To celebrate Memorial Day 2022, the Shapell Roster team visited the gravesites of ten American Jewish veterans who served in the American Civil War. As the team is located across the country, they paid their respects to soldiers and sailors at their final resting places in Everett, MA, Sharpsburg, MD, Gettysburg and Pittsburgh, PA, Omaha, NE, and Laramie, WY.
The tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves pre-dates 1861, but organized efforts to commemorate the recently deceased at battlefields and Civil War cemeteries cropped up during and immediately after the Civil War in many towns in the north and south. Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day has numerous origin stories, but the path to it becoming a nationwide commemoration is as follows:
In 1868, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (the main Union Civil War veterans organization) called for a national Decoration Day, which led to the holiday being celebrated regularly throughout the country. Following the World Wars, the celebration expanded to include all veterans who had passed, and in 1971, Congress officially designated Memorial Day as a legal holiday.
The Shapell Roster is proud to participate in this time-honored tradition of planting an American flag–symbolizing remembrance and respect for the sacrifices the deceased made for their country–at each gravesite visited. The following is a brief introduction to these soldiers and sailors, and the Shapell Roster team’s connections to them. To learn more about the American Jewish men who served in the Civil War, please visit the Shapell Roster.
Photo by author
Alexandra Apito (Salem, MA)
After living in Washington, DC for five years, in 2018 I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts, which is more known for its Revolutionary War connections than Civil War associations. In leaving DC, I left behind many battlefields, historic sites, and graveyards filled with Civil War History.
Photo by author
Massachusetts had a total of 159,165 soldiers and sailors who fought during the Civil War, about 12.9% of the total state population in 1860. To date, we currently only have 53 soldiers that we have confirmed were Jewish that served from MA. Two of these soldiers, Solomon D. Samuels and Joseph Samuel (despite the variation in their surnames, they were brothers) just so happen to be buried in the same cemetery as my grandfather, a WWII Navy Veteran, who I was also excited to visit for Memorial Day. So off to the Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett I went, with my dad and toddler in tow.
The Samuel/s brothers (Joseph went by Samuel and Solomon by Samuels) were both born in London, England. Joseph on August 30, 1833 and Solomon D. on February 24, 1846.
Photo by author's dad (thanks dad!)
In August 1857, Joseph married Margaret Mae Carter and was earning a living as a salesman. He enlisted in October of 1861 and served as a Private in Company C of the 32nd MA Infantry and then in the 7th Unattached Company of the MA Militia Infantry (90 Days, 1864). He enlisted for a third time as a Sergeant in Company K of the 4th MA Heavy Artillery in 1864. His final discharge was on June 17, 1865. In an affidavit given to the Pension Department in 1900, Joseph stated that he was “very ill when a baby and in accordance with a Hebrew custom the name of Jacob was given to me.” Joseph died September 1, 1914 in Boston. According to his obituary, he was a member of the G. A. R. and an Odd Fellow.
He is buried in the GAR Lot in the cemetery.
It was my honor to place flags at their graves in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA. I also contacted the city to make sure they are both included on their list of veterans and will receive flags every Memorial Day!
Adrienne DeArmas (Kearneysville, WV)
Civil War history isn’t just what I research, it’s also where I live. And while there are no Jewish cemeteries with Civil War veterans anywhere near me, there are Jewish soldiers buried at Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Maryland, only 13 miles from my home. The Battle of Antietam took place on 17 September 1862, resulting in nearly 23,000 estimated total casualties (KIA, WIA and MIA). The Shapell Roster contains six Jewish soldiers who were killed in action on that bloodiest day in American history, but only two of them have headstones in the cemetery: Adolph Brinkmann and Max Wimpfheimer.
It’s particularly challenging to identify Civil War soldiers who were KIA as Jewish because the US Army didn’t record religious affiliation. But, even if they had, many were buried on the battlefields rather than in denominational cemeteries, and if young, as so many were, they never had a chance to leave much of a mark in the historical record. Thus, we are indebted to the families of the deceased soldiers—those who applied for a pension, or, generations later, those who included them in a family tree. Fortunately, both Brinkmann and Wimpfheimer are included in family trees on popular genealogical sites, identified as Jewish and as Civil War soldiers who died at Antietam. In addition to confirming military service and locating proof that the soldiers and sailors in the Shapell Roster were Jewish, we also look to see if there are any connections between soldiers. In this case, we do not know if Brinkmann and Wimpfheimer knew each other, but at the time of their respective 1861 enlistments, they lived a mere five blocks apart in Philadelphia.
17 year old German-born Aron Bringmann arrived in Philadelphia in 1860 and identified himself as Adolph Brinkmann. A year later, he enlisted in Company E of the 2nd DE Infantry, as a Private. The following year Brinkmann died defending his newly adopted country. He had no children, was never married, and left behind, as far as we know, only a sister, brother and mother, all of whom are buried at Philadelphia’s Mt. Sinai Jewish Cemetery.
