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June 2: Jews of the Confederacy

Lawrence Bush
June 2, 2010

slaveryHenry Gintzberger of Salem, Virginia was killed at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War on this date in 1864. Gintzberger, who fought under Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorville and was wounded at Gettysburg, is one of thirty “Hebrew Confederate Soldiers” buried in the Hebrew Confederate Cemetery in Richmond, the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the state of Israel. (Gintzberger was wrongly named “Gersberg” on a plaque erected by the Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association of Richmond, Virginia, which was organized in 1866. A Richmond historian whose father served with Gintzberger correctly identified the dead soldier after some twenty years of research.) About 3,000 Jews fought in the Confederate army (a third of all Jews in America lived in Louisiana at the start of the Civil War, according to the Washington Times). Among the best-known Jews on that side of the divide were Judah Benjamin, the first Jewish U.S. Senator, a slave-holder who served as the Confederate States’ attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of war; and Simon Baruch, who fought at the Battle of Second Manassas and eventually became surgeon general of the Confederacy — and the father of New Deal financier Bernard Baruch. In 2007, the Manischewitz Company thought it appropriate, without a hint of irony, to include in its “specially marked, limited edition” boxes of matse a letter from a Confederate soldier about his celebration of Passover — the holiday of freedom from slavery!

moses_joshua_lazarus_3rgt“We were not fighting for the perpetuation of slavery, but for the principle of States Rights and Free Trade, and in defense of our homes which were being ruthlessly invaded.” —Moses Jacob Ezekiel, Confederate soldier and sculptor

This article has been updated to state a more accurate figure for the number of Jews who fought for the Confederacy.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.