In March of 1865, a Jewish Confederate Captain Samuel Yates Levy wrote his father from a Union prisoner of war camp, “I long to breathe the free air of Dixie.”
Many Jewish Southerners rallied to their states and sacrificed their lives in battle. It was probably the largest ethnic group to serve the Confederacy, made up of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation young men. Jewish families had settled in the South generations before the war. Jews had lived in Charleston, S.C., since 1695.
It’s been reported that the number of Jews serving the Confederacy may have been between 6,000 and 10,000. The Jewish population was more prosperous in the South, and the South was more tolerant to their religion than in the North.
It’s true that antisemitism existed in the South, but it was even worse in the North. General Grant issued the infamous General Order Number 11. It expelled Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Lincoln later demanded Grant revoke the order, but a great deal of damage had already been done to many Jewish families and communities.)
Here are a few of the outstanding Jewish Confederates:
Moses Jacob Ezekiel of Richmond fought at New Market with his fellow cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. His mother declared that she “would not tolerate a son who declined to fight for the Confederacy.”
Ezekiel later wrote in his memoirs:
“…we were not fighting for the perpetuation of slavery, but for the principles of States Rights and Free Trade, and in defense of our homes which were being ruthlessly invaded.”
Maj. Adolph Proskauer of Mobile was wounded several times. One of his officers wrote about him:
“I can see him now as he nobly carried himself at Gettysburg, standing coolly and calmly with a cigar in his mouth…. amid a perfect rain of bullets, shot, and shell. He was the personification of intrepid gallantry and imperturbable courage.”
David Camden DeLeon, known as the “Fighting Doctor” from his brave actions during the Mexican War, served as Jefferson Davis’ First Surgeon General of the Confederacy. He felt that he had no choice but to sign on to the Confederate cause.
In North Carolina, the six Cohen brothers fought in the 40th Infantry.
The most famous Southern Jew of the era was the brilliant Judah Benjamin. Often called the “brains of the Confederacy,” he served President Davis in three positions: Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State.
These are but a few of the many extraordinary men of the Jewish faith who fought for the South.
It seems that the Confederate States of America fully embraced its Jewish citizens who were loyal and fought with valor and honor to persevere a way of life. Hopefully, their descendants will remember with pride and work to preserve their remarkable history.