Maximilian Wimpfheimer immigrated to America with his parents and younger siblings from Germany prior to 1860. He enlisted in Company F of the 19th PA Infantry (3 Months, 1861) as a Private, six days after Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. He deserted from a second enlistment in the 69th PA Infantry four months into the three-year term, but re-enlisted four days later as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd PA Reserve Infantry, where he remained until his untimely death.
Max Wimpfheimer, as a 2nd Lieutenant, was buried on “Officer’s Row.” It was my honor to place flags on both of their graves at Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Photo by author
Vonnie Zullo (Falls Church, VA)
I’m a native of Gettysburg, raised in a farmhouse on the battlefield not far from Pickett’s Charge. To my four siblings and me, the National Park Service (NPS) battlefield was our playground. Little did I imagine I’d end up working first for the NPS and then as a professional researcher at the National Archives, researching Jewish Civil War soldiers.
My family often visited Gettysburg National Cemetery on Memorial Day, for my uncle, Maurice Small, who died in France during WWII, is buried there. Not far from his grave lies Lt. Colonel Max A. Thoman of the 59th New York INfantry – the highest-ranking officer killed and buried at Gettysburg.
Photo by author
Max Thoman was Jewish. He had previous military service as a Lieutenant in his native Germany from 1848-1851. By the 1860 federal census, he was living in New York City, working at a restaurant. He joined the 59th NY Infantry as Captain of Company C. on October 8, 1861 and rose in rank to become Lt. Colonel on January 8, 1863.
On July 2, 1863, he was leading his troops in the repulse of the Confederate attack on Cemetery Ridge when an artillery shell fractured his right arm. He lingered in pain from the wound for nine days before dying on July 11, 1863. Before he passed, he voiced his last wish – to be buried amongst his fallen men. And unfortunately, there were many – six men from his unit were killed, and 28 were wounded at Gettysburg. His dying wish was honored; he was buried with the same simple flat tombstone as other soldiers in New York units.
But Lt. Col. Max A. Thoman was not to be forgotten. At their first annual reunion on July 3, 1889, his comrades of the 59th NY Infantry dedicated a monument at the site where he was wounded.
Photo by author.
Their speeches that day centered around their admiration of Thoman, as reminisced by Lt. Col. Horace P. Rugg, “Some of its best blood was shed on this field. Here our most gallant commander, Max A. Thoman, gave up his life’s blood… the “Jack of Diamonds,” as he was most affectionately called. He was certainly a jewel among diamonds. He was beloved by all, and I have yet to hear the first word of anything but praise and admiration for his bright and happy disposition.” Captain Jacob W. Clark closed the dedication ceremony, “I well remember Colonel Thoman, and a braver soul never faced an enemy. This beautiful stone marks the spot where he fell – marks the spot where he stood – and he stood as firm as this monument, as immovable until stricken by a bullet from the charging enemy.”*
And so they honored their Lt. Colonel, their “Jack of Diamonds,” a German-born, Jewish liquor salesman in New York City. It was my honor to tell you just a little bit of his story, from “my backyard” point of view.
Jess Eichlin (Morgantown, WV)
Pittsburgh is home to the Bes Almon Burial Society’s cemetery, founded in 1847. Known today as the Troy Hill Jewish Cemetery, it was the first Jewish cemetery in Western Pennsylvania, and possibly the earliest in the region. Just under an acre, this historic cemetery is dwarfed by the nearby 110-acre West View Cemetery, both of which are administered today by the Rodef Shalom Congregation. Troy Hill is the final resting place of Nathan L. Bernheimer and Emanuel Schweitzer.
Nathan L. Bernheimer was born to parents Levi and Henrietta Bernheimer in 1846. The third of eight siblings, he spent most of his life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On July 16, 1863, just two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, Bernheimer enlisted in the 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry as a Private. He was 19, and would serve for 174 days before being discharged on January 6, 1864. Returning to Philadelphia after his service ended, Nathan married Hannah Caufman on April 26, 1876. After moving to Pittsburgh in the mid-1880s, Bernheimer died on September 22, 1891 at age 46 from a case of pneumonia.
Emanuel Schweitzer was born in 1839 in Fürth, Bavaria. Prior to 1861, Emanuel made his way to the United States where he enlisted in the 68th New York Infantry on August 6, 1861. He served until November 26, 1862, when he received an honorable discharge for disability. Schweitzer worked as an editor and printer for various German-language newspapers in Pittsburgh, including Freiheits Freund, Die Reform, and Sonntagsblatt. On August 25, 1872, he married Rosalie Schryer in Philadelphia. They settled in Pittsburgh, where they had three children. On April 14, 1887, after a six-week hospitalization, Schweitzer died from brain disease at age 49. His obituary called him a “prominent newspaper man” who was a “vigorous writer.”
Walking through Troy Hill, it was easy to locate Nathan Bernheimer’s marker, but I was unable to locate Emanuel Schweitzer’s gravestone. Some stones in the cemetery were unreadable, and a few others had fallen or were broken. Luckily, I was able to find confirmation of his burial there in the Bes Almon Society internment records, part of the Corinne Azen Krause Papers [MSS 113] at the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center.
