Wednesday, December 25, 2019

During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant Began Expelling Southern Jews - Until President Lincoln Stepped In.


In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.


By 1860 there were an estimated 200,000 Jewish people in the United States (est. 34,000 Jews, about 2% of 1.72 million, in Illinois), up from 15,000 in 1840. That dramatic rise was the result of poverty and discrimination in Germany and Central Europe, where Jewish people were often excluded from trade, prevented from marrying and subject to pogroms (organized massacre) and other violence.

The United States offered the promise of economic and social freedom. But Jewish immigrants were not always welcomed into their new communities, especially in the North. New Jewish enclaves in American cities were viewed with suspicion by those who recognized neither their language nor their religion. Once the Civil War broke out, things got even worse.

In the North, popular newspapers disparaged Jews as secessionists and rebels and blamed them for destroying the national credit. And though some Jews occupied high-ranking roles within the Confederacy, anti-Semitism was widespread in the South as well.

Almost as soon as the war began, illegal trade and smuggling between the North and South started. Though the Union blockaded Southern ports, goods still made their way over the border, and profiteers continued their trade illicitly, especially as the price of cotton rose due to the embargo. Not only did illicit trading flout Union rules, but it threatened the war effort itself.

When cotton came from Confederate territory, there was always the danger that it would be paid for in supplies or munitions. The black market was everywhere, and it frustrated both governments. And there was a seemingly perfect scapegoat: Jews, who had been stereotyped in the press as avaricious and opportunistic.

The effect of this restriction was to drive up cotton prices, from 10¢ per pound ($2.80 today) in 1860 to 68¢ per pound ($19 today) just two years later.
Ulysses Grant and his family arrived in Galena, Illinois, in the spring of 1860 after a 15-year military career which ended in 1854. In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant left Galena to join the U.S. Army, ending his seven-year hiatus from the military. He was commissioned as Colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was promoted to progressively significant commands of Union forces. 
General [Hiram] Ulysses S. Grant, one of the Union Army’s most influential officials, was infuriated by the cotton smuggling that damaged the Union’s ability to squeeze the South economically. The Civil War created a huge cotton market for uniforms needed on both sides. In his eyes, the perpetrators were all Jews. This wasn’t borne out by evidence—though Jewish people were active as peddlers, merchants, and traders, and some undoubtedly made money speculating on cotton, but they would only make up a minuscule percentage of black marketeers.

In August of 1862, Ulysses became the commander of the Army of the Tennessee. As Grant was preparing the Union Army to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, he commanded his men to examine the baggage of all speculators, giving “special attention” to Jews. In November, he told his subordinates to refuse to let Jews receive permits to travel south of Jackson, Mississippi or travel southward on the railroads.

For Grant, prejudice against Jews mingled with personal animosity. He began his crackdown after discovering his father, Jesse R. Grant, and his two Jewish partners, Henry and Abraham Mack were involved in a scheme to get a legal cotton trading permit in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The backstory of Ulysses, his father Jesse, and Jews.
During the Civil War, Jesse Root Grant (1794-1873) resided in Covington, Kentucky, which remained neutral during the war. Jesse's son Simpson died of tuberculosis in September of 1861. His son Ulysses brought his children to stay with Jesse believing they would be safer there.

Jesse followed the continuing successes of Ulysses as he advanced in rank and assumed command of major campaigns. When controversial stories appeared in newspapers about the heavy casualties suffered under Generals Prentiss and McClernand at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee under the command of Ulysses, Jesse defended his son and responded with numerous editorials in rebuttal in various Cincinnati newspapers in such a manner as to suggest he was speaking for his son the General. Jesse also wrote a heated letter to Governor Tod of Ohio, blaming the "five thousand cowards" who threw down their arms and fled, for the high casualties that occurred at the battle. Jesse's letters became so frequent that General Grant, who had much distrust for newspapers and their coverage of the war, had to step in and forbid him from writing to the newspapers. In a letter to his father, Ulysses wrote, "my worst enemy could do me no more injury than you are doing."

