When the Civil War erupted in 1861, it divided the nation and the Jewish population. Jews enlisted in the armies of the North and the South, giving them the opportunity to become good soldiers and heroes. There were approximately 150,000 Jews in the country, with about 8,500 of them fighting for the North and South. In the North, the record shows that there were many Jewish officers: 8 were generals, 21 colonels, 9 lieutenant colonels, 40 majors, 205 captains, 325 lieutenants, 48 adjutants and 25 surgeons.
General Oliver 0. Howard wrote "that there were no braver and patriotic men to be found then those of Hebrew descent..." General Stahel also acclaimed the bravery and heroism of the Jewish soldiers in the North.
It is reported that New York had 2,000 volunteers and Illinois had 1,000. Six Jews received the nation's highest award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, while many received other medals for heroism.
The Jewish casualties were high, for example Marcus M. Spiegel, who was killed in Louisiana when he was about to be promoted to brigadier general, or Leopold C. Newman, who was fatally wounded at Chancellorsville, where President Abraham Lincoln visited him on his deathbed.
In the South, Jewish volunteers flocked to the Confederate cause. Captain J. Roessler and Private Leon Blum were widely recognized for their role in the Southern resistance. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Jewish women raised $150 for the Confederate cause. The role of the Confederate Jewish soldiers in the Civil War can best be described by the words of T.N. Waul, who commanded a Southern Legion:
"Two of the infantry companies had a large number of Jews in their ranks and the largest company in command - 120 men - were officered by Jews and three-fourths of the rank and file were of that faith. There were also a number of Jews scattered throughout the command in other companies. They were all volunteers; there was not a Jew conscript in the Legion. As soldiers they were brave, orderly, well-disciplined and in no re- spect inferior to the gallant body of which they formed a prominent part. Their behavior in camp, as in the field, was exem- plary. No Jew in the command was arraigned before a court martial and in proportion to their numbers, there were few ap- plications for leaves of absence, and their regular habits caused very few of their names to appear on the hospital roles. In battle, without distinction of race or religion, all were apparently willing and eager for the contest. I will say, however, I never saw or heard of any Jew shrinking or failing to answer any call of duty or danger."
In the Civil War, Jews responded to the call of duty whether it be for the North or the South and they proved that they could be good soldiers as well as heroes in fighting for their country.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 12 May 2011