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Joseph Goldsmith, Jewish Confederate "chaplain"

From the beginning of the late war until its close I was connected with the War and Navy Departments of the Confederate States as a contractor for side arms and accoutrements. In this capacity I became acquainted with the organization and direction of the Army and Navy, and also became well acquainted with the governing officials of the State, War and Navy Departments.

Shortly before the Fall Festivals of our Jewish observance in 1864, I came to Richmond, Va., and as usual, met my late old friend, Rev. M.J. Michelbacher. After receiving an assurance of my readiness to aid him in the purpose which he outlined to me, he detailed his request as follows:

"There are right around here and in our other armies many Jewish soldiers who would like to keep Rosh Hashanah, but especially Yom Kippur according to our law and ritual. I am trying to get a furlough for these soldiers over these Holy Days, but do not know how to go about it. Here is a petition to the Secretary of War; you know him well; will you present it, or will you go with me to introduce me, or will you get Mr. Benjamin to recommend it?" I informed Mr. Michelbacher that as far as Mr. Benjamin was concerned it did not come within the scope of his special office; that if his recommendation was needed I could pledge it, and that the whole matter was for Mr. Seddon to decide.

Next morning Mr. Michelbacher and myself went to Mr. Seddon, who received us, as he did all his petitioners, with kindness. He read the petition quietly and talked the matter over with us for some time, even at more length than the pressing duties upon him seemed to warrant. After mature deliberation he spoke about as follows:

"Well, gentlemen, as far as I am concerned I will give my consent, but must refer the matter to the Adjutant and Inspector-General. Whatever he does, I will sanction." He thereupon wrote his endorsement on the petition, and Mr. Michelbacher and I took it up to General Cooper, who, like Mr. Seddon, received us kindly, and with great interest discussed the proposition with us. He would gladly, he said, grant the furloughs, but, "gentlemen," he added, "look, we have here a roster of all our soldiers, and we know, as far as possible from their names, how many of them belong to your religious denomination, and astonishing as it is that we count about 10,000 to 12,000 Jews who are serving in our Army.* Now, should I grant the furloughs you request, you will readily see, that for the time being it would perhaps disintegrate entire commands in the field and might work to a bad effect; besides, the commanders of the different army corps should  certainly be consulted. On the whole it would be impractible, as you, Goldsmith (turning to me), will readily acknowledge. In fact," he pleasantly added, "you will admit that if your forefathers had fought Titus on the Sabbath Day during the siege of Jerusalem, they most certainly would have beaten him. You see, therefore, I cannot conscientiously grant your request."

* Seddon was apparently counting non-Jews having German names as Jewish. It has been determined that the number of Jews in the Confederate Army was only 3,000. Unless he was using intelligence reports based on estimates by Union General McClellan? L.M.B.

So it ended, but we had the satisfaction of having learned that out of the small number of Jews then living in the South, it was believed that over 10,000 were serving in the Confederate Army. Those who would not serve left the country. For many of these latter I myself procured passports and permits, deeming it better they should leave quietly and unmolested than they should be forced into the ranks where they would have made unwilling defenders of the country.

I am still a living witness* and can, from my own memory, give you many names of gallant Jewish soldiers of the Confederate Army. I had ample opportunity to see and to know. Many a wounded Jew have I met in the hospitals of Richmond and administered to his wants, and many a Jewish soldier have I seen walking on his crutch or having his arm in a sling, traveling to and from his command during the war. And I know further that it was simply a sense of loyalty to their homes and their neighbors that prompted them to fight for the South. If not, they could readily have left this country at any time as I myself could have done, had I so chosen. But love for our adopted country kept us here and we offered all we had in its behalf.

* This was written in 1895.