Tag Archives: Library of Congress

Jewish Participation in the Civil War

By John R. Sellers

This is the second year in a four year sesquicentennial celebration of the American Civil War. Across the nation, libraries, museums, historical societies, and numerous related organizations are honoring the participants in this momentous event through publications, exhibitions, lectures, symposia, and the reenactment of individual battles and skirmishes. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation (http://www.shapell.org/) is contributing to the observance with a roster of Jewish participants in the Civil War. The new roster will greatly expand the list of names provided by Simon Wolf in his acclaimed study, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen (1895). Through some unknown methodology, Wolf managed to identify 7,914 men he believed to be Jewish that served in the Civil War, and another 800 he described as “unidentified as to command.” The consolidation of military records in the early twentieth century, combined with the recent advantages of digital technology, has enabled researchers to significantly expand Wolf’s roster, and at the same time, eliminate duplicate names, variant spellings of the same name, as well as the names of soldiers whose religious affiliation, upon closer examination, was either Christian or cannot be established.

In his defense, Wolf faced several obstacles in confirming the ethnicity of Jewish soldiers. Jews made up less than one percent of the total population in 1861, and although anti-Semitism was less prevalent than in Europe, it was nevertheless an obstacle to their acceptance as equals in the military. Few Jews had ever fought in the defense of a country or form of government. This led many Jewish volunteers, particularly in the Union Army, to conceal their identity, either by altering the spelling of their surnames or adopting a pseudonym. And in a somewhat humorous reverse action, Christian recruits in the few predominately Jewish units, such as Company C of the 82nd Illinois Infantry, the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, sometimes assumed Jewish names to ensure acceptance in unfamiliar surroundings.

Wolf doubtless realized his Civil War roster was incomplete. He could scarcely have missed the fact that he did not have a single Jewish soldier from the states of Minnesota and Delaware, and he must have known that there had to be more Jewish soldiers in service than the solitary names he published under the states of Maine and Vermont, or the two listed for Florida. Although the research for the revised Jewish Civil War roster is ongoing, current estimates are that as many as 13,000 Jews, North and South, may have volunteered for service in the American Civil War.

Another significant difference in the current Jewish roster and Wolf’s early work is that the update will take full advantage of the benefits of digital technology. The scientific method in historical research was in its infancy in the late 19th century, and Wolf understandably failed to identify his sources. However, it would be expensive and unnecessarily restrictive to publish the wealth of sources cited in the revised roster. Instead, the editors elected to create an online database of manuscript sources. Not only will the database have almost unlimited capacity, it will be open-ended. New sources can be inserted as they are uncovered. The bibliography for the roster will also be available online, and many readers will take special delight in the digital scans of many of the original documents consulted in the construction of the roster.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has spared no expense in making this updated Jewish Civil War roster as complete and accurate as possible. Anyone with information on the subject is encouraged to contact the Foundation directly or its project director, Dr. John R. Sellers at jselsr@aol.com.

Dr. John R. Sellers is the Project Director of the Jewish Civil War Roster, at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. He is a former Exhibition Curator and Historian, Manuscript Division, of the Library of Congress, and current President Lincoln’s Cottage Scholarly Advisor Group member.


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Northern Lip Service to the Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln and His Emancipation Proclamation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

By Zach Klitzman

In the wake of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, waves of support reached the president.  A dozen governors from loyal states met the President four days after the Proclamation’s release, and “congratulate[d] the President upon his proclamation, believing it will do good as a measure of justice and sound policy.”  In response, Lincoln, according to the Republican New York Tribune, said “no fact had assured him so thoroughly of the justice of the conclusion at which he had arrived as that the Executives of the loyal States gave it their hearty approbation.”[1]

On September 25, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin—one of the staunchest abolitionists in Lincoln’s cabinet—wrote him a letter expressing his “sincere thanks for your Emancipation Proclamation.”  Writing from Bangor, Maine, Hamlin had no doubt that the Proclamation was a watershed moment in American history.  “It will stand as the great act of the age.  It will prove to be wise in statesmanship as it is patriotic.  It will be enthusiastically approved and sustained, and future generations will, as I do, say God bless you for this great and noble act.”

However, Lincoln did not have the luxury of looking ahead to future generations.  Instead, he had a much more pessimistic, albeit realistic, view of the immediate reaction to the proclamation than either the governors or Hamlin did.  In a “strictly private” response to Hamlin on September 28, 1862 (exactly 149 years ago), Lincoln warned his subordinate that “It is known to some that while I hope something from the proclamation, my expectations are not as sanguine as are those of friends.  The time for its effect southward has not come; but northward the effect should be instantaneous.”  Those northward effects were not just “commendation in newspapers and by distinguished individuals,” but included those of a negative nature.  “The stocks have declined, and troops come forward more slowly than ever.  This, looked soberly in the face, is not very satisfactory…. The North responds to the proclamation sufficiently with breath; but breath alone kills no rebels.”  Lincoln ended his grave letter with an apology of sorts: “I wish I could write more cheerfully; nor do I thank you the less for the kindness of your letter.”[2]

Lincoln, though grateful for the praise of his Proclamation, realized that the North was not yet willing to back up their vocal support with action.  He received even more evidence in the November Congressional elections. Republicans lost 22 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Democrats picked up 28.  That net of 50 seats totaled 27 percent of the 185-member House.  Though the issue of emancipation helped gain votes in New England, it had a negative impact in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and New York. 

Despite the electoral backlash to emancipation—and to be fair, the war’s slow progress also hurt the Republicans—Lincoln refused to back down on his promise of emancipation.  As reported in the New York Tribune, he declared to a group of Union Kentuckians in late November “that he would rather die than take back a word of the Proclamation of Freedom.”[3]

Mr. Klitzman is the Executive Assistant at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

[1] “Reply to Delegation of Loyal Governors,” September 26, 1862, Roy P. Balser, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 5: 441.

[2] “To Hannibal Hamlin,” September 28, 1862, Collected Works 5: 444.

[3] “Remarks to Union Kentuckians,” November 21, 1862, Collected Works 5: 503.

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Obama Will Take Oath of Office with Hand on Lincoln’s Bible

The Library of Congress has offered President-elect Barack Obama use of Lincoln’s Bible for the swearing-in ceremony.

Read more here: http://www.pic2009.org/blog/entry/president-elect_barack_obama_to_be_sworn_in_using_lincolns_bible/

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“Group Hopes to Bring Lincoln Collection to Washington”

The Washington Post published an article today about the efforts of President Lincoln’s Cottage, Library of Congress, National Museum of American History, and Ford’s Theater to bring The Lincoln Financial collection to Washington, D.C. The collection is currently housed at The Lincoln Museum, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which will close its doors June 30, 2008.

“Group Hopes to Bring Lincoln Collection to Washington”
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008; Page C01

“Four major Washington institutions are jointly pursuing an extensive collection of materials related to Abraham Lincoln and his times with hopes of bringing it to the capital.

The Library of Congress, the National Museum of American History, Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage have formed a partnership to obtain the collection of the privately owned Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Ind. The museum is closing next week after 77 years of operation.”

Read the full article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/24/AR2008062401472.html

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