As the war caused the price of cotton to escalate it invited many speculators, moving about in the midst of a major and prolonged military campaign against Vicksburg, Mississippi, causing many problems for the Union Army. 
Traveling from Ohio they arrived unexpectedly at General Grant's headquarters in northern Mississippi while he was busy with commanding a major campaign. 
Grant had already received reports from William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), the United States Secretary of War, and others of Jewish merchants who were "highly visible" among the trading which was occurring by both northern and southern interests, often without permits. 

In December of 1862, Jesse and the Mack brothers struck a deal. Jesse signed a contract promising to use his influence with his son to obtain a special permit that would allow the Macks to trade with the Confederacy. The Macks, in return, promised to provide the money and to share one-fourth of their profits from the trade with Jesse. Jesse wrote to and visited his Ulysses in an effort to fulfill his part of the bargain. One of the Macks also reportedly visited the general. Jesse arrived at Grant's headquarters in northern Mississippi while he was busy with commanding a major campaign. 
When Grant refused to sign a permit, the Macks withdrew from the agreement. Jesse responded by suing them for breach of contract. The Cincinnati courts ruled in favor of the defendants.  
By the time Jesse and his two partners arrived with a request for permits to operate, they were immediately rebuffed by an Ulysses angered for presuming on the Army and his patience. 
The incident had been indicative of the problem with cotton speculators, in general, who often collaborated with Union Officers, much to the frustration of General Grant. It's believed that Jesse's arrival with two prominent Jewish cotton speculators is largely what led Grant in 1862 to issue General Order №.11 expelling all Jews from his district. Jesse and the Mack Bros. were instructed to leave the district on the next train going north. 
This incident proved to be an embarrassment for Grant which once again placed his father and himself on opposing sides of a serious issue.
On December 17, 1862, Grant went even further. That’s when he issued an official order expelling Jews from the Department of the Tennessee, a massive administrative division under his command that included parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He called the Jews “a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders” and gave them 24 hours to get out.

The order targeted Jews as a group, singling them out based on their religion. And though news of the order was hindered by Confederate raids and was not well-enforced, it slowly trickled out to Jews in and beyond the affected area.

News of the order horrified Jewish Americans. Among them were the approximately 30 Jewish merchants of Paducah, all of who were expelled from the city along with their wives and children. Two of the men being banished were former Union soldiers.

On December 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, General Ulysses S. Grant issued the most anti-Jewish order in American history. The letter was short, but its meaning was clear—and devastating. “You are hereby ordered to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” General Order №.11 decreed as follows:
  • The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
  • Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
  • No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.
In a letter of the same date sent to Christopher Wolcott, the United States Assistant Secretary of War, Grant explained his reasoning:
Sir,

I have long since believed that in spite of all the vigilance that can be infused into Post Commanders, that the Specie 
(money in the form of coins rather than paper notes) regulations of the Treasury Department, have been violated, and that mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders. So well satisfied of this have I been at this that I instructed the Commanding Officer at Columbus [Kentucky] to refuse all permits to Jews to come south, and frequently have had them expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee]. But they come in with their carpet sacks in spite of all that can be done to prevent it. The Jews seem to be a privileged class that can travel any where. They will land at any wood yard or landing on the river and make their way through the country. If not permitted to buy cotton themselves they will act as agents for someone else who will be at a Military post, with a Treasury permit to receive cotton and pay for it in Treasury notes which the Jew will buy up at an agreed rate, paying gold.
There is but one way that I know of to reach this case. That is for Government to buy all the Cotton at a fixed rate and send it to Cairo [Illinois] St. Louis [Missouri] or some other point to be sold. Then all traders, they are a curse to the Army, might be expelled.
Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Mississippi, were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines disrupting major lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of Grant's orders spread slowly and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Grant's orders finally reached Paducah, Kentucky—a city occupied by Grant’s forces—11 days after it was issued.

