"Our Sacred Duty" Jewish Soldiers of the Confederacy

by Lewis Regenstein

This once happy country is inflamed by the fury of war; a menacing enemy is arrayed against the rights, liberties, and freedom of this, our Confederacy.

Here I stand now with many thousands of the sons of the sunny South, to face the foe, to drive him back, and to defend our natural rights.

O Lord, God of Israel, be with me in the hot season of the contending strife...Be unto the Army of this Confederacy, Inspire them with Patriotism. Give them when marching to meet, or overtake the enemy, the wings of the eagle...

Guide them, O Lord of battles, into the paths of victory....Grant that they may even advance to wage battle, and to battle in Thy name to win. O Lord, God, Father, be Thou with us.

"The Prayer of the C.S. Soldiers", by Rabbi Max Michelbacher

When the War Between the States broke out, the Jews of the South, and especially South Carolina, showed the same patriotism, courage, and willingness to sacrifice as their Christian neighbors.

It is a proud yet little known aspect of American Jewish history, long ignored or misrepresented by liberal historians (including many Jewish scholars) intent on demonizing the South, idolizing the North - especially its leader, president Lincoln - and falsely portraying the War as a conflict over slavery and human rights. But the important contribution of Jews to the Confederacy cannot be denied.


Robert Rosen begins his classic book, "The Jewish Confederates," by describing how at the outbreak of war, the Jews of Charleston, "proud of their history and patriotism dating from the American Revolution, rallied to the cause."

He recounts the consecration of the new Charleston synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God) , on March, 19, 1841, where Rabbi Gustavius Poznanski "spoke for generations of Jewish Charlestonians when he exclaimed that 'this synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine. And as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city, and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city, and this land'."

Indeed they did. In just one day, 21 June, 1862, at the Battle of Secessionville, on James island near Charleston, three Jewish Confederates were lost - Private Robert Cohen, Corporal Isaac Valentine -- and Private Gustavius Poznanski Jr, killed, as Rosen wrote, "defending his temple, his city, and his land, just as his father said he would from the pulpit ... twenty one years before."


Hatred and persecution of Jews was widely present in the North. But in the South, Southern Jews were playing a prominent role in the Confederate government and armed forces, and "were used to being treated as equals," as Rosen puts it, an acceptance they had enjoyed for a century-and-a-half.

[Dale and Theodore Rosengarten, in "A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life," observe that in 1800, Charleston had more Jews than any city in North America, and many were respected citizens, office holders, and successful entrepreneurs. Some referred to the city as "our Jerusalem"; and Myer Moses, my maternal family patriarch, in 1806 called his hometown "...this land of milk and honey."

Some 3,000 or more Jews fought for the South, practically every male of military age. [Many carried with them to the front Rabbi Michelbacher's widely published soldiers' prayer (beginning with the sacred prayer, the "Shema,"), comparing Southerners to "the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea."] As Rosen observes, "Jewish Johnny Rebs went off to war for patriotism and love of country....Their chief reasons for fighting were: to do their duty, to protect their homeland, to protect Southern rights and liberty, and support their comrades-in-arms."

Many Jewish Confederates distinguished themselves by showing, along with their Christian comrades, amazing courage, dedication, and valor, while enduring incredible hardships against overwhelming and often hopeless odds.


The best known Southern leader of Jewish ancestry was Judah P. Benjamin, often called "the brains of the Confederacy", who served President Jefferson Davis successively in three key positions: Attorney General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State of the Confederacy. Towards the end, he also acted as head of the espionage service, overseeing the establishment of spying and propaganda operations in the North and Canada, and efforts to burn strategic buildings, storehouses, and bridges in Union territory.

[Davis' wife Varina called him her husband's "right arm." In 1852, he became the second Jewish senator (representing Louisiana) in U.S. history ( the first being Florida's David Levy Yulee ). Benjamin is credited with being the first Jew appointed to a Cabinet position in a North American government, as well as being the first to be seriously considered for nomination to the Supreme Court, which he declined .]

