(For in-depth answers to specific questions, please visit our FAQ.)
The Shapell Roster is an ongoing, contemporary reappraisal of the military service of Jews in the American Civil War, based on academic research methodology and unprecedented access to millions of primary source documents, discovered in both physical and online repositories. The goal of the Shapell Roster, which uses Simon Wolf’s The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen as its starting point, is to identify each Jew that served in the Union and Confederate Army or Navy from April 12, 1861 – April 9, 1865.
Initiated by Benjamin Shapell, the Shapell Roster was first led by the late Dr. John R. Sellers with research and input from Robert Marcus. The Shapell Roster research team now consists of Director Adrienne DeArmas, senior researchers Caitlin Winkler and Alexandra Apito, and associate researchers Janice Parente and Vonnie Zullo.
Together, we conduct genealogical and military history research, employing multiple strategies to reduce subjective interpretation of data (including the Genealogical Proof Standard and Karl Popper’s Falsifiability Principle). To ensure uniformity without compromising the unique details of each soldier‘s1 experience, we utilize a standardized operating procedures document that details how, and under what circumstances, every field in the database should be populated. All pages in the database are reviewed against these standards before they are made available to the public.
The 8,115 names in The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen are the foundation of the Shapell Roster, but our research reveals that Wolf identified a much smaller number of Jewish Civil War Veterans. To date, we have determined the following about the names in Wolf’s tome:
- 451 are duplicate names2
- 40 did not serve in the American Civil War
- Nearly 800 are not Jewish
- More than 800 are listed without a regiment, so it might not be possible to identify service for all of them
Research methodologies and access to resources have evolved significantly since the 19th century, but what Simon Wolf accomplished in such a limited amount of time is noteworthy – which is why all of the soldier pages in the Shapell Roster whose origin was Wolf’s tome, include the name, regiment3, page number, and any notes Wolf provided.
But, if you notice a soldier in the Shapell Roster who did not serve, or is identified as not Jewish, that name came from Simon Wolf.
As Wolf himself acknowledged, his accounting was incomplete. As of 2022, Shapell researchers have discovered nearly 1500 Jews who were not previously identified as serving in the Civil War. New additions to the Shapell Roster must meet two requirements:
- Verifiable service in a federally or state-recognized command, regiment, militia, home guard unit, or vessel in the Union or Confederate Army or Navy from 12 April 1861 – 9 April 1865
- Substantiated evidence of Judaism
Proof of Military Service
At least one specified regiment4 is required as the foundation for a soldier’s military service history, which includes, if applicable, enlistment, discharge, transfers, detachments, commissions, promotions, reductions, desertions, and whether the soldier was a Prisoner of War (POW), Wounded in Action (WIA), Missing in Action (MIA), or Killed in Action (KIA). The Shapell Roster focuses on soldier history, not regimental history, so we record enlistment and discharge information, rather than muster-in or muster-out data. Military service records do not typically include information about which battles a soldier participated in, unless the soldier was wounded, killed, or taken prisoner.
Ideally, proof of military service is procured from primary source documentation, e.g.:
- Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR)5
- Service Records (from Federal, State or County repositories)
- Muster Rolls
- Adjutant General’s Office Reports and Records
- US Army and Navy Registers of Enlistments and Rendez-vous
- National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers Registers
- Court Martial records
- Pension Files
- Official military-issued documents in the possession of individuals or organizations
Repositories, where we access these documents, include but are not limited to: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC, The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Fold3, MyHeritage, historical societies, libraries, archives, and private collections.
Most Union soldiers have service records, and some have pension files (also located at various NARA facilities, and in some cases, available at fold3.com), whereas finding service records for Confederate soldiers is determined by whether or not the muster rolls of the regiment they served in are extant and were submitted to the US government after the war. Confederate pensions, which were primarily granted to indigent veterans, were filed by residence at the time of application, not by the Veteran’s regiment state6. To determine if a Confederate veteran applied for or received a pension, one must know their place of residence and date of application. Once this is determined, if the pension file is extant, it can be located in the relevant state archives.
Secondary sources do not provide the detailed service history data we typically collect. But, in the case of a Service Status of Inferred Service, it might be all that exists. Examples of these resources include:
- 1890 Veterans Census
- 1910 Census
- Diaries and Memoirs
- Membership in Veterans Organizations
- Grand Army of the Republic (Union)
- United Confederate Veterans
- Hebrew Union Veterans Association
- Newspaper articles
- Post-war Compilations
- Multi-volume State Adjutant General reports
- Honor Rolls
- Rosters (e.g. The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen)
A soldier who kept a diary during his service, or wrote letters home from the field, will not be excluded from the Shapell Roster just because actual service records cannot be located. Likewise, membership in a Veterans organization was based upon proof of service: members were vetted by committee before being granted membership, so their service was established by their contemporary peers.
Once our research is concluded, each soldier is assigned one of three Service Statuses:
- Service Confirmed
- Did Not Serve7
- Inferred Service
The third status allows us to include soldiers whose official service records are not extant. If multiple non-military record sources provide consistent and specific details about a soldier’s service and those sources are independent and not cross-referential, then we will accept non-military service records as proof of service on a case-by-case basis.
Determining service on the basis of non-military resources is primarily used to account for Confederate service (although some new Union additions are being made under this classification as well). Whereas Union records were already in the possession of the Federal government at the end of the war, the Confederate records were not. Lost, burned, possibly never created, we know that the Confederate service records that exist today do not account for every soldier who served in the Confederacy. To be included under this classification, a soldier’s regiment must be identified, and there must be significant evidence supporting military service.
