Review by William C. Davis
On December 17, 1862, General U.S. Grant, then in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, issued General Order Number 11. In it, he addressed the growing problem that black marketers were causing in his command, and to solve that problem he ordered all Jews within the limits of his command to leave. For all his pre-eminent military savvy, Grant could be naïve on occasion and surely never more so than with this order. The repercussions of that order would follow him for the rest of his professional career, especially when he ran for the presidency in 1868 and 1872. In fact, by the time of his death, more than 10,000 articles appeared in newspapers alone, mostly lambasting Grant for what remains the most egregious anti-Semitic government order in our history.
How Grant came to issue that controversial decree is for the first time the subject of a full-blown study. When General Grant Expelled the Jews is groundbreaking history from distinguished historian Jonathan Sarna, and it reveals so much ignored or misunderstood context both predating the order, and following the storm of criticism that it unleashed.
Grant himself was no more anti-Semitic than most other Americans of his time. Western men especially had had little interaction with any of the 150,000 American Jews of the time. It was easy for him to believe stereotypes. Worse, his father, Jesse Grant, attempted to capitalize on his son’s influence and came to him in company with a family of Jewish merchants, trying to get Grant to give them special favor in profiting from the market in smuggled goods. If Grant’s chief of staff may be believed, that outraged the general, who believed that the merchants had duped his father.
Beyond doubt there were Jewish merchants trading in black market goods at that time, though no one can tell how many. Certainly Jews were not “as a class” doing so, as Grant’s order suggested, but in the way of most Western nations at the time, the press seemed usually to exaggerate its stories when the offenders were Jews. President Lincoln immediately rescinded the order and officially the matter died there, Grant making no protest, but for the rest of the war the charge of anti-Semitism followed him.
The best part of When General Grant Expelled the Jews comes in the narrative covering the years after the war, when Grant would become a leading light for tolerance and discouragement of prejudice against Jews. Indeed, no president of his century did as much to assimilate Jews into his administration, and after leaving office Grant would include the future Israel on his world tour. Sarna does an outstanding job of detailing how Grant redeemed himself for one moment of poor judgment, and ended his days being regarded as, in fact, one of the most tolerant and forward- thinking Christian Americans of his time.
Hardcover Book : 224 pages
Publisher: Schocken Books Inc, Div Of Random ( March 20, 2012 )
Item #: 13-483441
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 x 0.56inches
Product Weight: 12.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Several weeks ago at the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, I saw a movie about Jews in the Civil War. This was the first time I had heard of the attempted expulsion of Jews, and US Grant's infamous General Order 11. This book is an excellent follow-up to the film. Many of the personages were new to me. It appears that Grant tried very hard to make amends to the Jews, with mixed results. It is said that if 3 Jews congregate, you will get 3 opinions. This book bears witness to this idea. As a Jew, I will recommend this book to everyone I know interested in Civil War History. It represents a little known side of this conflict. Kudos to the author!!!!
Reviewer: Howard S