A New Book By Adam D. Mendelsohn – “Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army”

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“The most significant reexamination of American Jewry and the Civil War in over seventy years, and the first to take advantage of the Shapell Roster, a new comprehensive data archive documenting the war's Jewish soldiers. Replete with fresh insights and surprising information, all carefully validated and brilliantly recounted. An instant classic!”

—Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

After nearly 15 years of research, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation will be releasing the Shapell Roster to the public. Adam D. Mendelsohn, through early access to the Roster, used these findings in his masterfully-written new book, Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army. The book is the first of what will be a two-volume set, which will be released by NYU Press this coming fall. NYU Press issued the following press release announcing the publication:

Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press—November 15th, 2022) asks, what was it like to be a Jew in Lincoln’s armies? The Union army was as diverse as the embattled nation it sought to preserve, a unique mixture of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Almost one Union soldier in four was born abroad, and natives and newcomers fought side-by-side, sometimes uneasily. Yet 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 Jewish people 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. Adam D. Mendelsohn draws for the first time upon 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.

Mendelsohn asserts that beneath the intoxicating myth of the heroic Jewish soldier observing Yom Kippur on the battlefield is a far more complicated and fascinating story. Never before had Jews joined a mass volunteer army—itself a relatively new historical phenomenon—in such numbers and with such enthusiasm.

Previous scholars sought to demonstrate sameness: Jews were as brave and loyal as any other volunteers, and they served in numbers at least equal to their fellow Americans. But in ways visible and invisible to their fellow recruits and conscripts, the experience of Jews was distinct from that of other soldiers—other ethnic minorities included—who served in Blue and Gray. From pork-heavy rations that necessitated many forgo eating Kosher, to the impossibility of having a Jewish burial on the battlefield, there are many parts of the Jewish experience during the Civil War that had yet to be
uncovered, until now.

About the Author: Adam D. Mendelsohn is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town. He is the author of The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire and co-editor of Jews and the Civil War: A Reader and Transnational Traditions: New Perspectives on American Jewish History.