American History & Jewish History Blog

November 28, 2023

Book Review: “Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War” by Adam Mendelson

“Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War may be Mendelsohn’s masterpiece…. The narrative has two underlying general theses. On one hand, Jewish soldiers were just like other soldiers, regardless of ethnicity, race or creed. On the other hand, however, they faced historic antisemitism or just a plain lack of understanding and tolerance for the Jewish religion.”

Read the review here:

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October 15, 2023

A Message From The Foundation – The Israel Hamas War, 2023

As an educational and historical foundation, The Shapell Manuscript Foundation stands with the people of Israel and Jews everywhere in this time of great hardship and sorrow.

The brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas on innocent Israeli civilians and foreign nations from an additional 39 countries on October 7th, 2023, was the worst single loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust.

The genocidal crimes against humanity were perpetrated indiscriminately by the Hamas terrorist organization against women, children, the elderly, and families. As a Foundation that stands for and respects human dignity, democratic values, tolerance, and peace, and that desires a future where our children share the same opportunities without fear of persecution and prejudice, we stand with Israel and the United States.

We pray for the strength and safety of our Israeli friends and family at home and on the front lines.

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October 25, 2023

LIVE EVENT: Oct 25 – JewishGen & The Shapell Roster

Join our panel of experts to learn how to access The Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War on the JewishGen website! The Shapell Roster includes tens of thousands of digitized source documents discovered in both physical and online repositories, 7,000 Union soldiers and sailors are included to date.

Register Here

Video Now Available:

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Abraham Jonas. Wells Family Collection.
April 17, 2023

Abraham Jonas, Close Jewish Friend of Abraham Lincoln to be Honored with Cemetery Marker

Abraham Jonas, one of Abraham Lincoln’s closest friends and the first Jewish resident of Quincy, is the most recent historical figure to be awarded an informational marker by the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County and the Tri-States Civil War Round Table. Lincoln and Jonas’s friendship lasted many years and weathered many storms. Lincoln and Jonas were founding members of the Republican party. They closed the chapter on their friendship with a final act of kindness. As Jonas lay on his deathbed amidst the Civil War, President Lincoln allowed Jonas’s son, a captured Confederate soldier, to attend his father’s deathbed. 

Read the story here.

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January 19, 2023

Live Broadcast Hosted By Jewish Heritage Center: Jewish Soldiers In The Civil War

Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army

Live Broadcast: Thursday, January 31, 1–2 p.m. (ET)

Presented by Adam D. Mendelsohn

In conversation with Jonathan D. Sarna

Cost: FREE

Register Here

The Union army was as diverse as the embattled nation it sought to preserve—a mix of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Almost one Union soldier in four was born abroad, and natives and newcomers fought side-by-side, sometimes uneasily. Though scholars have parsed the trials and triumphs of Irish, Germans, African Americans, and others in the Union ranks, they have remained largely silent on the everyday experiences of the largest non-Christian minority to have served. Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War examines when and why Jews decided to enlist, explores their encounters with fellow soldiers, and describes their efforts to create community within the ranks.

Join the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center for a program with author Adam D. Mendelsohn and Professor Jonathan D. Sarna as they discuss Mendelsohn’s acclaimed new book about the stories and struggles of the Union army’s Jewish soldiers.

Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army marks the first of two volumes to be published in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, which has compiled a roster of Jewish service in the Civil War. Volume Two will explore the complex history of Jews in the Confederate Army.

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January 19, 2023

72nd National Jewish Book Awards Finalists

The Jew­ish Book Coun­cil announced the win­ners of the 72nd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards live at the Mar­lene Mey­er­son JCC Man­hat­tan as part of their inau­gur­al Books That Changed My Life festival. Jewish Soldiers In The Civil War by Adam Mendelsohn came in as a finalist. The book explores when and why Jewish soldiers decid­ed to enlist, explores their encoun­ters with fel­low sol­diers, and describes their efforts to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty with­in the ranks. This mon­u­men­tal under­tak­ing rewrites much of what we think we know about Jew­ish sol­diers dur­ing the Civ­il War. Mendel­sohn draws from the vast data­base of ver­i­fied list­ings of Jew­ish sol­diers serv­ing in the Civ­il War col­lect­ed by The Shapell Ros­ter, as well as let­ters, diaries, and news­pa­pers, to exam­ine the col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence of Jew­ish sol­diers and to recov­er their voic­es and sto­ries. You can purchase a copy of the book here, and learn more about Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War at The Shapell Roster online.

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Plan of Partition UNGA Resolution 181, 27 November, 1947, Public Domain
November 29, 2022

The 75th Anniversary of the Partition of Palestine

Seventy-five years ago today, on November 29th, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution ruling that upon the expiration of the British Mandate (May 15, 1948), Palestine was to be partitioned into separate Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem controlled by international governance. Neither side was satisfied with the borders drawn up by the UN, leading to intense local violence. The British departed six months after the resolution, in late April 1948, and, as a result, the conflict escalated significantly. The Jews declared an independent state of Israel, causing Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to launch a coordinated military invasion. It was only after more than a year of intense fighting and massive casualties that Israel reached armistice agreements with the invading countries, securing its independence.   

Over a decade earlier, in 1936, the British government tasked the Royal Commission — later known as the Peel Commission — with evaluating the practicality of self-governance for Arabs and Jews in Palestine once the Mandate would expire. It was clear to the commission that this solution was unfeasible, and they published a report to that effect, recommending partition. 

In the weeks before the report was made public, Chaim Weizmann and the rest of the Zionist leaders were on edge. The Arab delegation had already told the Commission they were opposed to partition and refused Jewish autonomy over any of Palestine, despite the proposed area for the Jews being 20% of Palestine and the Arabs being awarded 80%. Weizmann was also aware of the suspicions with which the Jews were viewing the Commission’s terms, with their smaller portion of land in decidedly unstrategic locations. Weizmann further understood that even if the plan passed, the partition would not be immediate, likely causing a dangerous interregnum that would be hazardous for the small Jewish population. 

In this letter to Orde and Lorna Wingate, Weizmann analyzes the faults of the Commission’s plans and accepts Orde’s offer to train guerilla troops — what would become the “Special Night Squads” — for what they saw as the impending defensive war against the Arabs. While the British government eventually rejected the Commission’s findings, Weizmann’s concerns were nonetheless prescient. When the UN passed the partition plan on its own terms nearly ten years later, many of those guerilla troops had by then formed into the Haganah military units. 

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November 16, 2022

“What I learned about antisemitism from a remarkable new archive about Jewish Civil War soldiers”

Author Adam Mendelsohn shares his insights from researching for his new book, Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War – The Union Army. Published Nov 15, 2022, you can find the book on Amazon :

(JTA) — Max Glass, a recent immigrant from Hungary, had an unhappy Civil War.

Tricked out of his enlistment bonus when he joined the Eighth Connecticut Infantry — recent arrivals were soft touches for scam artists — Glass was then “abused for reason [sic] that I never understand” by men in his regiment. “It may have been,” he speculated,

becaus I did not make them my companions in drinking, or as I am a Jew. If I went in the street or any wher I was called Jew. Christh Killer & such names. I also had stones, dirt thrown at me.

He complained to his commanding officer, begging to be transferred, because “no man that had feeling could stand such treatment,” but to no avail. Finally, Glass fled his regiment, hoping to receive better treatment if he enlisted in the Navy. Instead he was tried as a deserter and sentenced to hard labor. Continue reading…

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Theodor Herzl addresses the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Jerusalem Post Archive
August 28, 2022

125 Years Since the First Zionist Congress

The World Zionist Organization is marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel 29-31 August 1897, in which Theodor Herzl announced his intention to establish a Jewish state. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will attend the congress, and recreate the famous portrait of Herzl leaning over the balcony of the Hotel Le Trois Rois.

Read more about the event here, and browse our items on Zionism here.

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July 17, 2022

Upcoming, August 2022: Presentation at International Jewish Genealogical Conference

Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers have been selected as presenters at the 42nd Annual IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) Conference on Jewish Genealogy to be held virtually Aug. 21-25.

The Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War research team Adrienne DeArmas, Caitlin Winkler, and Alexandra Apito will present a two-part presentation about the highly anticipated Shapell Roster, a digital archive for Civil War Era Jewish Genealogy.

The presentation will be held in two parts: Part I is a pre-recorded orientation that will give a tour of a soldier’s record and an overview of the data collected. Part II is a live presentation on August 25, at 4PM EDT. The live portion will demonstrate the Roster’s search capabilities as well as allow for real-time Q&A.

Over a decade in the making, the Shapell Roster is a free-to-the-public online database with 64 searchable fields of data, 7,000 soldier and sailor pages, a bibliography of nearly 3,000 primary and secondary sources, and more than 50,000 historical documents. The goal of the Shapell Roster is to identify every Jewish soldier or sailor who served in the American Civil War.

The Conference will feature approximately 60 live-streaming presentations, 100 pre-recorded presentations and 40 group meetings. The event is hosted by IAJGS, an umbrella organization of more than 93 Jewish genealogical organizations worldwide. The IAJGS coordinates and organizes activities such as its annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy and provides a unified voice as the spokesperson on behalf of its members.