As someone who loves historical cemeteries, it was a treat to get “out of the office” to place a flag at Bes Almon, and I enjoyed researching a little bit more about Nathan Bernheimer and Emanuel Schweitzer.
Eliza Kolander (Omaha, NE)
As the Strategic Partnership Manager for the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, I am the liaison between the public and the Shapell Roster. I reach out to descendants of Civil War soldiers and sailors, gathering as much information as possible, so that we can share their stories with the public – and best of all, I get to do this from a quiet, tree-filled neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. Recently, I had the opportunity to interact with several descendants of Leopold (Lee) Rothschild, one of our youngest service members, and his brother Louis. In addition to sharing vital information about their ancestors, the Rothschild descendants shared wonderful photographs that brought Lee very close to home for me.
Born February 8, 1849 in Prussia, Lee Rothschild immigrated to the United States in 1863 at 14, alone. His father, Jacob, had left his eight children with extended family to make that same journey years earlier after the death of Rothschild’s mother. Upon his arrival, Rothschild found his father remarried and starting a new family in Pittsburgh. He tried for a few months to meld into this brood, but teenage angst spurred him to run away to Cleveland, to live with his older sister. When Rothschild heard his father had arrived in Cleveland to retrieve him, he next fled to Cincinnati, where a stranger offered him a different solution than simply running from town to town to hideout: joining the US Navy. To learn more about Lee’s short and exciting time in the Navy, read his soldier story.
Lee Rothschild was not the first in his family to join the war effort for the Union. His older brother, Louis, who had come to America years before Lee, had enlisted in the 2nd US Artillery, in Cincinnati in 1862. Louis was discharged for disability the following year, after he was wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas.
When Lee Rothschild was discharged from the service, he was emaciated and jaundiced, and spent months recovering with his sister in Cleveland. After his recovery, Rothschild set up shop as a butcher in Bucyrus, Ohio.
He stayed in Bucyrus for almost two decades, until he moved to Nebraska in 1884, and settled with Louis, in Omaha. In the city where I now live, Lee ran a successful livestock auction. He died in 1914, from accidental gas inhalation, and was buried in the Pleasant Hill Jewish Cemetery with his brother.
My husband, our toddler, and I visited the cemetery on a spring day in Omaha. It was sprinkling the entire time and we had some trouble locating Lee’s gravestone. We found it and Louis’s, and placed flags, happy to be helping remember a remarkable Civil War sailor and soldier.
Photograph by Author
Caitlin Winkler (Cheyenne, WY)
I grew up on the Maryland/Virginia border, enveloped in Civil War history. A history geek from the start, I have visited more Civil War battlefields than I can count; even living on one during my years at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA. So, when I married an Air Force helicopter pilot, and started the endless cycle of station changes with him; I suddenly found myself without my usual Civil War surroundings for the first time (except virtually, researching for the Shapell Roster). This month, we relocated to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Cheyenne, WY. Cheyenne was founded two years after the Civil War ended, in 1867, so again no Civil War connection. But, when I started looking for a soldier to visit for Memorial Day, I was very excited to discover that a Jewish soldier in the Shapell Roster, Simon Durlacher, was buried just up the road in Laramie, WY.
Simon Durlacher was born January 1, 1837 in the Grand Duchy of Baden. He came to America at the age of 15, with his family, and they settled in Pennsylvania. Durlacher was one of the first to join the war effort, enlisting on April 22, 1861 in Wellsboro, PA, as a Private in Company H of the 6th PA Reserve Infantry, also known as the 35th PA Volunteers. He was promoted to Corporal three months later, but was voluntarily reduced back to Private the following year, after being brought up on charges for being absent without leave, for missing a roll call and dress parade. Durlacher was wounded at the Battle of Antietam, but continued in the service until June 11, 1864, when his regiment was mustered out at Harrisburg, PA.
Photo by Author
Before the war, Durlacher worked as a peddler; after, he followed the Union Pacific Railroad out west to find his fortune, settling in Laramie, WY in 1868. Durlacher first worked for other merchant houses, before opening his own in 1871, while also serving as the Albany County Commissioner. When he decided to get married, Durlacher went back east to find a Jewish wife, and married Hannah Gross of Boston. The couple had three daughters: Blanche, Hilda, and Jean. The family was well to do in Laramie society, and Durlacher was a prominent member of the local Mason lodge.
When Simon Durlacher died in 1893, he was the first to be buried in his family plot at Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie. His grave includes the Grand Army of the Republic insignia, and the plot is located directly on an open square featuring the GAR memorial, erected by Custer Post No. 1 in 1888.
Photo by Author's Husband
All three of his daughters were eventually buried there with him, as well as two of their husbands, who were also veterans: Henry Roach, who fought during the Spanish-American War, and Robert Tebbitt, who served as a Major in the Medical Corps during World War I. Visiting Simon Durlacher in Laramie allowed me to both honor his memory, and feel a much deeper connection to my new home.