Evidence of Judaism
Similar to the Military Service status, each record in the database has a Jewish status:
- Not Jewish
- To Be Determined
Finding documentation that proves a soldier was Jewish is a much more dynamic endeavor than confirming military service. The Shapell Roster’s broad inclusiveness is reflective of the Jewish experience in 19th and early 20th century America. In other words, the Jews who served in the American Civil War were American-born, immigrant, young, old, educated, illiterate, wealthy, indigent, married, single, secular, Orthodox and Reform. Additionally, we are dependent upon what is currently available in the historical record, and how many footprints a soldier left for us to discover. This is why there are more than 3,000 names from Simon Wolf who have a Jewish Status of “To Be Determined.”
Definitions of Jewish
A soldier is Jewish by matrilineal or patrilineal descent, even if one or more in the family tree converted to another faith. This also includes those who converted to Judaism.8
– Example: a soldier is found on the genealogy charts in Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families.
– Example: a soldier’s parents are buried in a Jewish cemetery.
A soldier is identified as Jewish by his own words or actions, either privately or publicly.
– Example: a soldier responds to a question on his pension application asking for details about his marriage by explaining that he was married by a rabbi.
– Example: a soldier identifies himself as Jewish in an editorial published in a newspaper.
Testament by His Contemporaries
A soldier is identified as Jewish by anyone other than himself.
– Example: in a published narrative drawn from a Civil War soldier’s personal diary, we read the following: “Jack Sheppard’s real name was Victor Aarons [sic]. He was a full blooded Jew. At eleven years of age he had shipped as a common sailor and had led a life of adventure until he enlisted with us in the summer of 1861.”9
– Example: a death notice for a soldier notes his membership in the International Order of B’nai B’rith.
Any documentary evidence which supports our claim that a soldier was Jewish could potentially meet all three definitions, but in most cases, a soldier needs only one to be included in the Shapell Roster. A caveat to this is if the proof is antisemitic in nature. For example, if a soldier is subjected to antisemitic slurs in a newspaper article, we would need additional proof to rule out misinformation on the part of the antisemite.
The following are broad categories of documents we utilize to prove a soldier was Jewish.
- Municipal birth, marriage or death records
- Synagogue records
- Cemeteries and Cemetery records
- Family trees, genealogical charts, descendants
- Pension documents: affidavits, statements, questionnaires
- Diaries, correspondence, personal papers, wills
- Obituaries, biographical profiles, newspaper clippings
- Regional histories, biographies, autobiographies, and other published works10
- Jewish organization affiliation
Additional Information And Conclusion
In the process of confirming service and proving the soldier was Jewish, we access historical documents that provide insight into his life, before, during, and after the war. While each soldier is unique, collectively they comprise a generation with many shared experiences. When available, we collect the following data for each soldier:
- date and location for birth and death
- residential, social, political, and occupational details
- genealogical history (from the soldier’s ancestors to his descendants)
- the connections, if any, between him and other individuals in the database
It is no small undertaking to reappraise a body of work that has been perceived as the definitive word on the subject of Jews who served in the American Civil War for more than a century. Eminent scholars, prominent rabbis and others who subsequently contributed to this niche field of study often reference Wolf, so, in essence, the Shapell Roster challenges much of everything written about this subject to date. This is why the soldier pages include the available documentation to support our claim that a soldier was or was not Jewish; that he did or did not serve.
The digitizing of historical documents has come a long way since the Library of Congress launched the first pilot program in 1995. In 2021, FamilySearch completed the digitization of 2.4 million rolls of microfilm – representing 83 years of filming the world’s historical genealogical records. There are more digitized records available now than when you started reading this paragraph. All of this to say, as new resources become available, the Shapell Roster will continue to be updated.
Finally, we welcome your feedback. Know of a soldier we missed? Know of a source we didn’t include? Have information that conflicts with what you see? Or maybe you have a story about a soldier to share? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you.
For the sake of brevity, when the term “soldier” is used generically with regards to Jewish veterans of the Civil War, it is meant to represent soldiers, sailors, marines, and any other enlisted or commissioned military personnel.
Multiple individuals served in more than one regiment during the war, but listed in Wolf once for each regiment.
His use of colloquial regimental nomenclature is reflective of the fact that Simon Wolf did not serve during the war.
For those who served in the Union or Confederate Navies, “US Navy” is the Regiment, and the vessel name or duty station is listed as the Company.
Although the Compiled Military Service Records were created in the 1890s, they are generally considered to be primary source documents. “Transcribed from original muster and payrolls, regimental returns, descriptive books, hospital rolls, and other records, the CMSRs were intended to permit more rapid and efficient checking of military and medical records in connection with claims for pensions and other veterans’ benefits.” Source: https://www.archives.gov/research/military/army/compiled-military-service-records.
An exception to this rule was if a Confederate veteran resided in a state that did not field Confederate regiments during the war, he could make his application to the state from which he served.
Records in the Shapell Roster with a Service Status of Did Not Serve came from Simon Wolf and have been identified by our researchers as individuals who did not serve during the Civil War.
To date, we know of no cases of a soldier who converted to Judaism.
Galwey, Thomas Francis (W.S. Nye, editor). The Valiant Hours. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1961. pp. 41-2.
Note: Not all publications are equal. We evaluate each resource carefully, giving more consideration to authors who provide citations or were contemporaries of the soldiers.