Registration for the conference is available here:  

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Vonnie Zullo’s childhood home, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
March 10, 2022

Meet Vonnie Zullo, Professional Historical Document Researcher

Vonnie Zullo has been a professional historical document researcher at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Library of Congress (LOC), Smithsonian Libraries, and other DC institutions for over 30 years. In addition to working with the Shapell Roster team, other clients she has worked with include historians at national parks and battlefields, universities, and historical societies; nationally and internationally known authors; national and public TV and radio stations including the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?; nationally known auction houses; collectors and dealers of military artifacts and Americana, and family genealogists.  

Vonnie’s family owns a Civil War artifact store in Gettysburg, The Horse Soldier, and she runs the research department of the business. Vonnie was born in Gettysburg, and raised on the battlefield not far from Pickett’s Charge and Devil’s Den. 

We asked Vonnie about herself and her work with the Shapell Roster. This is part of a series of interviews with the Shapell Roster research team. 

Tell us about yourself. 

I’ve been a researcher my entire career, but before I moved to the DC area, I was a Marine Biologist for the Virgin Islands National Park for eight years. NPS research and resource management projects included coral reef and fisheries management, marine and terrestrial baseline studies, and sea turtle nesting. My passion will always be tropical marine biology. 

What is your current role with the Roster Project?

I am the onsite researcher at NARA who searches the Compiled Military Service Records (CMSRs) and pension files of soldiers in the database who have not been previously researched or who need additional work. While NARA has been closed as a result of the Covid pandemic, I’ve done online genealogical research on Union and Confederate Army officers and enlisted men, and U.S. Navy sailors in the database, and I’ve searched for new soldiers to add to the database.

What are some of the rewards of your work?

Some of the rewards of the work are being my own boss, having a variety of clients and projects to work on, and being successful in my endeavors. It feels great when I find a historical document that puts together all the pieces of the puzzle to solve the objective of the research.  Whether it’s a genealogical link to a soldier and his family, or the content of a historical document that explains the narrative, I often feel like a detective while working on projects. 

What are some of the challenges of your work?

Some of the challenges are being my own boss and having my own business.  There’s always work to do – it never ends and takes long hours to build the business.

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December 19, 2021

Podcast: IN Jewish History Explores Jewish Civil War History With SMF’s Roster Team

Listen to our Shapell Roster researchers discuss the Civil War history of Jews from Indiana on the IN Jewish History podcast hosted by Michael Brown.

The IN Jewish History podcast is about the stories of Indiana’s Jewish past by the Indiana Jewish Historical Society(IJHS) Hosted by Michael Brown. IN Jewish History explores different Historical perspectives from both academics and primary source interviews, and we look at how Indiana’s Jewish Community played a significant role in shaping Indiana’s past. IN Jewish History Podcast is funded by the generous support of the Leonard & Marion Freeman Charitable Fund.

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October 28, 2021

Dreyfus Affair Museum Opens in Paris

This week, the first museum in the world dedicated to the Dreyfus Affair opened in Paris. Fittingly, the museum opened as part of the Émile Zola House (Maison Zola), which had been undergoing renovations for a decade. Zola’s famous defense of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 remains iconic for its courage and selflessness, an enduring beacon of hope and tolerance in our multicultural society.

The Dreyfus Affair was the fault-line on which French society fractured in the late 19th century. It impacted artists  like Pissaro, Monet, and Degas. 

Writers from all over the world, including Mark Twain, were swept up in the details of Dreyfus’s degradation ceremony outside the Paris military academy.

The Dreyfus Affair galvanized many Jews who had been previously undecided about Zionism. Theodor Herzl covered the trial as a reporter, and Max Nordau, one of the most public intellectuals at the time, was practically turned into a Zionist because of the Affair. The museum features documents, court papers, personal items, and photographs of Alfred Dreyfus.


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Director of Shapell Roster research, Adrienne Usher
May 31, 2021

Director of Shapell Roster Joins JewishGen’s Advisory Board

We are pleased to announce that Shapell Roster Director, Adrienne Usher, has been invited to join the Honorary Advisory Board of JewishGen’s USA Research Division. The advisory board is made up of a variety of academics and specialists, all with a focus in the area of Jewish American Studies or Genealogy. 

With a mission to preserve “our Jewish family history and heritage for future generations,” JewishGen features millions of records, unique search tools, and opportunities for researchers to connect with others who share similar interests. 

A project of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the Shapell Roster is a comprehensive, online database of Jewish-American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. Under Adrienne Usher’s leadership, the Shapell Roster research team has spent the last decade verifying the names of previously assumed Jewish soldiers, identifying their accurate military service, and adding more than a thousand soldiers that Wolf omitted.

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Posthumous official presidential portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler, 1970, Wikimedia Commons
May 30, 2021

Newly Digitized Kennedy Manuscript

After over a year of the arts shuttering as a result of the pandemic, museums, galleries, cinemas, and music venues are starting to reopen. This newly digitized manuscript underscores President John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the arts. Those of us who have awaited the announcements of reopenings can relate to Kennedy’s genuine joy and excitement in his eagerness to see “…two albums filled with letters from the artists and writers who were invited to the Inauguration ceremonies.  Mrs. Kennedy and I have had extraordinary pleasure in going through these volumes.  We are grateful for the letters, and we shall treasure them for the rest of our lives.”

View the manuscript here.


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May 3, 2021

Book Review: Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel

Last month, news broke that Emmy-nominated Shira Haas (of Shtisel fame) would play Golda Meir in a new miniseries produced by Barbara Streisand, based on Francine Klagsbrun’s 2017 biography of the fourth prime minister of Israel. We thought it would be a good opportunity to share some thoughts with our readers about Klagsbrun’s book, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel on Golda Meir’s birthday.

The biography is clearly exhaustively researched, yet manages to be thoroughly engrossing. Klagsbrun spellbinds her audience with the story of a Jewish girl who was born in Kyiv (then part of Soviet Russia) in 1898, raised in Milwaukee, and emigrated to Palestine, to become the first woman in the world who was democratically elected to the position of head of state, in 1969.

Meir’s time as Prime Minister was actually the least interesting part of this book, and that is because Klagsbrun does an excellent job of depicting Meir’s childhood in Milwaukee and putting it in the context of American history: when Meir discovered socialist Zionism, Theodore Roosevelt, and then President Taft occupied the White House.

Another strong point of the book is that Klagsbrun brings to the reader’s attention Meir’s indispensable role in establishing the State of Israel.  Like Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion — with whom she worked closely — Golda Meir was what you could call a Founding Mother of the modern Jewish State.  

As the reader follows Meir’s ascent in the Labour Party, Klagsbrun ensures that the dizzying politics and history of the party are (relatively) digestible and easy to follow. Meir also made history in 1956 when she was appointed Foreign Minister – the only woman in the world to hold that position — which she did for a decade. 

Klagsbrun is also frank about Meir’s shortcomings, which is a welcome departure from the breathless hagiography that is generally published about public figures. Moreover, a biography about a Jewish woman who was raised in America and was fundamental to establishing the modern state of Israel is apt at a time where both communities are consuming and producing unprecedented amounts of media about the other in an attempt to understand one another.

Meir’s commitment to African countries (she had scores of namesakes who were born in Congo, Ghana, Togo, and Sierre Leone — and each baby Golda received a small gift from the Foreign Minister) and Soviet Jewry were other high points, as well. Meir left office, surprisingly with a decent approval rating. Only after she died was her reputation sullied by the Yom Kippur War. The incompetence in dealing with what notoriously lives on in Israeli memory the nation’s deadliest war was laid at the Prime Minister’s feet. And though Meir resigned and took responsibility for the fiasco, Klagsbrun brings to light the share that Moshe Dayan (the Defense Minister at the time) bore for the disastrous war. He did not give the Prime Minister complete information, and unlike Meir, he more or less fell apart from the stress of the war. 

With the declassification of several documents, her reputation is improving with a better understanding of the events that unfolded during her tenure, and this book is a great companion to a reexamination of Golda Meir.

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March 15, 2021

Educating for American Democracy: A Partnership With The NEH & US Department Of Education

A selection of the recently released Teacher Resources curricula from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is featured in the new cross-ideological initiative, Educating for American Democracy: A Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civics Education for All Learners.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US Department of Education, Educating for American Democracy provides guiding principles that educators can use to transform how civics is taught in schools. Released as a report and pedagogical “roadmap,” the endeavor offers a blueprint of integrated civics and history instruction from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Key to the project’s roadmap and structure is a pedagogical shift from breath to depth; rather than focusing primarily on events and individuals from US History, the project centers on key themes and inquiries that recur over time. The roadmap is neither a set of standards nor a curriculum, but rather suggested strategies, implementation recommendations, and a website of curated examples. 

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation Teacher Resources are featured in Educating for American Democracy’s curated examples. 

The Teacher Resources are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection and provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known, scenes from history. Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and document-based questions (when applicable). 


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Soldiers on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, 1973, Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit
February 25, 2021

Review: Valley of Tears

In November of 2020, HBO Max aired the Israeli miniseries Valley of Tears, which had premiered in Israel the month before. The series is trailblazing in a few ways. The first is its subject matter. The series depicts Israel right on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and ends with the subsequent tank battle in the eponymously named Valley of the Tears. In addition, it’s the largest budget of an Israeli series to date, with an estimated $1 million per episode; features some of the best-known Israeli actors; and, behind the scenes, many of Israel’s best writers.

