Jews and the Civil War: A Reader

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader


At least 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. A few served together in Jewish companies while most fought alongside Christian comrades. Yet even as they stood "shoulder-to-shoulder" on the front lines, they encountered unique challenges.

In Jews and the Civil War, Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn assemble for the first time the foremost scholarship on Jews and the Civil War, little known even to specialists in the field. These accessible and far-ranging essays from top scholars are grouped into seven thematic sections--Jews and Slavery, Jews and Abolition, Rabbis and the March to War, Jewish Soldiers during the Civil War, The Home Front, Jews as a Class, and Aftermath--each with an introduction by the editors. Together they reappraise the impact of the war on Jews in the North and the South, offering a rich and fascinating portrait of the experience of Jewish soldiers and civilians from the home front to the battle front.


A grand exhibit entitled “The American Jew in the Civil War” opened at the Jewish Museum in New York on December 11, 1960, to mark the centennial of the Civil War. A metal silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, based on a statue by the Jewish sculptor Max Kalish, dominated the foyer. The galleries featured true-to-life replicas of the tomb of a Confederate Jewish soldier and the Jewish Civil War memorial at Salem Fields, Long Island; a photographic mural of a bloody Georgia battlefield; and a dramatic threedimensional tent for the wounded tended by Jewish physicians. Fully 260 photographs, documents, and objects appeared in the multigallery exhibit. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled.

The once-in-a-lifetime spectacle challenged “Civil War aficionados and enthusiasts of American Jewish history to get to work,” the great historian of Jews and the Civil War Bertram W. Korn declared in his epilogue to the catalogue published for the occasion. His own American Jewry and the Civil War, first issued in 1951 and reissued for the centennial, had disrupted earlier hagiographic narratives of the Jewish experience of the conflict, shifting focus from Jewish “contributions” to the war effort and displays of patriotism to such uncomfortable subjects as Jews and slavery and Civil War–era antisemitism. But the historian’s work, Korn knew, was never done: “We need to know much more than we know now,” he wrote in the catalogue epilogue, “before we can feel that we are fully aware of the experiences of Jews during the Civil War and of the influence of those experiences on succeeding generations.”

In the decades since the centennial exhibit, some of the work that Korn called for has been accomplished. This research, produced over five decades, is scattered across a range of journals. Several articles and essays, unfortunately, have languished in obscurity.

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