By Shapell Manuscript Foundation
Runtime: 4.23 minutes
For over 100 years, scholars have thought that nearly 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought for their country during the civil war. But the story was never complete because many Jewish fighters were unknown, lost to recorded history in the fog of war. Now, that will finally change today. A new and complete list is the mission of the Shapell manuscript foundation.
What we’re trying to do is put together a well-documented professional roster of Jews who served in the civil war.
The research of the Shapell roster is founded on the work originally done by Simon Wolf, who came to the United States from Germany just before the civil war. He became a highly respected and connected Washington attorney, and his Jewish heritage, unlike in Europe, was no barrier for access to opportunity and power. But by the 1890s, one popularly held belief is that Jews living in the US were not patriotic Americans and would not fight for their country. Disbelief was shared by notable citizens, including Mark Twain.
Mark Twain maintained that the Jew is a faithful civil servant but has a reluctance to serve in the military.
John R. Sellers:
Twain’s works made headlines, and I’m sure that will probably the popularity of Twain, his impact on the American mind.
Simon Wolf was very concerned that the impression was placed in the mind and the public that Jews would not serve in the military.
John R. Sellers:
I think his roster, which he produced in 1895 of Jewish men who had served in the armed services in all the wars Americans fought, is partly in response to the antisemitism that he was experiencing and saw increasing. Wolf wanted Americans, in general, to see what his people had accomplished and how they had sacrificed. It’s remarkable what he was able to pull together. The problem with it is that it’s prone with errors. Now, it serves a good purpose, but it needs to be updated. Historical methods have improved. The records have been brought together. They’re better maintained, so the opportunity to do it is before us.
One of the things about Wolf’s research is he didn’t leave a collection of his personal papers. It’s a guess as to what his methodology was. We have names that are in Wolf that appear to be Jewish, but the pension records and the genealogical research we’ve done don’t hold that out to be true.
When we look at a file, and we find evidence that they were Jewish, that’s a great thing. It looks like this is the certificate of the decease of Moses Schloss. In this case, it says Palmer Vault at Mount Sinai. Jewish cemeteries are often called Mount Sinai, so that gives us a good clue. Nothing says proof of Jewish like a marriage certificate written in Hebrew. For descendants, this is going to be really great to look and see their ancestors’ marriage certificate. If we can get families and descendants involved to share the material that they have, the Chicago foundation will be in a position to help them care for their objects. Most people don’t have the ability to care for these documents themselves. If they knew that there was a place that it could be included with other documents and materials that spoke to this time and these people, I think that’d be really incredible.
The Shapell roster will be more than just a list of names. It breathes life into the world of Jewish patriots through family letters and military documents, most of which will be available online.
It’s a vitally important project. It will be a major contribution to American military history.
John R. Sellers:
I think this book will be well-received and welcomed.