For context, the Yom Kippur War is to many Israelis what Vietnam is to Americans. Not only was a large number of Israeli men of that generation lost in combat (2,500), but the war was largely viewed as an avoidable catastrophe and utter hubris on the part of Israeli intelligence and the political establishment. Though officially acquitted by a commission, Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned as a direct consequence of the war and was haunted by it until her dying day. That being said, the three-week war was a remarkable military victory against slim odds that resulted in Israel retaining more territory than before the war. It ultimately led to a historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1977, negotiated by their heads of state, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, respectively.

Valley of Tears tells the story of regular soldiers in the IDF, caught up in a surprise war against the backdrop of their personal struggles. There is plenty of much-needed comic relief, which makes the stories more relatable.The show opens with an awkward and clever intelligence soldier, stationed at the northern Hermon outpost, who repeatedly warns his superiors of an impending war. The soldier is constantly ridiculed until his suspicions are verified and the Syrians close in on the outpost. This frames the general mindset in Israel at the outset of the war. 

By far, the most compelling and innovative storyline is that of three tank brigade soldiers who are activists in “Pantherim Shchorim” (the Israeli Black Panther movement, created by Mizrachi immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries). In this aspect, Valley of Tears breaks fresh ground in addressing the social and economic inequality faced by Mizrahi immigrants in the State of Israel.  The artistic choice to frame the chaos and struggles of the Yom Kippur war against the backdrop of social injustice and unrest mirrors the change that Israel went through in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The long-powerful Labor Party’s demise following Meir’s resignation after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 paved the way for change. The ascendancy of the Likud party in 1977 was largely due to the vote of Mizrachi Jews, who had felt so marginalized by Labor governments. Valley of Tears manages to capture a sense of Israel on the brink of meaningful change. It is also an engaging and thought-provoking look at Israel at war – with itself and its enemies.

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Adriene Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
February 14, 2021

Webinar: Researching Hebrew Union Veterans Association (HUVA) Members, Part II


The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to join us as we explore the progenitor of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, in the context of the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War.

We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history of several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end!

Date and Time: Mar 18, 2021, 3PM EST

Register here.

Part I of this webinar is available to watch on YouTube.

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Gabby Giffords. Image: Cheriss May for The New York Times.
January 18, 2021

Gabby Giffords Draws Upon Inspirational Words Of Abraham Lincoln

“During a week in which our country has endured shock, I’ve thought a lot about resilience and determination.” –

Ms. Giffords was a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012 and the target of an assassin in January 2011. In this opinion piece, she reflects on what can help steer the nation toward healing and draws upon inspirational words from Abraham Lincoln. Read more.

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December 17, 2020

Join Us On January 12th: Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom

Join us on January 12th for History Lessons: Working with Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation is proud to present, “History Lessons: Working with Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom,” a conversation with Gil Troy, Sara Willen, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Nathan Sleeter. Leading scholars will discuss how we take the treasures of the past and turn them into relevant lesson plans that teach middle and high school social studies students how to think like historians. The four lesson plans are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection, and provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known, scenes from history. Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and document-based questions.
January 12th, 2021
6PM EST on Zoom
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November 7, 2020

NEW: Teacher Resources Curricula Now Available at Shapell

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation is happy to announce the release of teacher resources. These new resources, in the form of four lesson plans for middle and high school, are available on our website. 

Developed to improve students’ historical thinking skills, the four lesson plans are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection. They provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known scenes from history. 

John F. Kennedy and Service (intended for 7th or 8th grade Civics or History) uses the unique example of Kennedy to explore what it means to live a life of service. Designed for 11th grade U.S. History, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews introduces students to the attitude of our 16th president towards various religious minorities; Americans Tourists in the Holy Land explores early tourism with the help of the writing of Mark Twain; and third-party politics during the historic 1912 election are explored in Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election, which could also be used for 12th grade U.S. Government. 

Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards, and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and AP History practice questions (when applicable). 

These lesson plans were developed in partnership with Nate Sleeter and Kris Stinson, of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. 

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October 20, 2020

Researchers share stories of Ohio Jewish Civil War soldiers

“A new project sheds light on the lives and experiences of Ohio’s Jewish Civil War soldiers, aiming to share stories and history that have likely been forgotten through generations.

The Shapell Roster: Jewish Service in the American Civil War, is the first comprehensive, national data archive documenting Jewish soldiers who served in the war, according to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s website. A virtual program focusing on Ohio soldiers was presented in conjunction with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Sept. 13, where researchers from Shapell and CJHS shared some interesting findings from their work thus far.

“Adrienne Usher, director of the Shapell Roster, said building the roster started with inspecting a previously created roster by Simon Wolf, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and social justice advocate who published the book, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen in 1895. Wolf, who was born in Germany and immigrated to Ohio, compiled the book about Jewish service in American wars to refute anti-Semitic claims that American Jews are not patriotic.” – read more here.

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Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and The War With Spain ("Civil War and Later Survivors' Certificates"): Nos. SC 9,487-999,999, 1861-1934. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300019: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
August 13, 2020

Archaic German Manuscripts, Jewish Civil War Soldiers, and a Professor of English in North Dakota

With his unique skill set and being a professor of English and German, Jim Simmons’ contributions to the Shapell Roster research have been essential in understanding Jewish Civil War soldiers’ history.

Jim Simmons grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, a city with a substantial German-speaking population. When Jim’s grandmother was growing up in Cumberland in the 1890s, all of her classes, except for English, were taught in German. When it was time for Jim to go to college, he attended Davis and Elkins College, across the state line in Elkins, West Virginia, where he majored in German. He continued his education in North Dakota, where he obtained a Masters in German and later a PhD in English. 

Dr. Simmons spent his career teaching English at the college level in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Mississippi. He is currently retired and living in Fargo, North Dakota, where he teaches ethics, cheers on the local junior hockey team, does a great deal of reading (in English and German), and volunteers for the Shapell Roster translating German documents. 

Most of the documents that Jim has translated for the Roster are from the pension records of soldiers. He has translated letters written by German doctors attesting to the medical condition of Civil War veterans, and court documents supporting the claims of a widow who returned to Germany. Without his help translating, the Shapell Roster research team would not understand the meaning of the documents we have acquired written in the unique German script used before WWII. 

Thank you, Jim Simmons, for sharing your time, knowledge, and skill with the Shapell Roster.

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July 26, 2020

Watch: The Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster Webinar

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to join us as we explore the progenitor of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, in the context of the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end! Chartered by an act of Congress in 1958, the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, under the auspices of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., documents and preserves the contributions of Jewish Americans to the peace and freedom of the United States, educates the public concerning the courage, heroism and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans who served in the armed forces, and works to combat anti-Semitism.

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June 3, 2020

Webinar: Discover Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to explore the Hebrew Union Veterans Association. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end!

To reserve your spot, register for the webinar at the link.

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April 23, 2020

Watch: Jewish Confederate Soldiers – Georgia

Jewish Service in the American Civil War: The Solomons Family, originally from South Carolina moved to Savannah before the Civil War, and brothers Abraham Alexander, Lizar, Joseph M., and Moses Joseph all served in Georgia regiments; Louis Merz of West Point, GA, who died during the Battle of Antietam in 1862; Anselm Sterne, also from West Point, who survived the war and was an active member of the United Confederate Veterans; and Joseph Byron Canman – a Union ancestor in the family tree of one of the members of The Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia (JGSG).


Adrienne Usher:
Welcome to the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War. On behalf of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and my colleagues, Alex and Caitlin, I’d like to extend our thanks to Peggy Friedman of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia, and Jeremy Katz of the Breman Museum. We are so grateful for their enthusiasm, cooperation and tireless effort to promote this event, which is evident by how many of you are here today. So let’s get started.

Adrienne Usher:
Before I tell you more about the Shapell roster, some of you might not be familiar with the organization behind our project, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. They’re based in Israel, with offices in California. And the foundation is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting original manuscripts and historical documents, with a focus on unique themes in U.S. history and the Holy Land, with emphasis on 19th and 20th centuries. Our research is just one of the many ongoing projects at the foundation. Some of these projects include an exhibition called Mark Twain and the Holy Land, which was at the New York Historical Society until last month. And we have two books in production, one on John F. Kennedy, and another one on Abraham Lincoln, and those will be coming out in the near future. If you would like to know more about the foundation, you can go to and find out more.

Adrienne Usher:
We are a small team of six, currently located in West Virginia, that’s myself, Montana, that’s Caitlin, Massachusetts, that’s Alex. And then we have additional researchers in Virginia, California and Nebraska. We come from different disciplines, museums, public history, historic preservation, genealogy, art history, and Caitlin is a lawyer with a passion for Civil War history. What we all have in common is curiosity and a dedication to bringing this research to the public. As a side note, if you are interested in volunteering with us, we actually have a handful of volunteers. We’d like to hear from you. And at the end, we will give you an email address you can use to contact us and let us know you’d like to help us out.

Adrienne Usher:
Before I get started on how we got started on this project, I’m going to ask three questions. After each one, I’d like everyone in the audience to use the raise hand feature if your answer is yes. Let’s see if this works. Okay, question number one, how many people here know if they have an ancestor that served in the Civil War? Oh, my goodness, look at that. Wow. Okay, that’s awesome. Excellent. Okay, question number two, how many people aren’t sure if they have an ancestor that served in the Civil War, but their family was in the United States at least before the Civil War?

