Jews and the Civil War

A Reader

445 pages

26 illustrations

May, 2010

ISBN: 9780814740910



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Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He has written, edited or co-edited more than twenty-five books, including American Judaism: A History, winner of the “Jewish Book of the Year” award from the Jewish Book Council.

All books by Jonathan D. Sarna

Adam D. Mendelsohn is Director of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research and Associate Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. 

All books by Adam D. Mendelsohn

At least 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. A few served together in Jewish companies while most fought alongside Christian comrades. Yet even as they stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” on the front lines, they encountered unique challenges.

In Jews and the Civil War, Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn assemble for the first time the foremost scholarship on Jews and the Civil War, little known even to specialists in the field. These accessible and far-ranging essays from top scholars are grouped into seven thematic sections—Jews and Slavery, Jews and Abolition, Rabbis and the March to War, Jewish Soldiers during the Civil War, The Home Front, Jews as a Class, and Aftermath—each with an introduction by the editors. Together they reappraise the impact of the war on Jews in the North and the South, offering a rich and fascinating portrait of the experience of Jewish soldiers and civilians from the home front to the battle front.


  • “’The Jews thus became for Grant and his harassed officers a convenient symbol of all the frustrations and annoyances with which they were contending,’ Stephen Ash writes in an essay in New York University Press’ intriguing new anthology.”

    —America’s Civil War

  • “I predict that Jews and the Civil War: A Reader will very quickly become one of the definitive scholarly texts on the Jewish role in the Civil War. Any one of the seventeen articles could stand alone as a fascinating socio-cultural history of the period... Each article is assiduously researched and followed by detailed endnotes identifying the source of the information... I recommend this book to all readers who enjoy Jewish history. Many of the articles can easily serve as springboards for teachers of American and Jewish history who want to provide articles depicting the Civil War through memoirs, letters, diaries, rabbinical talks, and popular magazines as well as traditional historical sources.”

    —Jewish Book World

  • “In gathering together these widely scattered essays, Sarna and Mendelsohn reveal that we know much more than we ever thought we did about Jews and this great conflict. Just as the Civil War divided Americans, it divided Jews. Civil War buffs, historians, and anyone interested in the cataclysm which rent the nation will embrace this marvelous collection depicting how one group of Americans experienced that terrible time.”

    —Pamela S. Nadell, Inaugural Patrick Clendenen Professor of History, American University

  • “An excellent volume which contains many of the most authoritative scholarly essays on American Jewry and the Civil War. The volume sheds historical light on a wide range of fascinating subjects including Jews and slavery, Jews and Abolition, Jews in the military, and much more. Readers will be especially grateful for the learned and insightful editorial introductions that serve as forewords to each of the thematic sections. All those interested in the Civil War will want to own a copy of this rich resource. It is truly a cornucopia of historical insight.”

    —Gary P. Zola,, Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio

  • "Jews and the Civil War is an invaluable one-stop compendium, an essential and illuminating trove, much needed as we launch the Civil War Sesquicentennial."

    —Harold Holzer, Moment Magazine

  • "In this volume Professor Jonathan Sarna and his associate Adam Mendelsohn have collected nineteen essays published over the past 65 years that provide an overview of the roles Jews plays (in the Civil War). . . Jews and the Civil War will open the Civil War to many American Jews who are unaware that their ancestors played a role in the great struggle."

    —Fred Isaac, AJL Reviews

  • "This important book should inspire rising scholars to continue enlarging the boundaries of what we know about the Civil War and, indeed, enrich all those who seek a full account of this multifaceted and terrible conflict."

    —Israel Zoberman, Virginian-Pilot

  • "Sarna and Mendelson have compiled a fine collection of essays which explore the varied facets of the Jewish experience during the American Civil War."

    —Benjamin L. Miller, Journal of Southern Religion

  • "Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University and Adam Mendelsohn of the College of Charleston have collaborated to produce an exceptionally useful anthology of scholarship addressing the Jewish experience in the American Civil War. They bring together nineteen essays written over the past fifty years that explore various important aspects of the topic in one well-organized and accessible volume."

    —Matthew Semler, American Jewish Archives Journal

  • "An eclectic, informative collection of essays."

    —Sheldon Kirshner, The Canadian Jewish News

  • "Jews and the Civil War offers valuable information...and shows clearly that the Jewish experience sheds light on many otherwise dark corners of the Civil War."

    —Bryan Edward Stone, The Journal of Southern History

  • "This book brings a new Jews in the United States at the time of the Civil War. Interesting reading."

    —Jay Levinson, The Jewish Magazine

  • "The enlightening volume of Jews and the Civil War brings together invaluable and credible source material under one cover, enriching those who seek full account of the multifaceted Civil War whose ramifications and lessons are still with us today."

    Jewish News