Hiding in Plain Sight – Why Some Jewish American Soldiers Served Under an Alias

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After years of reviewing Civil War pension records of Union soldiers at the US National Archives, our team has discovered that serving under an alias was not uncommon. Many who are knowledgeable about Jewish American history have assumed that the use of an alias was in response to antisemitism. Our research finds this true in a handful of cases, but the overwhelming majority of Jewish soldiers who served during the American Civil War under an alias did so to avoid recriminations by family and friends or simply to keep their families from worrying about their well-being.

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{1}

Joseph Levy (1842-1920) aka Joseph Reese

4th NY Infantry, Company K 

Bill Ritchie and I enlisted at the same time.  He enlisted under the name of Bill or Wm. Richards and I took the name of Joseph Reese.  I don’t know his object in changing his name.  I was influenced partly by Ritchie changing his name and partly by the desire to avoid ridicule as a jew.

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington DC.{2}

Simon Schiff (1841-1871) aka Joseph Schaeffer

108th OH Infantry, Company I 

“The reason he said enlisted under the name of Schaeffer, was that he did not want them to think he was a Jew.”

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{3}

Henry Redwitz (1833-1913) aka Charles Clark

US Navy (1861-1865)

Charles Clark was given by me to prevent and avoid any annoyance by my family, who at that time very much was opposed of taking the steps of my enlistment.”

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{4}

Jacob H. Stern (1844-1914) aka John G. Loomis

17th NY Infantry, Company H (1861-1863)

I enlisted at the city hall, and I saw Ralph Davis from this city who I was afraid would tell my father who was opposed to me going into the army and he would not have allowed me to go had he known I was going in the army, and to avaoid [sic] my father and keep him from finding me I took an assumed name as I was under 18 years old when I enlisted.” 

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{5}

Max Hart (1848-1932) aka Samuel Raphael

39th NY Infantry, Company E (1864-1865)

he assumed the name of Samuel Raphael because this family objected to his going into the service on account of his being too young.

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{6}

John Glass (1846-1931) aka Benjamin Cohen

7th NY Veteran Infantry, Company B (1864-1865)

My right name is, as I stated, John Glass but I served under the name Benjamin Cohen.  I did that so that my folks would not know about my enlistment.

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.{7}

Samuel Berwin (1831-1913) aka Joseph Bernstein

54th NY Infantry, Company G (1861-1864) 

[He] enlisted under the name Joseph Bernstein because he did not want his parents in Prussia to know that he was in the army.

Thanks to the Union pension application process, in which soldiers who served under an alias must prove to the government that they are the same person as the soldier, though the names differ, we are able to record these stories. As we now commence our research on the Jewish Confederate soldiers, we look forward to updating you here with further tales of Jewish soldiers hiding in plain sight during the American Civil War.

References

  1. [1]
    Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Benefits Administration. Case Files of Pension Applications Based on Service Completed in the Years 1817 to Approximately 1903, ca. 1935-ca. 2002. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300021: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  2. [2]
    War Department. The Adjutant General's Office. Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890-1912. Microfilm Publications and Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300398: Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762-1984, Record Group 94. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  3. [3]
    Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861-ca. 1910. Microfilm Publication and Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 561929: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  4. [4]
    Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Benefits Administration. Case Files of Pension Applications Based on Service Completed in the Years 1817 to Approximately 1903, ca. 1935-ca. 2002. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300021: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  5. [5]
    Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Benefits Administration. Case Files of Pension Applications Based on Service Completed in the Years 1817 to Approximately 1903, ca. 1935-ca. 2002. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300021: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  6. [6]
    Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Benefits Administration. Case Files of Pension Applications Based on Service Completed in the Years 1817 to Approximately 1903, ca. 1935-ca. 2002. Textual Records, ARC Identifier no. 300021: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2007, Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  7. [7]
    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.