Adrienne Usher:
Excellent, excellent. Okay. You could put your hands down. Question number three, how many people have heard of Simon Wolf? Wonderful. Let’s see here. So for those of you not familiar with Simon Wolf, he was a prominent Washington, DC based lawyer who was Jewish. If he was alive today, we’d probably call him a social justice warrior, because he was exactly that. He also had a special tie to Atlanta. Another raise hand opportunity, how many of you know about the Jewish Educational Loan Fund? Excellent. Oh, boy. Lots of you guys. Oh, that’s exciting. Okay. All right, next question. How many of you know that it began back in 1876 as a proposal by the President of the national B’nai B’rith to create a Hebrew Orphans Home, which was finally completed in 1889?

Adrienne Usher:
Excellent. All right. And for those of you, Simon Wolf was that President. In 1895, he published a book called The American Jew as Patriots, Soldier and Citizen. In it, he listed nearly 10,000 names of Jewish Civil War soldiers and sailors. And ever since then, that 10,000 number has become synonymous with Jewish and Civil War. It was a limited list, however, comprised of the usual military basics, name, rank and regiment. When I first started on this project nine years ago, I was informed that all the names in Wolf’s roster were Jewish and needed no further research other than to confirm their service information. This is probably a good time to mention that I myself am not Jewish. And having done academic research my entire professional career, when someone tells me no further research is needed, I assume the opposite is true. So when we started seeing clues that some of the names in Wolf’s roster might not be Jewish, I started asking some questions.

Adrienne Usher:
The first seed of doubt was planted by a Massachusetts soldier named Henry Marks, good Jewish immigrant name, right? The problem was, he was brought up on charges for stealing a ham for his own use. Now, like I said, I’m not Jewish, so I asked around, and I was told that dietary restrictions could be lifted during extenuating circumstances. Civil War would certainly qualify as meeting that criteria. And that made sense to me.

Adrienne Usher:
The next anomaly was an obituary for the mother of a soldier named Philip Halpin. The problem was it stated that she’d lived a true Christian life. Again, I asked for guidance, and I was told that marriage and conversion to the Christian faith was not uncommon. That also made sense. But what really convinced me that Wolf was simply engaging in the 19th century accepted practice of name profiling was the following. Wolf listed in his roster, this is just random samples, there’s more, a guy named Carl Moritz, another guy named Gustav Rosenfeld and a guy named C.C. Fleck. Now, I assumed that those are all good Jewish sounding names. The problem is when we did our research, Karl’s full name was Carl Christian Moritz. Gustav’s middle name was Christian as well and C.C. Fleck was actually Christian C. Fleck.

Adrienne Usher:
Okay, last question for hand raising. Raise your hand if there is anyone named Christian in your family tree who’s Jewish. I don’t see any raised hands. Okay. In short, Wolf wasn’t being nefarious or duplicitous, but his 19th century work needs a 21st century upgrade. And our mission is to correct the historical record and provide as best as we can an accurate accounting of Jews who served in the Civil War.

Adrienne Usher:
When it goes live, the Shapell Roster will be a free to the public, online, searchable database of Jewish service in the American Civil War. As an aside, when I say soldier, what I really mean is those who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Air Force, that’s right. The Civil War era Air Force was known as the Balloon Corps. In addition to the regular military branches, we also have a cabinet member and even a few spies. We often get asked, when will the roster be available? I don’t have a definitive date. But the current plan is within the next few years. We’ve spent years on Union soldiers, and we want to make sure that we give the Confederates the same attention. Wolf listed far more Union names, but we also believe that he missed more Confederate names than Union names. So we want to make sure we give the Confederates our full attention.

Adrienne Usher:
Within the database, each soldier will have his own page, which includes, if we have it, his birth and death date and location, a detailed accounting of his military service, the connections, if any, that we know of, between him and other individuals in the database, and you’re going to find out more about that later when Alex is talking. And marriage, residence, occupation details, and historical documents that provide insight into their lives.

Adrienne Usher:
Some of our soldiers, like Edmund Louis Gray Zalinski, get an in depth soldier story treatment. You can view examples of the soldier stories we’ve already written on our website. So if you go to, just add a /roster, or you can just find roster in the bar and click on it there. Those historical documents I just mentioned get attached to the soldier’s record when we find something cool about them, or if we need a proof or evidence for something.

Adrienne Usher:
We have two objectives when researching the soldiers. The first one is proof of military service. The second is for the names from Wolf’s roster, evidence that they were in fact Jewish. Excuse me, we prefer primary source documents, which are defined by the Library of Congress as original documents and objects which were created at the time under study.

Adrienne Usher:
So let’s look at examples of primary source documents organized into three categories. That would be military, public and personal. Examples of military primary source documents include the list you see here. We find these at the National Archives, websites like and multiple genealogical sites. We build each soldier’s military service history as best we can, given the information available to us and scan and attach records on a case by case basis.

Adrienne Usher:
There are two things you should know about Civil War research. Number one, 21st century research of 19th and early 20th century documents is best described, as one of our colleagues used to say, as shooting a moving target from a moving vehicle. Right now, there are more digitized records available than there were this morning when you woke up. Number two, less Confederate records survived the Civil War than Union records. The ones at the National Archives are what the Confederate States gave to the federal government after the war. We know that other records exist, however, and we are dedicated to finding them. But less records is a problem. We do not want to exclude someone’s ancestor, just because there’s no known proof that he served. So we are currently brainstorming on how to adapt our methodology to accommodate soldiers with no traditional proof of service.

Adrienne Usher:
Allow me to give you an example. One of our attendees here today contacted me earlier this week to tell me that her grandfather told her that his father served in the Civil Waar on the Confederate side. I offered to do some research, see what I could find. And I found a biographical passage written about her grandfather while he was still alive that included the same information that she told me. There’s no reason to doubt the story. But unfortunately, her great grandfather left very few footprints in the historical record. And I haven’t yet found evidence of his service during the Civil War. But this is important, That doesn’t mean he didn’t serve. Sorry about the double negatives. It is important to us that 125 years from now, our research won’t be regarded as similar to Simon Wolf’s. So we will keep working towards an answer on how to get Julius Katz into the Shapell roster.

Adrienne Usher:
Next category, public records. These are usually created by government or business entities. They allow us to track soldiers throughout their lives through the historical record. Something to keep in mind with regards to obituaries. Obituaries are the last opportunity to be the person you always wanted to be. So just remember to take the information in them with a grain of salt.

Adrienne Usher:
And lastly, we love personal records and objects. We find them in Union pension records. We find them in archives, libraries, museums, historical and genealogical societies that have collections, and in private collections. And we are especially, and I mean this sincerely, especially grateful to descendants who share their family treasures with us. There’s something about seeing a signature or looking at an object and feeling that connection to the person connected to that. When we know that they died during the war or died never having married, we often wonder if we’re the only ones who remember them.

Adrienne Usher:
So that wraps up the bird’s eye view of the project, and I’m going to let Alex and Caitlin tell you about some of the soldiers in our database. Thank you so much.

Caitlin Eichner:
Hi, everybody. I’m so excited to be here. So today, Alex and I get to highlight some of our soldiers for you and show you some examples of the type of information and the documents we collect, which will be made available to everyone once our database goes live. We’ve picked soldiers with Georgia connections since most of you are from Georgia, and I’m sure some of you will recognize names and places. First, we have the Solomons family. Simon Wolf included a section in his book called Brothers in Arms, documenting some families who served during the war. We’ve taken that concept and run with it. We traced brothers, cousins, in laws and non familial relationships, like friendships, co-workers, neighbors, among many others. Seeing these personal relationships beyond our soldier service really allows us to have a fuller picture of what these soldiers’ lives were like.

Caitlin Eichner:
In the Solomons family, brothers Abram Alexander, so you can see if you look on the family tree, top left was R. Joseph, M. Moses and Moses Joseph, all served in Georgia regiments during the Civil War. Plus, Moses Joseph’s future son in law Joel or Joseph Levenstein served in Virginia and you can see him down on the right side of the family tree right under Moses Joseph. None of these soldiers were listed in Simon Wolf’s book. We believe he had significantly less records, access to records and fewer sources available to him in the south. So we have already added a lot of previously unrecorded Jewish Confederates and expect to find a bunch more.

Caitlin Eichner:
For those of you familiar with Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families, he included the Solomons families in his genealogies as seen here. But he only acknowledged Joseph Solomons in his survey, but R. Joseph and Moses all served together in first Olmstead’s Georgia infantry in 1861. Mazhar then reenlisted with Abraham in 1st Symon’s Georgia reserves in 1864. The family was originally from Georgetown, South Carolina, which had a significant Jewish population in the early 19th century. And they moved to Savannah before the war. We see a lot of these older Jewish families from the south contributing significant numbers to the cause. It is not uncommon for us to work with families where there are a dozen or more members fighting during the Civil War.

Caitlin Eichner:
There is some of this on the Union side, but a lot of the men we see up north are much more recent immigrants, and they don’t have the numbers living in America at the point the Civil War broke out. Our job is really exciting, but it can also be challenging and sometimes pretty tragic. A lot of the men we invest our time in learning about had hard lives, and some are cut short fighting in the Civil War, killed in action but also dying of disease, exhaustion, starvation. We hope the work we’re doing now in some small way honors those sacrifices.

