The Civil War at NMAJH
Marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War
Visit the National Museum of American Jewish History to see the core exhibition's gallery about the Jewish experience during the Civil War, including community debates of slavery and freedom, artifacts related to Jewish soldiers on both sides, and General Grant’s infamous General Orders No. 11.
Like most national debates, past and present, the debate over slavery cleaved the Jewish community—separating friends and dividing families.
Jews never spoke with a unified voice on the issues of secession or slavery. Rather, they confronted the same choices as their neighbors when political battles turned violent, and they met each other on opposing sides of the battlefield when fighting began. As one writer to a leading Jewish newspaper despaired, “The grim visage of war has shown its horrid front.”
Confederate two dollar bill with a portrait of Judah P. Benjamin on it, 1862
Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884) served in the U.S. Senate and twice declined a nomination to the Supreme Court. After secession, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, asked Benjamin to join his cabinet, first as Attorney General, then as Secretary of War, and finally as Secretary of State. At the time, this made Benjamin one of the few Jews anywhere to achieve such high political office.
“A Woman’s War Record, 1861-1865"
Charleston-born Septima Levy married Union General Charles H. T. Collis in 1861. Mrs. Collis wrote, “I never fully realized the fratricidal character of the conflict until I lost my idolized brother Dave of the Southern army one day, and was nursing my Northern husband back to life the next.”
These and other artifacts show the division among American Jews during the Civil War, and the impact of the war on the American Jewish community.