The Shapell Roster is the first-ever comprehensive data archive documenting the Jewish soldiers who served in the American Civil War.
Over the course of ten years, Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers unearthed a treasure trove of information on Union and Confederate Jews during the Civil War era, giving life to a buried record of the Jewish-immigrant experience and American patriotism. What began as an endeavor to corroborate a long-antiquated list of Jews who served during the Civil War has become a monumental work that testifies to a major turning point in Jewish history. The body of their research is amassed from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, descendants, historians, and genealogists. The records include Jewish soldiers’ detailed military history, photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, diaries, and more. This resource will become a touchstone for scholarship on Jews in America in the 19th Century.
A MICROCOSM OF THE AMERICAN STORY, the Civil War was a crucible for the Jewish community. The Shapell Roster and its accompanying research exemplify the experiences of that period and illuminate the social, political, and religious struggles of the time.
As Jewish immigration to the United States grew throughout the mid-19th century, Jews faced the expected challenges of the immigrant experience and like many immigrants of the era, they joined the military in large numbers. Nonetheless, their efforts at integration were often undermined by the pervasive antisemitism of the time. Contrary to the high enlistment numbers, the patriotism of Jewish Americans was often either doubted or ignored over the centuries, including by President Grover Cleveland and other notable public figures.
In 1895, Simon Wolf compiled and published The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen in an effort to repudiate the claims against the patriotism of Jewish citizens. His book includes Jewish service in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, military and civic service, in addition to other relevant topics. The section on the Civil War is approximately 400 pages and lists 8,115 soldiers.
Methodologies and access to resources to determine Jewish identity have evolved significantly since the 19th century. Simon Wolf’s technique often relied upon name-profiling and word-of-mouth; our researchers corroborate or contradict each soldier’s lineage by mining multiple repositories for clues from his life, such as letters home or requests to a local rabbi. Jewish applicants for widows pensions often sent their ketubot (Jewish marriage license) to the Union pension bureau to prove their matrimony with soldiers since deceased. Taken together, the material is painstakingly analyzed to provide a historically accurate account of both military service and civilian life of Jewish Americans.
To date, the Shapell Roster researchers have added more than a battalion’s worth of new names; 1,213 Jewish soldiers who served in the Civil War, but who were not on Simon Wolf’s list. This number will continue to grow as our research continues.