Caitlin Eichner:
Louis Merz was an immigrant from Bavaria. He came to the United States in 1853 and settled in West Point, Georgia, setting up shop as a merchant. Merz volunteered right at the beginning of the war in the 4th Georgia infantry. His brother Daniel Merz also tried to enlist but was turned away for poor eyesight, so Daniel stayed back and manned their store. Unfortunately, Louis was killed in action at Antietam, which took place September 17, 1862, and which would later be acknowledged as the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. But fortunately for us, Louis Merz was a prolific writer, so we know a lot more about him and what his life was like than we do with most of our soldiers. He kept a detailed diary during his service, which was published in 1959 by the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society, and he has letters held by the American Jewish archives. Additionally, we have copies of brother Daniel Merz’ letters through a descendant who has been working with us, telling the story of how a comrade gave Louis’ ring after his death to the governor of Georgia, and the governor personally tracked down Daniel to return the ring to him.

Caitlin Eichner:
We collect these resources and use them to find new soldiers, relationships between soldiers, and we’ll make them available for everyone to use and learn about these soldiers once our database goes live. Let’s switch over to Alex here.

Alexandra Apito:
Hi, everyone. I’m going to talk to you about our next soldier, Anselm Sterne. Through Louis Merz’ diary and letters, we know that he and four other Jewish soldiers, Jacob Friesleben, Isaac Heyman and brothers, Levi and Anselm Sterne were friends, all from West Point Georgia, and enlisted together in Company D of the 4th Georgia Infantry.

Alexandra Apito:
Other primary source documents give us additional information about a soldier’s service history, but also a valuable insight into other parts of their lives. Here, we have this great newspaper article written about Sterne. The byline of this article is this article is a fourth in a series of articles about the fathers of real daughters of the Confederacy in this area. The first paragraph of this article reads, “12 year old Anselm Sterne didn’t divide the United States into North and South when he came to America from Germany. But when he settled in America, it was the small Georgia town of West Point and when the Civil War broke out, his love of the town and his friends there made him aware that his South was being brought under fire. He was already a member of a crack company, the West Point Guards. When Georgia seceded on January 19, 1861, the Guards immediately offered themselves to the Confederate government for 12 months. Sterne, with such friends as Louis Merz, an uncle and others in the guards were ordered to Augusta.”

Alexandra Apito:
This article is really great because it tells us not only that Sterne was already a member of the West Point Guards when the war began, but it tells us more about his immigration to the United States, his place of residence before the war, and that he had an uncle that served with him. It also mentioned Louis Merz again, the soldier that Caitlin has just discussed with us, who wrote about his friend Anselm Sterne in his diary.

Alexandra Apito:
From his records, military records, we found that Sterne was appointed a member of the brass band during his service, which is really interesting. And after the war, Sterne moved to Albany, Georgia, where he was a charter member of the Jewish congregation. He then moved to Anniston, Alabama, where he was lay reader at Temple Beth-El.

Alexandra Apito:
Another newspaper article we found titled Hebrews in Vital Roles and Affairs in Anniston also has the same photo of Sterne that you can see here. It’s always so great to find a photograph of a soldier that you’re researching. This article lists Sterne as an early leader of the synagogue in Anniston. Stern also appears on a roster of charter members of the Jewish congregation of Albany from the history of Dougherty County. And a document we always love to find, which we were able to find for Anselm Sterne is his obituary. We were lucky to find it, because not everyone has one, and his obituary states that few men have passed away in Anniston in recent years leaving behind such a large number of devoted admirers, as were claimed by Anselm Sterne.

Alexandra Apito:
As Adrienne mentioned before, an obituary was really the last place that the deceased or their family could present themselves the way that they wanted to be remembered. This lets us know that Sterne was admired and had a lot of friends. But this document also gives us other information, such as information about his funeral services. They were conducted at the Temple Beth-El by Rabbi [inaudible 00:22:19] of Montgomery, Alabama, and also includes other valuable data to us, specifically such as information about his birth, his immigration, his residence at the time of his death. And it also mentions that he served in the Civil War.

Alexandra Apito:
Sterne was an active member in the United Confederate Veterans, and his wife led a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. And these organizations provide us a great way to be able to track guys that were having trouble confirming service for through traditional service records, or if we’re having trouble confirming their civilian identity after the war. And then the document that you can see on the right of your screen is a reproduction of the pledge made by Anselm Sterne to not escape if he was released from a prisoner of war camp while on a working detail in Union hospitals. That’s also really interesting.

Alexandra Apito:
The next soldier I wanted to talk about was Joseph Byron Canman. He’s brought to you by one of our descendants who is in our audience right now, Peggy Friedman. Thank you so much, Peggy. She was instrumental in organizing this meeting today and making everything happen. And she brought us her ancestor. Canman was a union soldier. He served in the 117th Illinois infantry as a fifer, and then as a drummer. And then he was put on special assignment as a clerk for court martial tribunals. He was then sent to the Ordinance Department and finally, the Adjutant General’s department. This is an example of a trend that we often see, which is using Jewish soldiers as clerks, as they often had higher rates of literacy than the general soldiering population at the time.

Alexandra Apito:
One of the main reasons that Canman is a prime example of an outreach success story for us is that without Peggy, we probably would have never known that he was Jewish. He was married in a Methodist wedding ceremony, and as far as we can tell, did not live an outwardly Jewish life. However, he is Jewish through his father, and we would never have known this had Peggy not reached out to us and let us know more of her family history. Peggy also informed us that Canman was really considered the black sheep of the family, and we found this to be true when we found a really interesting tidbit about him. Canman began living under the name of Joseph Campbell in 1878 after the war, because he claimed that he was trying to escape a debt of $4,000 because he had, and also because he had left his family and didn’t want them to find him, so a little scandalous, but very interesting.

Alexandra Apito:
This is a great example of a soldier using an alias after the war, which was more common than you may think. People changed their names a lot during this time period. Again, this is why it’s so important to gather information from descendants who will know more about their own family history, obviously, than we will. We also have many examples of soldiers using aliases during the war. One of the main reasons we have found this happening so far was that soldiers often wanted to hide military service from their families, whether they were underaged at the time of day enlisted, or they just had really protective parents. Many soldiers feared that their families would interfere with their enlistment. And many were afraid that their mothers and fathers would actually show up and drag them home from the war. We have also found a few examples of soldiers expressing that they didn’t want their true name to be published in newspapers if they were to die, because they didn’t want to upset their families with details of their death.

Alexandra Apito:
So we want to hear from you. We’ve been hearing from a couple people in the chat so far, but definitely let us know if your ancestor served in the Civil War. When the Shapell Roster goes live, it will be again free and open to the public. Each soldier will have their own page with documents we’ve gathered from a multitude of archival repositories. If we already have your ancestor, you will be able to access all of these documents we found, and you’ll be able to download them for free. And if we don’t have your ancestor, we would love to do research about them for you for free. So please give us their names and any information you might have about them. And either way, we really want to talk to you.

Alexandra Apito:
So the best way to do that is to email our outreach coordinator, Eliza. Her email’s on the screen, so we can make sure that your ancestors are honored for their patriotic service. So now, we’re going to address any questions that were asked during the presentation. I’m not sure if we have any. But please use the Q&A function at the bottom or the top of your screen. I believe it’s near the hand raise function that you guys were practicing earlier to ask us any additional questions you might have about any of the contents of our presentation or any further questions you guys have. Thanks.

Adrienne Usher:
Okay, excellent. Oh, look at all those questions lining up, okay. You want me to take Peggy’s question?

Alexandra Apito:

Caitlin Eichner:
Go for it.

Adrienne Usher:
All right, great. So Peggy asked, is there a list of soldiers on the Shapell Roster, so that we can know if we’re sending you the name of someone that you have already researched? So the answer to that is no but for very good reason in that literally, our list changes daily. So there would be no way for us to-

Caitlin Eichner:
We want to hear from you whether we’ve already researched your ancestor or not.

Adrienne Usher:
Exactly. So we just want to hear from you guys. So Jeremy just asked, I know you still have a lot of research to do, but what is your current tally, both Union and Confederate? So let me start by saying that we’ve been going through the Wolf names, and to date, we’ve already found 800 duplicate names. So that doesn’t mean that they were Jewish or not. Those are just duplicate names, where somebody served in multiple regiments and they’re listed multiple times as individuals. So we have worked really, really, really hard to stay away from what we call the numbers game, because we feel like there are still so many names that we haven’t found, especially on the Confederate side. And once we finish our analysis of Wolf, we’ll be better able to address the number question, but just so you know, right now, Wolf names fall into three categories. They are either Jewish, they are either not Jewish, and there’s a handful of those, or we have a category called Jewish according to Wolf. And what that means is we have not yet found anything to give us direction one way or the other. So until we get all of those names assigned a status, we won’t really be able to address the numbers question. So I’m sorry that was a non answer, but-

Caitlin Eichner:
We’re working on it.

Adrienne Usher:
We are working on it. So Sharon asked, do you plan to connect your database to and other genealogical websites? So I’m assuming most of you all are familiar with JewishGen and JewishGen’s partnership with Ancestry. So what we would, we have discussed this with people at the foundation, and we feel like it’s too early at this juncture to make a decision one way or the other. But my guess is if we were going to do that, we would do it through JewishGen. That seems to be the best way to do that. And I’ve had some conversations along those lines with the people at JewishGen, but I think that but regardless, because our database will be free to the public, even if it stands at me, a standalone, and we don’t end up partnering with Ancestry, you won’t need to worry about having to do a membership fee. So it will still be free.

Caitlin Eichner:
Also, I just wanted to grab Sandy asked a question in the comments section, and I just want to address that really quickly. Sandy asked if we list deserters, and we do, and we don’t judge. We have guys who enlisted and were around for five days. We have guys who deserted after almost four or five years or four years of service. We’re totally non judgmental. If you served a day in the military, you were officially on the rolls, we include you.