The world renowned sculptor, Moses Jacob Ezekiel of Richmond, was a highly decorated soldier who, after a march of 80 miles with his fellow VMI cadets, fought in the Battle of New Market, and later in the trenches defending Richmond. His mother, Catherine Ezekiel, said she "would not tolerate a son who would not fight for home and country".

[Ezekiel wrote in his memoirs "we were not fighting for the perpetuation of slavery, but for the principles of States Rights and Free Trade, and in defense of our homes which were being ruthlessly invaded."]

[Major Adolph Proskauer of Mobile, Alabama who graces the cover of Rosen's book, joined Capt. Augustus Stikes's company, the Independent Rifles of Mobile, Alabama, which became Company C, 12th Alabama. He was wounded several times, and a fellow officer once wrote of him, "I can see him now as he nobly carried himself at Gettysburg, standing coolly and calmly with a cigar in his mouth at the head of the 12th Alabama amid a perfect rain of bullets, shot and shell. He was the personification of intrepid gallantry and imperturbable courage." ]

In North Carolina, six Cohen brothers fought in the 40th Infantry, and in my family, the five Moses brothers from Sumter served from beginning to end.


As the War drew to a close, my great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Moses, participated in a deadly dangerous mission as hopeless as it was valiant. The date was April 9, 1865, the same day that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Having run away from school at sixteen to become a Confederate scout, Jack rode out as part of a hastily-formed local militia to defend his hometown of Sumter, South Carolina.

Approaching rapidly were the 2,700 men of Potter's Raiders, a unit attached to Sherman's army which had just burned Columbia and most everything else in its path, and Sumter expected similar treatment.

In his compelling account of the encounter, "Recollections of Potter's Raid," Allen Thigpen describes how Sumter's 158 or so ragtag defenders - teenagers, old men, invalids, and wounded from the local hospital - amazingly were able to hold off Potter's battle-seasoned veterans for over an hour and a half at the cost of a dozen lives.

[Jack got away with a price on his head, and Sumter itself was not burned after all. But some buildings were, and there are documented instances of murder, rape, and arson by the Yankees, including the torching of our family's 196 bales of cotton.]

Meanwhile, on that same day, Jack's eldest brother, Lt. Joshua Lazarus Moses, who was wounded in the War's first major battle, First Manassas (Bull Run), was defending Mobile in the last infantry battle of the War. With his forces outnumbered 12 to one, Josh was commanding an artillery battalion that, before being overrun, fired the last shots in defense of Mobile.

Refusing to lay down his arms, he was killed in a battle at Fort Blakely a few hours after Lee, unbeknownst to the troops, surrendered-a battle in which one of Josh's brothers, Perry, had been wounded, and another brother, Horace, captured while laying land mines.

The fifth brother, Isaac Harby Moses, having served with distinction in combat in the legendary Wade Hampton's cavalry, rode home from North Carolina after the Battle of Bentonville-the last major battle of the war-where he had commanded his company after all of the officers had been killed or wounded. His Mother Octavia proudly observed in her memoirs that he never surrendered to the enemy forces.

He was among those who fired the first shots of the War when his company of Citadel cadets opened up on the Union ship, Star of the West, which was attempting to resupply the besieged Fort Sumter in January, 1861, three months before the War officially began.

Last Order of the Lost Cause

The Moses brothers' well known uncle, Major Raphael Jacob Moses, from Columbus, Georgia, is credited with being the father of Georgia's peach industry. He was General James Longstreet's chief commissary officer and was responsible for supplying and feeding up to 50,000 men (including porters and other non-combatants).

[Their commander, Robert E. Lee, had forbidden Moses from entering private homes in search of supplies during raids into Union territory, even when food and other provisions were in painfully short supply. And he always paid for what he took from farms and businesses, albeit in Confederate tender-often enduring, in good humor, harsh verbal abuse from the local women.]

