Monday, June 11, 2007

The Straw Man

The last Confederate Jew to be killed, Joshua Lazarus Moses, of Sumter, S.C., the brother of Lewis Regenstein's great grandfather, killed in the battle of Fort Blakeley, Alabama a few hours after Lee surrendered. Irony abounds: just under one hundred years later, Northern Jews Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered, along with James Chaney, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, while attempting to secure civil rights for Southern blacks.

Union was no friend to American Jews

It is odd to see James Finkelstein’s letter, “Southern cause was no noble one,” praising the Union actions in the Civil War (“In My View”, 29 May), since he and his family would have been severely persecuted had they had the misfortune to find themselves in Union-captured territory during much of this time.

On Dec. 17, 1862, in the worst official act of anti- Semitism in American history, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11, expelling the Jews “as a class” from his conquered territories within 24 hours. Grant also issued orders on 9 and 10 November 1862 banning Jews from traveling southward on trains, and Gen. William T. Sherman was also known for his openly expressed hatred for Jews.

As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Ky.; Holly Springs and Oxford, Miss., and a few were sent to prison.

Other top Union officials supported and endorsed the Order, and it was not until 4 January 1863, that Lincoln had Grant’s odious order rescinded. But by then, Jewish families in the area had been expelled, humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

In addition, Jews in Union- occupied areas, such as New Orleans and Memphis, were singled out by Union forces for vicious abuse and vilification.

Meanwhile, in the South, Southern Jews were playing a prominent role in the Confederate government and armed forces, largely being treated as equals as they had become used to for a century-and-a- half.

Some 3,000 or more Jews fought for the South, practically every male of military age, including the Confederacy’s Secretary of War and later State Judah P. Benjamin, and over two dozen members of my extended maternal family, the Moses of Georgia and South Carolina.

We know first hand, from their letters, diaries, and memoirs, that they were not fighting for slavery, but rather to defend themselves and their fellow soldiers, their families, homes, and country from an invading army that was trying to kill them, burn their homes and cities, and destroy everything they had.

It was this same Union Army (led by many of the same Civil War generals) that engaged in virtual genocide against the Native Americans in what we euphemistically call “the Indian Wars,” often massacring harmless, defenseless old men, women, and children in their villages.

Grant’s little-remembered Nazi-like decree and his other atrocities should serve to remind us what the South was up against, and why many native Southernes revere their ancestors’ courage, and still take much pride in this heritage.


Dear Mr. Regenstein,

I am very cognizant of who I am and where I come from. But I don't see the world through a Jewish prism. With regard to your piece in
The Herald about odious anti-Semitism of Northern generals during the Civil War, my response is: so? what's your point? That the North contained bigots, racists, bullies, and anti-Semites? That the South had many decent human beings? Inductive reasoning can take you only so far, or you will end up rooting for the Soviets who replaced the ferociously anti-Semitic Czarist regime with a temporarily egalitarian government in which Jews were able to serve in the highest positions. Or you would prefer the Kaiser's German army, in which many Jews served nobly, to the anti-Semitic France which had condemned Dreyfuss in a trial so obviously a sham that it led Theodor Herzl to entertain the notion of an independent Jewish state in Palestine? If you use your Jewish prism to gauge history, you will have to cheer on the Arabs over the English, Spanish and French, because history tells us that the Moors welcomed Jews after they were expelled from those countries or fled the Inquisition.

Me- I try to see history more clearly. I don't recall praising Union actions, only the outcome of the war. The Civil War started in 1860 with over four million African blacks in bondage in the South. It's aftermath was complete freedom
for all those millions, capped on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution - a document to which you once swore an oath to uphold and defend. Feel free to write another letter to the editor explaining why freedom for slaves was a bad thing- or why continued bondage of slaves in a successful Confederate States of America would have been a good thing. To me that's like arguing that the earth is flat, gravity makes objects fall upwards, and Bush is the bestest president ever.


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