Alexandra Apito:
It was very prevalent during the Civil War and a lot more soldiers deserted than you would ever imagine and came back a lot too.

Caitlin Eichner:
A lot, yeah. President Lincoln at one point issued a proclamation allowing deserters to come back. And if you would fulfill the remaining time left on your enlistment period, they’d totally forgive your desertion. So we have a bunch of guys, too, who left at some point and then come back and actually end up fulfilling their service honorably.

Adrienne Usher:
And we also have people who were said to have deserted, which was actually paperwork issues. In other words, if you’re not there at roll call, somebody’s going to assume you deserted. Well, you may have been detached and the guy taking roll call wasn’t informed enough. You could have been in the sick, the hospital.

Caitlin Eichner:
We see a lot of that in the official records, things being corrected later on. There’s a lot of chaos in war. So we also have a question in the comments about how much we’ve used Robert Rosen’s book to help with our research. And we definitely have referenced Rosen. We’re adding to some of his information. He’s been helpful. So we appreciate his work.

Adrienne Usher:
One of the things to keep in mind about Robert Rosen’s work is that when he did his book, the Internet was in its infancy. So the difference between then and now is huge. But we absolutely have been in touch with him. And he’s actually pretty excited about what we’re doing. And so, but one of our very first objectives was to make sure that every name in Rosen’s book has been researched by us and a lot of them were also in Wolf, but some of them that we didn’t know, and so they are now in the database, absolutely.

Alexandra Apito:
Any resource like that, that we can get our hands on, we definitely try to vet and include as much information as we can.

Caitlin Eichner:

Adrienne Usher:
Looks like next question in the Q&A is from Rebecca. It says was what Jewish soldiers said about slavery markedly different than non-Jewish soldiers? Were there any Jewish religious overtones? And I see a couple of upvotes on that. I’m trying to say-

Caitlin Eichner:
We got a mix, and honestly, it runs the gamut kind of the way. I think the entire American population kind of ran the gamut. We definitely have guys coming over who were [inaudible 00:34:27] in Europe who are fighting their own rebellions and they come over and they tend to be very staunchly anti-slavery abolitionists. It goes against their intellectual belief in equality and access. We also have some Jewish slaveholders, so there is definitely a mix.

Caitlin Eichner:
I think the biggest thing that we found about our Jewish citizens at this period of time that doesn’t always get talked about is there’s a lot of assimilation to the societies they’re living in. And so our southern Jews fought for the Confederacy and some specifically point out and say, “Hey, I don’t believe in slavery, but I believe in my home and this is my home now.” Some of them did have slaves or some of them were more okay with the practice. A lot, most of them we don’t have records on how they felt about it to be honest. But we do have some noted abolitionist types from up north. It definitely runs the range, just like the entire population in the United States at that point.

Alexandra Apito:
Yeah. And just going back to one of the soldiers that I had mentioned during the presentation Anselm Sterne, he specifically in the article that we found written about him, said that he wasn’t really concerned about matters between North and South, but that he was very devoted to West Point, Georgia. And if West Point, Georgia was going with the Confederacy, that’s the way he went, because he was about West Point, Georgia. So again, like Caitlin just said, it was a lot of going with the community that you were in, and wanting to be on that side.

Adrienne Usher:
So let’s see. All right, so Peggy, Peggy asked, which archives have you been to, have we visited for research? Is this an area where you are using volunteers? Yes, ma’am. So remember that part where I said we’re a really small team of six, and we don’t have the ability to travel. And thanks to COVID-19, now we’re not even allowed to so. Yeah, that kind of changes everything. But absolutely, because here’s the thing to keep in mind about archives, libraries and historical societies. They are limited. The smaller they are, the less budget they have. And we know, because I’ve been in the museum world for 25 years, that there are absolutely valuable resources in these tiny museums and archives and libraries all over the country. And they tend to collect the families’ business histories and genealogy histories and whatnot. And so there are tiny towns all over the South, where there were Jewish former soldiers, veterans that were very prominent members of society.

Adrienne Usher:
We would love if you know of a small institution that has collections about these. Absolutely, if you want to go there, then get in touch with us and let us know what they have. I just actually was in Richmond, Virginia, and went to the, let’s see, I’m trying to remember, so it’s the Virginia Museum of Culture and History, which now has a lot of the Confederate records there. And I had the opportunity to go through some records that it was like, wow, there’s all our guys. So yeah, and so I wasn’t able to scan anything at that time but we’ll definitely go back. So the answer is, yes, please reach out to Eliza and let us know where you live and what you want to do. And we will absolutely put you to work at our regiment, 100%.

Adrienne Usher:
Okay, I see one from Megan, my grandfather immigrated in 1864 to Chicago. I think he served in the Civil War, but I’m not sure.

Caitlin Eichner:
So again, definitely email us. Like we said Eliza, E-L-I-Z-A at We will 100% look into it. So tell us everything you got, we’re pumped.

Adrienne Usher:
Peggy had a question about do you have any tips for identifying men with the same name? You know what? I think we should do an entire webinar now that we figured this out about that very topic, because-

Caitlin Eichner:
We deal with this all the time. I was doing it yesterday. And honestly, the biggest suggestion I can say about that is don’t think resources won’t be useful. I had a set of brothers who were in Louisiana and I was trying to confirm if the fourth brother was this Jewish gentleman living in New York City by 1868. And I was digging around and I couldn’t find any reference to family. And suddenly, his naturalization papers had a reference to his earlier application for citizenship in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and it’s signed by one of his brothers once I find Louisiana papers.

Caitlin Eichner:
So it’s a lot of digging. It’s a lot of census work. It’s a lot of directories, which are Adrienne’s favorite reference. She’s the queen of finding people on them. Newspapers are great. Wills are an amazing source for finding family trees. People always think about wills. But a lot of the time, people would lay out their entire family to make sure that their assets would be disposed of to someone related to them no matter when they died. So you’ll get nephews, nieces, brothers, cousins, et cetera. But yeah, we could definitely teach an entire seminar on this.

Alexandra Apito:
And that being said, if you are having trouble identifying someone in your family that has a very common name, reach out to us to help you. So again, definitely email us because we do it a lot. So we’ve had a lot of practice. So definitely let us help you, we would love to help you figure it out.

Adrienne Usher:
And I have confirmed that there are no extant copies of the city directory for New Orleans in Louisiana from 1861 to 1864. And so if anybody finds one, call me. Don’t even-

Caitlin Eichner:
Call Adrienne now, please.

Adrienne Usher:
Looks like Dana asked, have you come across any soldiers from Tuscaloosa, Alabama? Her hometown.

Caitlin Eichner:
I’m going to be honest with you, we have not done a ton of work in Alabama right now. I’m currently in Louisiana. Alex is in South Carolina. So I think yes.

Alexandra Apito:
I would be surprised if we don’t have.

Caitlin Eichner:
I would be shocked if we didn’t have because that was already like a trade town.

Adrienne Usher:
Let’s just say yes. But then don’t ask us who.

Caitlin Eichner:
Come back for that answer.

Alexandra Apito:
Oh, Adrienne, there’s a question Jay had was what was the name of the archive you mentioned in Richmond?

Adrienne Usher:
Okay. So the reason I was kind of stuttering about it is, so there are, so there’s three institutions in Richmond. There’s the newly opened, and I hope I’m getting these names exactly right. I believe it’s the American Civil War Museum. And they have two locations. Then there’s the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. And then there’s the Daughters of the Confederacy Museum. So when I went to Richmond, I contacted all of them. And in the process of setting up the American Civil War Museum, they were trying to figure out what was the best place for the records to reside. And by that, I mean that had the best security, the best place for people to view them.

Adrienne Usher:
And I believe, if I’m correct, it was determined that they would be best held at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. They have a large part of the collections are still being processed. And so I was allowed to look at some of them, which was quite gracious of them. But like I said, I wasn’t able to scan anything. But those records aren’t available to the public, because they’re still being processed to make them available to the public.

Adrienne Usher:
Now, I had been in touch with the Daughters of the Confederacy Museum for when we first reached out to them, like six years ago, something like that. And so they had all these records that they said they were processing to make available to the public. And I would check back periodically, and they were never available. What I found out a couple of months ago is that their records are from the origin of the Daughters of the Confederacy. So they don’t actually include Confederate soldier records. So there was no reason for me to go there and look at their stuff. So I actually, a lot of what I was looking at at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture were actually sitting directories of Richmond, and I was just taking iPhone pictures, because then that gives me an idea of who was living in the city. So when we get to Virginia, we’ll have an idea.

Adrienne Usher:
One of the things we might want to mention about the Confederate records is the whole naming convention for the soldiers and the whole IJ issue. Do you guys want to talk about that? How if you see somebody named Jay Levi.

Caitlin Eichner:
It might be I Levi really.

Adrienne Usher:

Alexandra Apito:
It’s the handwriting at the time. It was mixed up a lot of Is and Js. I just had a soldier I was working on last week, actually, whose name I think his name was Isaac Moses and was listed as J. Moses in many documents and I was able to find that it was actually this Isaac Moses.

