A Civil War Seder
After reading “Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War,” by Adam D. Mendelsohn, and writing review of it for The Jewish Veteran, I found “A Civil War Seder,” by Adam Reinherz, in the March 30 issue of Washington Jewish Week, most interesting.
Joseph A. Joel’s Passover is also described in Mendelsohn’s book although there are two minor discrepancies between the two: The first is that Mendelsohn writes that, along with the seven barrels of matzah, there were two prayer books. Reinherz cites from Joel’s 1866 writings that there were two Haggadahs and prayer books, which to me sounds more correct than Mendelsohn’s rendition, as Haggadahs are needed for a Passover seder.
The second discrepancy lies more with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, whose 10 years of research provided Mendelsohn with the data from which to write his book. Reinherz writes that Joel “and 20 fellow Jewish soldiers requested relief from duty to celebrate…Passover.” Mendelsohn is much more specific. He writes that Joel and “twenty of his comrades and co-religionists belonging to the Twenty-third Ohio Infantry were granted relief…”
The problem here is that according to the data researched by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the Twenty-third Ohio Infantry had only three Jews assigned to it. The Shapell data indicates that the Twenty-third had 91 Jews assigned among all of Ohio’s Union Army units. Where then did the other 17 Jews come from? They may have come from other nearby units, but obviously not the Twenty-third Ohio Infantry.
Research about Jewish soldiers in the Union Army shows they were, for the most part, reluctant to identify themselves as Jews, with many of them changing their names. This could also explain why only 20 asked to be able to celebrate Passover. There was, however, one other known Passover seder held by Jewish soldiers. It took place on 10 April 1863 at Sprague Barracks, New Dorp, Staten Island, and was briefly mentioned in the Jewish press but without details.
Sheldon A. Goldberg, Ph.D.,
Lt. Col. USAF (Ret), Rockville