreted from scripture. Noll stated in his book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis that the Catholic position “amounted to a fundamental assessment of prevailing beliefs and practices that American protestants, whose main principles were so closely intertwined with the nation’s dominant ideologies, could not deliver.” Northern theologians could not understand Catholic misgivings about the abolitionist movement, with its willingness to break the law for its goals, and Know Nothing roots, while Southern radicals could not abide the Church’s sympathy for and identification with the plight and suffering of slaves. Furthermore, while Protestant denominations split along sectional lines and theological interpretations of slavery, even to the point of advocating war, the Catholic Church seemed maddeningly united and suspiciously neutral during the secession crisis.

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.