Caitlin Eichner:
Yeah. And unfortunately, in the Confederates a lot more than with the Union records, they love initials. And it’s like, could you just write his name? Please tell me his full first name. And I don’t know why. But we definitely see that a lot more with the Confederates than the Union, you rarely see just initials. So yeah, it can be tricky. You have to get a little creative. You have to know a cursive F could look like a cursive S that kind of thing.

Adrienne Usher:
Olson S-es.

Caitlin Eichner:
Olson S-es. So we do a lot of work trying to decipher that. German handwriting keys, if you’re working with recent immigrants can be amazing deciphering especially signatures and stuff. We’ve done a lot of that work. So yeah.

Adrienne Usher:
Absolutely. Bert asked a question about what have we found in synagogue archives. It’s interesting. Some synagogues have made their collections available online. I’ve talked to some registrars and some sextons at their synagogues, where their marriage and burial and birth records are in warehouses. And so there’s only six of us, so we’re kind of limited. So, if you happen to know of a synagogue that has-

Caitlin Eichner:
Yeah, if you’re a member of a synagogue that you know has archives or collections, and you want to go look around for us or introduce us to who’s in charge of their archives, that would be amazing. We’ve worked with a synagogue in Richmond so far, a synagogue in Philadelphia. That is definitely one of our major outreach points. Eliza’s been working, contacting a lot of synagogues, because we know they have such rich resources, especially for these guys we can’t find a lot of documentation. Generally, obviously, if they’re hanging out in a synagogue, they’re Jewish, and that’s amazing.

Adrienne Usher:
But yeah, again we can use your help, absolutely.

Alexandra Apito:
We have a question from Howard about South Carolina soldiers and how many that we found in Greenville in particular. So I am currently working in South Carolina, and the names, I can’t give you an exact number yet. It changes literally every day. At least hundreds of soldiers from South Carolina, maybe more. We’re not sure yet. Greenville, I can’t look right now while I’m sitting here, but we have at least a few soldiers from Greenville.

Adrienne Usher:
Is that Tuscaloosa?

Alexandra Apito:
Yeah, exactly. Yes, we have soldiers from South Carolina. And since I’ve been working in the state with the names that we already had, I’ve been able to add tons of new soldiers that Wolf missed in his roster. We have a lot of families that had maybe one brother listed by Wolf, and he had four or five other brothers that also served with him that were missed by Wolf. So we’re adding every day. And we love to see new names. So if you know of anyone else in South Carolina-

Caitlin Eichner:
Yeah, let us know.

Adrienne Usher:
One of the resources that gave me a really good understanding of how it was in the south was there was a diary account and I don’t remember, I don’t believe it was by a Jewish soldier. But they talked about in fact, I know it was a Union non Jewish soldier. And he talked about his regiment coming into Savannah. And how the only males in Savannah at that moment were old, blind and crippled men and males in short pants, i.e. children. And what that visually created for me, was this idea of did you really want to be the only able bodied man in your town who wasn’t in a regiment? And I’m pretty sure that answer is no. So if you have these really large families, and so we’re seeing in families all the brothers, all the fathers, all the uncles, all the cousins, my expectation in the south is within a family that’s going off to work, I would be surprised to find an able bodied male who wasn’t in a regiment. That would surprise me more.

Caitlin Eichner:
The Confederacy had a hefty draft as well. The Union had a draft. It happened. And then it kind of flowed, the Confederate had multiple waves of drafting people. They kept expanding the age limits or the age range of people they were pulling in. And even if you weren’t able bodied to serve, once they figured out you had potentially skills they still want to use, like we have a guy who was in his 40s, he gets drafted, they find out he’s a shoemaker. It’s like he can’t march, he’s not able bodied enough to actually fight. They send him to Richmond to make shoes. So a lot more guys end up getting pulled in to the Confederacy that way than we have on the Union side as well.

Adrienne Usher:
Right, right.

Alexandra Apito:
Are you including men in your list who served during the war in a position other than being a soldier in a regiment? My great grandfather, David Mayer served as a supply officer for the governor of Georgia.

Adrienne Usher:

Caitlin Eichner:
So I’ve read about David Mayer, very cool guy. That’s awesome. We are currently kind of figuring out how we want to include people like that, if they were officially enlisted into the Confederate Army as a supply officer, so like they worked with the Department of Subsistence, or the Quartermaster Department, and they’re actually officers within those, they definitely are in the database, there’s no question about that. We also have guys like sutlers, whose names we are collecting. We’re really interested in them. We’re in the process of determining how to display them in our database, how to make that information available. We need to do more in the process of researching David Mayer. So if you have more information, and you want to talk to us, we’d love to talk to you about him, because we’re figuring out which of those categories he fits into now.

Adrienne Usher:
And this is purely on a technical level. So we’ve added people like David to our sutler list, so we have sutlers, we have businesses-

Caitlin Eichner:
Blockade runners.

Adrienne Usher:
Blockade runners, exactly. And so again, this also addresses how do we put in soldiers who have no service records into our database. So the way our database is structured is we have to have information about the regiment to fill out the record. So it’s also kind of a technical issue. But what I’m confident of is that David Mayer being a perfect example, we absolutely would love to have the information, and we will, we may turn it into a related to soldier stories kind of thing. We’ve got a lot of ideas about how to share what we’ve collected in terms of stories, not just straight up data. So while we may not have them in our database, we may do a whole treatment of them on the website as the story. So that’s a possibility in the future.

Caitlin Eichner:
Yeah, yeah, we recognize these are important contributions to acknowledge as well. And we definitely want to include them. Like Adrienne said, we’re just in process.

Alexandra Apito:
We have one last question from Jeremy. Did the South have substitutes, as did the Yankees? Yes, the north and the south both had substitutions as something that they practiced.

Adrienne Usher:
Yeah, 100%

Alexandra Apito:
Or to be able to get a little more bounty to serve for someone else.

Adrienne Usher:
Exactly. So, yeah. Okay all right. Thank you, everybody. Have a lovely day. Stay safe. Stay inside. Okay?

Caitlin Eichner:
[inaudible 00:53:40] and contact Eliza and you all talking directly to us. So that would be amazing. We want to hear from everybody.

Alexandra Apito:
We’d love to do more research. Thank you so much, everybody.

Adrienne Usher:
Bye bye, stay safe.

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Quaker City passengers, August 1867. (Photo by William E. James, courtesy of Randolph James.)
January 16, 2020

“Not So Innocent Abroad” – Jewish Review of Books

Diane Cole describes her experience visiting “the remarkable exhibit ‘ark Twain and the Holy Land, on display at the New-York Historical Society until February 2, 2020. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 1869 publication of Twain’s second book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, the author’s wry-eyed travelogue of the five-and-a-half-month luxury steamship cruise that would carry him and his fellow shipmates across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, and on to its ultimate destination, the Holy Land.”

“Although relatively few readers today would rank this volume [Innocents Abroad] as their favorite among Twain’s works—that honor would more likely go to The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnLife on the Mississippi, or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—it was, in fact, his bestselling book over the course of his lifetime and remains one of the bestselling travel books of all time. In achieving literary fame so early in his career—his only previous book was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches—Twain jumped onto his own trajectory of authorial celebrity, his name (or pen name, his birth name being Samuel Langhorne Clemens) recognized throughout the world.” – Diane Cole, Jewish Review of Books

Click here to read the full article.

View the digital exhibition here.

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View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in 1841. Courtesy of Dahesh Museum of Art.
December 25, 2019

“The Twain Shall Meet” – The New York Jewish Week

“The artistic pursuits of Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, and Emma Lazarus, the first important Jewish American poet, are celebrated, respectively, at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both exhibitions creatively bring archival materials to the public.

While I haven’t been able to verify whether Lazarus and Twain actually met in person, it’s clear they moved in similar 19th-century New York social circles, and they shared an interest in Palestine.” – Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Times

Click here to read the full article.

View the Twain exhibition here.

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Joe Rubinfine and John Sellers.
December 11, 2019

SMF Mourns the Passing of John Sellers and Joe Rubinfine

This fall we sadly lost two people who were influential to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.


A great Lincoln scholar is gone. Our colleague John R. Sellers, long the Historical Specialist on the American Civil War and the Lincoln Curator at the Library of Congress and, for over a decade, the Director of the Shapell Roster Project of Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War, died this Fall, at age 85.

The enormity of his loss is only magnified by the modesty of his nature. In his own eyes, he was simply “the reference person for Lincoln.” In the eyes of everyone else, he was a leading expert on all facets of the most popular and compelling president in US history.

As the Library of Congress’s Lincoln Curator, John was responsible for its 2009 landmark exhibition “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition”, featuring the greatest assemblage of objects from the  LOC’s Lincoln collections in history. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation was honored to have been invited by John to add to the exhibit some 18 of its own Lincoln treasures.

John was also a renowned authority on the Civil War, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Congress, 18th and 19th century military history, and 14 U.S. presidents from 1848 to 1900. With all that he knew, he was generous and welcoming. Generations of historians, biographers, collectors and curators, are yet grateful for his remarkable collegiality.

And, too, on a very personal note: we know that gentlemen exist, because John Sellers existed.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation

John Sellers. Photo by Alex Wong.



The Shapell Manuscript Foundation mourns the passing of Joe Rubinfine, a quiet and dignified individual who was known throughout the autograph world as one of its leading dealers. Joe handled some truly exceptional material over the years, both privately and through his always wonderful and highly anticipated catalogs. His integrity, too, was unmatched. It was my good fortune to have benefited from his great taste in manuscripts and his gifted knowledge of history.

