Jonathan Sarna’s efforts to “rescue” the reputation of General Ulysses S. Grant and to exonerate President Abraham Lincoln for their expulsion of the Jews from their conquered territory is not supported by the available evidence (“Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews,” March 2).
Indeed, the expulsion order was consistent with other statements and orders by top Union officials.
On Dec. 17, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Grant issued his infamous “General Order No. 11,” expelling all Jews “as a class” from his conquered territories within 24 hours.
A few months earlier, on Aug. 11, General William Tecumseh Sherman had warned in a letter to the Adjutant General of the Union Army that “the country will swarm with dishonest Jews” if continued trade in cotton is encouraged. (Sherman, in a letter written in 1858, had described Jews as “… without pity, soul, heart, or bowels of compassion …”).
And Grant also issued orders on Nov. 9 and 10, 1862 banning southward travel in general, stating that “the Israelites especially should be kept out … no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward from any point. They may go north and be encouraged in it; but they are such an intolerable nuisance, that the department must be purged of them.”
As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Ky., Holly Springs and Oxford Miss., and a few were sent to prison. When some Jewish victims protested to Lincoln, Attorney General Edward Bates advised the president that he was indifferent to such objections, “myself feeling no particular interest in the subject.”
Nevertheless, on Jan. 4, 1863, Lincoln had Grant’s odious order rescinded. But by then, some Jewish families in the area had been expelled, humiliated, terrified and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.
The officials responsible for the United States government’s most vicious anti-Jewish actions ever were never dismissed, admonished or, apparently, even officially criticized for the religious persecution they inflicted on innocent citizens.
Lincoln cannot escape some blame and responsibility for these hateful actions by his administration, though this may be hard for some historians, who idolize Lincoln, to accept.
The writer is descended from the Moses family of South Carolina and Georgia, of which almost three dozen of its sons fought for the Confederacy.