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February 11, 1994 - Image 53

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-02-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

"LOAD!

99 Confederate soldier Alan Rothenberg poured black

powder into his .58 caliber Enfield rifle as the com-
mander bellowed: "Charge!"
A rebel yell rang out as Confederates attacked the Union lines. Both blue and gray
warriors fell lifeless into the red mud of the Tennessee battlefield. Pvt. Rothenberg fought
— and died — in the battle of Murfreesboro.
Today, he lives in Novi with his wife and daughter. On weekends, Mr. Rothenberg is a
Civil War re-enacter. His participation in living history helps to remind Americans that...

T

he rift between the states remains a phe-
nomenon that piques the interest of Detroit
Jews today. Levi Smith of West Bloomfield
learned about his family's involvement in the
war through a book compiled by his great grandfather,
William Hamilton Frank.
William Hamilton Frank was a child in New York
during the war. In his book, he recalls hanging around
camps selling peanuts to groups of rowdy soldiers.
"(The soldiers) treated me so well that I stayed there
at the camp with them for almost two weeks, eating
their hardtack among other things and sleeping in a
bunk. They actually made a pet of me," Mr. Frank
wrote.

Today the family book, with its old photographs of
solemn faces, seems remote to Levi Smith, yet it has
served to connect him to the war.
"History is much more interesting if you can relate
it in a personal way," Mr. Smith says. "I'll be playing
golf on a beautiful spring day and say to myself that,
not too many years ago, and not too far away, young
men from Michigan were shooting young men from
Tennessee:"
Some local Jews use art to express their fascination
with the Civil War. In the Maple-Drake Jewish Com-
munity Center, Robert Aronson (who also serves as
executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit) exhibits lithographs depicting
Civil War battlefields. His inspiration is multifold:
"The Civil War was such a perilous time, not only
for our country, but for our values. The things that
people fought for were so clear. The mistakes, the
errors, the blunders, the sheer magnitude of the war.
The characters — Lincoln, Lee, Nathan Bedford
Forrest.
"These are such fascinating people. One could say
there was a certain elevation of the human spirit when
you read about the heroism and the suffering," Mr.
Aronson says.

Photo by Glenn Triest

Jews fought in the Civil War.
This historical fact surprises many people ill-ac-
customed to associating Jewish history with Ameri-
can military chronicles of the 19th century. And yet
Jewish influence during the Civil War was significant.
"It is said that a Jew fired the first gun against Fort
Sumter, and another Jew gave the last shelter to the
fleeing president and cabinet of the falling Confeder-
acy," wrote George Fredman and Louis Falk in their
book Jews In American Wars.
Famous Jewish financiers, including the Seligman
family and August Belmont, served the Northern cru-
sade to preserve the Union. Judah P. Benjamin won
prominence as attorney general, secretary of war and
secretary of state for the Confederacy from 1861 to
1865. He often is referred to as President Jefferson
Davis' most loyal confidant.
President Abraham Lincoln also relied on Jews.
Abraham Jonas, an old friend from the president's na-
tive Illinois, acted as Mr. Lincoln's political adviser.
Dr. Isachar Zacharie worked as the president's dubi-
ous chiropodist. It is thought that the doctor was a spy,
sharing military secrets with the president while re-
moving his bunions and corns.
Jews also died on the battlefields. Confederate and
Union Jews — some of them family members fighting
each other across enemy lines — fell in combat, their
tallitot hidden beneath bloodied uniforms.
Historians say between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews —
about 7 percent of the U.S. Jewish population at the
time — fought in the Civil War. They served as strate-
gists, doctors and fighters; many as officers.
Seven Jews won the Congressional Medal of Hon-
or, the highest award for bravery.
Overall, Jewish stamina and dedication to the war
did not go unnoticed. Authors Fredman and Falk have
published statements of officers like Union General
Oliver Howard:
"Intrinsically, there are no more patriotic men to be
found in the country than those who claim to be of He-
brew descent."

Above, Levi Smith learned about his ancestor's
involvement in the Civil War through an old family
book.

Below, Alan Rothenberg played a Confederate soldier
in the movie Gettysburg. Here, he stands second from
the right, behind actor Stephen Lang (middle).

he Civil War era found 151 Jewish families
living in Michigan — 75 of them in Detroit.
More than 180 Jewish soldiers from Michi-
gan fought for the Union. Most were immi-
grant peddlers and merchants, though some had
attained greater status.
"By the 1870s Detroit's Jewish community contained
a small group of men who rose from modest beginnings
to positions of wealth and prominence," wrote Robert
Rockaway in The Jews Of Detroit.
Some Jewish entrepreneurs prospered from war
contracts with the United States and state govern-
ments. Bavarian immigrant Samuel Heavenrich joined
his brother-in-law in Detroit to produce uniforms for
Northern soldiers. In 1862, Heineman, Butzel and Co.
opened a similar operation. Success stories like these
sometimes engendered anti-Semitism.
In his book, Mr. Rockaway mentions an anti-Se-
miticarticle published in the Detroit Commercial Ad-
vertiser. The 1863 article condemns Jews and
foreigners as wartime profiteers. These "hooked-nose 0 ,
wretches speculate on disasters and a battle lost to ..
our army is chuckled over by them, as it puts money
in their purse." >-
This sentiment manifested itself nationally when
Jews were accused of violating the trade embargo be- =
tween the North and South. In 1862, General Ulysses
S. Grant's office issued "Order No. 11." The infamous
mandate expelled all Jews from a Union-occupied part
of Tennessee. The Jews left their military positions,

53

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