Within days of General Grant’s order expelling all Jews from Kentucky and Tennessee, delegations from Jewish communities began heading to Washington to head off the greatest calamity American Jewry had ever faced. Jews were already being given expulsion orders and a few had been arrested. The explanation one Union general gave to a detainee for his expulsion, “You are Jews…and neither a benefit to the Union or Confederacy,” was not reassuring.1
The modern historian of the expulsion order, Jonathan Sarna, notes that while roughly 100 Jews suffered directly from it, most Union officers either tried to ignore Grant’s directive or defied it. Some of his commanders had Jews in their own units. Were they to expel the Jewish soldiers from the army? Others assumed it was a mistake and asked for clarification before they tried to carry it out. Still other officers thought it a violation of the Constitution.2
The first of the Jewish community leaders to arrive in Washington was Ceasar Kaskel of Kentucky on January 3, 1863. He went to see Congressman John Gurley, known for his close relationships with Jews, who quickly arranged a meeting with Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln heard what had happened, he said that the Jews had been driven by Grant from the “happy land of Canaan”, according to Kaskel, and he promised that they would have his “protection…at once.” While there is some doubt as to whether Lincoln actually said this, he quickly ordered his general-in-chief Henry Halleck to countermand the order. Halleck had a hard time believing Grant could have issued it. On January 4 he sent a telegram to Grant that “If such an order has been issued” it was to be rescinded. On January 6, Grant notified his officers that the expulsions should halt.3
Although Lincoln and Grant would form an effective partnership to win the Civil War, they did not meet in person until March 8, 1864. Horace Porter, one of Grant’s subordinates, described the first time the two men saw each other at a crowded White House reception: “Although these two historical characters had never met before, Mr. Lincoln recognized the general at once from the pictures he had seen of him. With a face radiant with delight, he advanced rapidly two or three steps toward his distinguished visitor, and cried out: “Why, here is General Grant! Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you,” at the same time seizing him by the hand, and shaking it for several minutes with a vigor which showed the extreme cordiality of the welcome.”
Kaskel returned to Kentucky before news of the rescission had spread. Challenged by a Union officer about how he was authorized to return after being ordered out, Kaskel told him that he had come back on the authority of the President of the United States.4
Delegations of rabbis and other leaders, who arrived in Washington after the order was countermanded, were brought to meet with Lincoln on the crisis so recently averted. Isaac Mayer Wise wrote of the President a week after the meeting that Lincoln “knows no distinction between Jew and Gentile” and “feels no prejudice against any nationality.” He assured his immigrant readers that Lincoln would not permit discrimination against a citizen “on account of his place of birth or religious confession.”5
While Grant’s order expressed the suspicion of Jews articulated by many former Know Nothings as well as evangelical abolitionists within the new Republican Party, it was rejected both by Democrats and those Republicans who shared Lincoln’s emerging vision of a more inclusive republic. Calls would come for Grant to be sanctioned for this act, calls which Lincoln would ignore. The general was just too good a fighter to lose.
In later years, Grant would wholeheartedly renounce the order and as president he would both promote Jews within his administration and defend Jewish communities when they came under attack abroad. We’ll cover that result of Grant’s expulsion order in the final chapters of The Immigrants’ Civil War.6
Video: Historian Jonathan Sarna on Grant’s Expulsion of the Jews and Grant’s Relationship With the Jewish community After the War
Read Jonathan Sarna’s essay on Grant’s Redemption after the war. Thanks to our reader Jon Morrison for this link.
The leading modern work on the expulsion of the Jews and Grant’s post-war amends is When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012).
1. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle Location 346; Jews and the Civil War: A Reader by Jonathan D. Sarna NYU Press (2011); American Jewry and the Civil War by Bertram Korn published by Atheneum (1951); Anti-Semitism in America by Leonard Dinnerstein published by Oxford University Press (1994); American Judaism by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Yale University Press (2004); Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity by Brooks Simpson published by Houghton Mifflin (2000).
2. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle Location 381.
3. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle Location 394-404.
4. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle Location 404.
5. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle Location 427.
6. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle.
7. When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna published by Schocken (2012) Kindle.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites