Pesach and The Civil War

The Jerusalem Post had an interesting article over Passover about Jews in the Confederate and Union armies celebrating the holiday during the war:

It was April 24, 1864, at the height of the American Civil War, and in between his duties as an infantryman, young Isaac J. Levy sat down in camp on one of the intermediate days of Passover to write a short letter to his sister back home. Levy, who served in the 46th Virginia infantry unit, was a soldier in the Confederate army which was battling on behalf of the southern states that sought to secede from the United States.

But Levy went on to assure her that his brother had purchased matza “sufficient to last us for the week” in the city of Charleston at the cost of two dollars per pound, and that they were “observing the festival in a truly Orthodox style.”

The article goes on to highlight our numbers in uniform on both sides: 10,000 total with about 3,000 Confederates and 7,000 Northerners. We had nine Jews reach the rank of general and 21 made colonel. The author highlights some of the more prominent and important soldiers who influenced the war or were recognized for their bravery.

Sergeant Major Abraham Cohn of the New Hampshire Infantry, was singled out by the assistant adjutant general of the United States for “conspicuous gallantry displayed in the Battle of the Wilderness [of May 1864], in rallying and forming disorganized troops under heavy fire; also for bravery and coolness in carrying orders to the advance lines under murderous fire in the Battle of the Mine, July 30, 1864.”

He also ponders the issue of whether Confederate soldiers saw a parallel between the slavery they were fighting to preserve and the freedom from slavery they were themselves celebrating during Pesach – one that must have been difficult to reconcile.

It’s a fascinating article, full of interesting tidbits and stories. My absolute favorite is this one about the bond of Judaism overcoming the vitriol of the ideological differences between the two sides:

One day during a Passover, Union soldier Myer Levy of Philadelphia was walking through a captured Virginia town, when he saw a boy sitting on the steps of his house and eating matza. When Levy asked for some, the boy leaped up and ran into the house shouting, “Mother, there’s a damn-Yankee Jew outside!” The boy’s mother came out and invited Levy to return that evening for a Passover meal.

Read the full article here: Passover on the battlefields of the US Civil War