Moses ended up attending the last meeting of the Confederate government (on 5 May, 1865 in Washington, Georgia) and carrying out its last order. He was instructed by Jefferson Davis to deliver the remnant of the Confederate treasury ($40,000 in gold and silver bullion) to help feed, supply and provide medical help to the defeated Confederate soldiers in hospitals and straggling home after the War-weary , hungry, often sick or wounded, shoeless, and in tattered uniforms. With the help of a small group of determined armed guards, he successfully carried out the order, despite repeated attempts by mobs to forcibly take the bullion.


Major Moses' three sons also served the Confederacy, one of whom, Albert Moses Luria, courageously picked up and threw a live Union artillery shell out of his fortification before it exploded, thereby saving the lives of many of his compatriots.

At age nineteen, he was shot above the right eye while leading his men in a charge over the enemy's fortifications at the decisive Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) on 31 May, 1862. He was the first Jewish Confederate killed in the War; his cousin Josh, killed at Mobile, the last.

In "Last Order of the Lost Cause," Mel Young recounts a poignant family story: the day Albert joined the Columbus City Light Guards, of the 2nd Georgia Infantry Battalion. He was called to duty in Columbus, five miles from home, on Saturday, 20 April, 1861 on just two hours' notice. After marching from the armory to the depot, Albert writes, "we were met by an immense concourse of citizens - assembled to bid us 'God Speed.' "

Among the crowd were several members of his family - aunts, uncles, and cousins - whom Albert wrote he was surprised to see, since observant Jews do not ride or work their horses on the Sabbath, and so they had walked several miles into town to bid him adieu.

As he wrote in his journal, "I did not anticipate seeing them, for it was Saturday I knew they could not ride & hardly expected they would pay me the compliment of walking in."

Besides Albert Luria and Josh Moses, at least seven other members of the extended family, of the almost three dozen who fought, gave their lives in defense of the South.


While Jews were generally accepted as members of their communities in the South , in the North anti-Semitism was widespread, including the Union army, government, and leadership.

Many instances of this widespread Yankee bigotry are described in detail by Bertram W. Korn, in his classic work, "American Jewry and the Civil War (1951); by Robert Rosen, and by other historians of the era. They recount how Jews in Union-occupied areas, such as New Orleans and Memphis, were singled out by Union forces for vicious abuse and vilification.

In New Orleans, the ruling general, Benjamin "Beast" Butler, harshly vilified Jews, and was quoted by a Jewish newspaper as saying that he could "suck the blood of every Jew, and ...will detain every Jew as long as he can." An Associated Press reporter from the North wrote that "The Jews in New Orleans and all the South ought to be exterminated...They run the blockade, and are always to be found at the bottom of every new villainy."

And the single worst act of official act of anti-Semitism in American history was carried out by Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant, who on December 17, 1862, issued his infamous "General Order # 11," expelling all Jews "as a class" from his conquered territories within 24 hours.

On 4 January, 1863, President Lincoln had Grant's order rescinded, but by then, some Jewish families in the area had been expelled, humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

Other anti-Jewish orders and statements were issued by generals Grant and William Sherman, and no Union official was ever fired, disciplined, or even reprimanded for their acts of bigotry and persecution.


After the war, Octavia Harby Moses, the Mother of the Moses brothers (and my great grandmother), devoted her life to memorializing "The Lost Cause". In 1869 she was unanimously elected president of the "Ladies Monumental Association" in Sumter, a forerunner of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Succeeding her in her crusade was her eldest daughter Rebecca, who wrote that "Daughters and grand daughters were all taught by her that this was a sacred duty."

Today, the heritage and honor of our ancestors are increasingly under attack. We must never cease fighting to prevent this history from being distorted or forgotten. It is our sacred duty.

Posted with permission of the author. Lewis Regenstein, a Native Atlantan, is a writer and author. E-mail


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