On December 29th, Cesar J. Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in Paducah, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” Kaskel couldn’t believe it. He had emigrated to the United States after leaving Prussia, where he was discriminated against and financially ruined because he was Jewish. Now, the Union Army was telling him he was being expelled from his new home and his business for the same reason. 

As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.
Cesar J. Kaskel was a Jew who was, with other Jews in Paducah, Kentucky, rounded up and shipped to Cincinnati, Ohio by General U.S. Grant under General Order Number Eleven.
As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.
Paducah, Kentucky, December 29, 1862.
Hon. Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.
 
General Order №.11 issued by General Grant at Oxford, Mississippi, December the 17th, commands all post commanders to expel all Jews without distinction within twenty-four hours from his entire Department. The undersigned good and loyal citizens of the United States and residents of this town, for many years engaged in legitimate business as merchants, feel greatly insulted and outraged by this inhuman order; the carrying out of which would be the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it and would place us, besides a large number of other Jewish families of this town, as outlaws before the world. We respectfully ask your immediate attention to this enormous outrage on all law and humanity and pray for your effectual and immediate interposition. We would especially refer you to the post commander and post adjutant as to our loyalty, and to all respectable citizens of this community as to our standing as citizens and merchants. We respectfully ask for immediate instructions to be sent to the Commander of this Post.
D. WOLFF & BROTHERS.
C.F. KASKEL
J.W. KASKEL
Though the 1862 orders were aimed at cotton speculators, they gave all Jews—speculators or not—just 24 hours to leave their homes, businesses, and lives behind. It was the culmination of a wave of anti-Semitism that swept through the United States in the year before the Civil War (1861-1865), and a decision that would haunt Grant for the rest of his life.

After their forced departure Kaskel went to Washington to protest the order in person. There, he approached Congressman John A. Gurley of Ohio, who agreed to accompany him to the White House. The men hurried to President Lincoln.

But though an increasing number of people were learning of Grant’s orders in the South, the breakdown in communications meant that Lincoln had not previously heard about his general's decision to expel Jewish people from the Department of the Tennessee. 

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He was so shocked by the order that he immediately asked his staff for confirmation which was confirmed as real.

Lincoln did instantly instruct the general-in-chief of the Army, Henry Halleck, to countermand General Orders №.11. Two days later, several urgent telegrams went out from Grant’s headquarters in obedience to that demand: “By direction of the General in Chief of the Army at Washington,” they read, “the General Order from these Head Quarters expelling Jews from this Department is hereby revoked.”

News of the order continued to spread, and though some editorials sided with Grant, most condemned its targeting of Jews. “Men cannot be condemned and punished as a class, without gross violence to our free institutions,” wrote the New York Times a month after the order. But even that editorial spread anti-Semitic tropes about Jews, comparing them to Shylocks[1] and complaining about the potentially destructive power of wealthy Jews. Grant’s order helped stir up an ugly undertone of American life that isolated and damaged Jews who had come to the United States in search of elusive equality.

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile.” “To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” In short order, attention returned to the battlefield, where, within a year, Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, elevated him to the status of a national hero.

The discriminatory order was quickly squelched, but the general never forgot it. In fact, he spent a lifetime trying to atone for it. When he was running for president in 1868, he confessed that the order “was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking.” In-office, he named more Jews to public office than ever before, and promoted the human rights of Jewish people abroad, protesting pogroms in Romania and sending a Jewish diplomat to object.

During his administration, Jews moved from outsider to insider status in the United States, and from weakness to strength. But though Grant did what he could to atone for his discriminatory order, he doubtless contributed to the anti-Semitism of the 19th century.

Read about "The Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant," by Jonathan D. Sarna.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] Shylock is a character in William Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice" (circa 1600). A Venetian Jewish moneylender, Shylock is the play's principal antagonist. His defeat and conversion to Christianity form the climax of the story.

1 comment:

  1. A saddening piece of history that should be included in school curricula.

    ReplyDelete

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is rated PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Comments not on the article's topic will be deleted, along with advertisements.