Benjamin Shapell.

Joe Rubinfine

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Mark Twain Signed Photo by Abdullah Frères in Constantinople, c. 1867. Shapell Manuscript Collection.
September 15, 2019

Forbes: Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ Celebrated In New York

“A new exhibition that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of ‘one of the best-selling travelogues of all time’ is set to open at the New-York Historical Society in New York.

“Mark Twain and the Holy Land will highlight American humorist Mark Twain’s 1867 voyage to Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land, and his subsequent book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.  The show will introduce visitors to a young Twain on the eve of his celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, according to the New-York Historical Society, which organized it in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

“Original documents, including manuscripts, journal entries and letters by Twain, will be on view from October 25, 2019 through February 2, 2020.”

Read the full article by Tanya Mohn in Forbes here.

Shapell Manuscript Collection documents, items, and objects from the exhibition will be displayed online with the opening of the exhibition in New York, so check back soon. In the meantime, the Mark Twain Collection can be viewed here.

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Adrienne Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
September 15, 2019

Director of Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, Presents: Mining Civil War Pension Records for Jewish Soldiers

Director of Shapell Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, will be presenting a selection of beautiful, unique and exciting genealogical treasures her team has discovered in the Civil War Union Pension Records from Jewish soldiers. These include dates and locations for births, marriages, and deaths; addresses, occupations, photographs, maps, drawings, letters, certificates and physical descriptions. Learn how to access these rich resources, find out more about the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s endeavors, and discover how you can participate in the project.

The presentation will take place at Congregation Beth Emeth, Herndon, VA. Click here for more details.

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Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Image: U.S. Signal Corps, Wikimedia Commons.
June 28, 2019

Treaty of Versailles Centennial: June 28, 2019

Exactly 100 years ago today, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the primary treaty which officially ended World War I, was signed by Germany and the Allies. President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in negotiating the treaty, as well as in conceiving of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organization meant to maintain world peace. The United States Congress, which was growing increasingly isolationist, had no interest in ceding power to join the League of Nations, and ultimately refused to ratify the treaty. 

These two letters by Wilson, just a few years apart, are strikingly different in tone. In the first, Wilson is desperately mounting the campaign to garner Republican votes in favor of the treaty. In the second, an ailing former President Wilson, explains that he cannot read or speak too much of the war because he is “too much affected and upset by it.”

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The image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. Photograph: EHT Collaboration.
April 11, 2019

Historic Week for Space Exploration

This will be an epic week to remember for space and science enthusiasts. In the past 7 days, three monumental events have taken place:

On April 5th, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 dropped explosives on asteroid Ryugu. “Mission scientists plan to execute the final major step of the mission. They will lower the probe right into the crater and collect a sample. This will be the second sample collected from Ryugu: Hayabusa2 already touched down on 22 February, and collected some of its space dirt after kicking it up with a bullet.” (Scientific American)

On Wednesday, Aprill 10, the first images of a black hole were released. The magnificent international coordination and success centered on the “Event Horizon telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile, in an effort involving more than 200 scientists.” (The Guardian)

Today, April 11, Israel is expected to join the United States, Russia, and China as one of the only countries to land a spacecraft on the moon. The Beresheet spacecraft is scheduled to land at 10:30pm Jerusalem time. “Once it lands safely on the Moon, the spacecraft will photograph the landing site and snap a selfie. Its key scientific mission, however, is to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science.” (Jerusalem Post)

These inspiring efforts to extend humanity’s reach into space remind us of how far we’ve come. These manuscripts from those brave enough to be sent into space, and the leadership behind them, reveal part of the history and sacrifice that’s been made to come so far.

Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman with stacks of hard drives of black hole image data. Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton with the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
(image credit: @floragraham, twitter.)

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Image: Theodor Herzl on the ship-deck as it arrives at the shores of Jaffa at dawn. October 26, 1898. The Herzl Museum, Wikimedia Commons.
April 8, 2019

National Library of Israel Features Theodor Herzl Postcards

In October 1898, Theodor Herzl arrived in Jerusalem, to work toward furthering his initiatives to create a Jewish state. While in Palestine, he met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, twice; once near Holon, and a second time in Jerusalem. During his journey, he regularly sent letters and postcards home. The National Library of Israel houses this collection, and highlighted here are the postcards Herzl sent to his daughter, Paulina.

You can view more of Herzl’s postcards and photographs here, and read his letters about creating a Jewish state in our Theodor Herzl Collection.


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Image: detail, by Sally Deng
February 5, 2019

The New York Times: Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History – and How to Do It

Jaya Saxena describes the experience of  tracing her family history as more than just digging up facts – but as uncovering “the myths that are a part of the story of yourself, whether you like them or not. Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.” Teresa Koch-Bostic, the vice president of the National Genealogical Society explains, “I think it appeals to people who love an intellectual pursuit, because that’s really what it is…. It’s solving a puzzle at the highest level, and the benefit is that you get to find out about your family.”

Read more in the New York Times article “Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History – and How to Do It” by Jaya Saxena



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Harold Holzer, Historian and Lincoln Expert.
January 31, 2019

Historians Explain Why We Collect Manuscripts

People who are interested in history collect manuscripts because they want to know what somebody was really like. When you look at a letter, you’re looking at what was going on in a person’s life – what did this feel like to the person experiencing it at that time – and before you know it, you have a whole world coming alive.

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Northridge earthquake. United States Geological Survey.
January 17, 2019

25 Years Since the Northridge, California, Earthquake

Natural disasters do not discriminate. These letters about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are recalled today on the 25th anniversary of the more recent Northridge earthquake, and following this exceptionally difficult year for Californians.

“We have the dreadful news that an earthquake has almost destroyed San Francisco.  The wires are down, and it is difficult to get accurate information…. It is impossible, however, to hear anything, and we are in the dark.” – William Howard Taft, Secretary of War. April 18, 1906.

Secretary of War William H. Taft Reports That San Francisco is Almost Destroyed in the Earthquake

Mark Twain on the San Francisco Earthquake and a Picture He Cannot Get Out of His Mind

Jack London, Hit Hard By the San Francisco Earthquake

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Director of Digital Projects, Jamie Levavi.
December 9, 2018

Welcome to the New Home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation

We’re excited to welcome you to the new online home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. We’ve added multiple features and tools that will facilitate educators, researchers, and history enthusiasts in discovering and organizing their resources and interests.

In preserving, researching, and digitizing thousands of original manuscripts, we look forward to sharing this collection with you.

The Shapell Manuscript Collection is a private holding of primary source documents relating to various events and historic figures in American, Jewish, and Holy Land history from the 19th and 20th centuries. Included in the collection are signed documents, photographs, rare books, and other artifacts. It is particularly rich with items from the American Civil War era, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Israeli leaders.

In addition to a focus on world-renowned individuals, the collection frequently relates to the history of Jewish American life. These manuscripts explore such topics as the lives of Jewish soldiers during the American Civil War, and reveal aspects of American Jewish influence and contribution to society.

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Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
September 2, 2018

The 2018 Mid-Term Elections: Where the Debates all Started

It is to be supposed that the 2018 mid-term elections will be fraught with controversy, and
some anguish. The recent past will be raked over; accusations lobbed; the word
“unprecedented” exhaled as commonly as breath. None of this, however, is new to American
elections. In 2016, so much candidate verbiage was expelled and expounded
in so many primary and general election debates, that any reasonable person might well have
assumed “Debate” was a weekly television series. Now, with the advent of the Labor Day
holiday, traditionally marking the “official” start of the campaign season, that live program,
after a two year hiatus, is back. But how it came to be made, and become as much a part of
the American election cycle as ballots themselves, is the story told here. It began, humbly, with
Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates – In a Prelude, Lincoln Shadows Douglas Around Illinois

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President Ulysses S. Grant. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Wikimedia Commons.
August 14, 2018

The 150th Anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s 1868 Election Year

It’s hard to keep up these days with who is shouting what. Not gone entirely unnoticed, however, is the disquieting rise of an old contagion thought, in the United States at least, long extinct. Whether chanted in torch-lit marches, argued on college campuses, or broadcast by fringe candidates in local political races, antisemitism is back in the news.  That “It Could Happen Here”, and did, is the subject of this letter about the worst blemish in the life of the Union’s greatest commander. When, in an 1862 order, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Jews living in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi ,and parts of Southern Illinois, vacate, within 24-hours, their homes and businesses and leave, forever,  the area of his command, he promulgated the most sweeping, and shocking, anti-Jewish regulation in American history. Here, writing six years later – and eagerly pursuing the presidency – Grant sought to explain his notorious “Jew Order” to the man, in fact, who inspired it: his father.

Running for President, Ulysses S. Grant Tries to Lose the Antisemite Label Engendered to Him During the Civil War By His Infamous “Jew Order”

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January 16, 2017

Lincoln and the Jews – Book and Exhibition Reviews

Lincoln and the Jews: A History illustrates how President Abraham Lincoln – perhaps best known for his efforts in abolishing slavery – intended to secure equality and freedom for all Americans, including another growing minority group in Civil War-era America: the Jews. Read the reviews and discover the story at our online exhibition or purchase a copy of the book.


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July 17, 2014

50 Children

“The new book, ’50 Children’ tells the remarkable story of two Philadelphia-area Jews who, at the dawn of World War II, went to extraordinary lengths fighting red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to save the lives of children on the brink of the Holocaust in Europe.” – Jordan Hoffman, Times of Israel (more…)

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