The Jewish Soldier in History
Jews in the U.S. Army and Navy, 1898

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Wreckage of the U.S.S. Maine, 1898

Courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.

The article below appeared as part of the New York Tribune Illustrated Supplement on
September 18, 1898.




The order which was issued by Adjutant-General Corbin granting furloughs to soldiers of the Jewish faith who wish to attend religious services during the holidays which began on Friday evening caused some comment and a little criticism from those people who thought the order uncalled for, because they believed that there were no Jews in the United States Army.

The records have not been compiled, and cannot be perfected for some time to come, but the men who have given the matter attention estimate the number of Jews in the Army and the Navy at about four thousand. They have been recruited from all parts of the country and from all walks of life, and include many officers. In the inquiry into the Maine disaster, which precipitated the conflict with Spain, a Jew, Lieutenant-Commander Marix, acted as Judge Advocate, and Jews were among the soldiers who saluted the flag as it was hoisted over the municipal building at Santiago. There was not an engagement during the war in which Jews did not take part, and many Jewish names appear on the lists of killed and wounded and of those who died in hospitals. When the war broke out the Jews showed much interest in the pending contest, and one of the East Side jargon papers said:

"We do not only remember the Maine, but we remember also the horrible persecutions of our people by Spain, the rack, the torture chamber, and the synagogues converted into slaughter–pens by the Spaniards. We remember that our brother Jews were driven away from their homes, and that through the tyranny of Spain they became poor wanderers, although they left fortunes behind to be confiscated by the persecutors. We love the country where we have found freedom, and we can show it by taking up arms with it against our old enemy."


It was then proposed to recruit volunteer organizations in the Ghetto, and have Jewish companies, and possibly battalions or regiments. A prominent Jewish citizen went so far as to telegraph to President McKinley that 5,000 Jews were ready at his call in New York City alone. But the movement was not encouraged by the leaders in the Jewish community, who said that a Jewish regiment would be un-American, and as much out of place as a Catholic, a Methodist or a Presbyterian military body. But they encouraged men to enlist, "not as Jews, but as American citizens." And in that way they joined the Army, and every regiment which left New York had Jews either in its ranks or among its officers.

Among those who enlisted were many who belonged to the ultra-orthodox class. Some people wondered how they would manage to exist on rations composed in part of pork, which is considered unclean according to the ancient dietary laws. One of the rabbis who was instrumental in securing the furlough order said on this point:

"There are no laws in the Jewish faith which outweigh the laws of the land, and no matter where the Jew may live, it is his duty to conform to the laws of the land, and, being in the Army, it is his duty to subsist as the orders proscribe. Even the observance of the Sabbath is not compulsory when its observance conflicts with the Jew's duties as a citizen, and this point was decided in the time of the Maccabeans."

Although there are no Jewish chaplains in the Army, there have been Jewish religious services at several of the camps on occasions when soldiers wished to celebrate a death anniversary or when the last rites for the dead were read.


 Max Cohen, the secretary of the Orthodox Jewish Congregational Union of America, said:

"The Jews had a large representation in the volunteer army which is now being disbanded, and the history of modern wars shows that wherever the Jews have the rights of citizens they become soldiers. During the Franco-German War services were held on an important holiday in the field, at which hundreds of Jewish soldiers worshipped, and the records show that similar services were held in the South during the War of the Rebellion. Many of the Jews who were members of the present volunteer army have been discharged, but it is believed that the names will be reported, so that the fact may be established that the Jew did his share of the fighting."

It was the assertion on the part of a well-known writer that the Jews took no part in the Civil War that caused Simon Wolf to gather statistics on the subject, which were published in book form and read with great interest. In this work it was shown that the Jews were identified with the first steps which led toward independence. The author says:

They not only risked their lives in the War for Independence, but aided materially with their money to equip and maintain the armies of the Revolution. That they took part in the earliest stages of resistance to the encroachments of the mother country is proved by the signatures to the non-importation resolutions of 1765. Nine Jews were among the signers of the these resolutions, the adoption of which was the first organized movement in the agitation which eventually led to the independence of the colonies. The original document Is still preserved in Carpenter's Hall, in Philadelphia, and the following are the names of the Jews on that early roll of patriots: Benjamin Levy, Samson Levy, Joseph Jacobs, Hyman Levy, jr., David Franks, Mathias Bush, Michael Gratz, Barnard Gratz and Moses Mordecai.

A direct descendant of the last-named signer is Colonel Mordecai, who is now the commandant of the Watervliet Arsenal, at Watervliet, N.Y.


The number of Jews in this country at the time of the Revolutionary War was small, but even from the scant congregation there was a liberal representation in the Continental Army, and the statistics prepared by Mr. Wolf show that there were many Jewish officers of high rank under Washington. Among these were Colonel Solomon Bush, Captain Joseph Bloomfield, Surgeon Moses Bloomfield, Major Lewis Bush, Colonel Isaac Franks, Colonel David S. Franks, Quartermaster Benjamin Hart, Colonel Isaacs, Captain Jacob de la Motta, Major Benjamin Nones and many others, besides a large number of enlisted men.

When the war was over the Jewish congregations of Savannah, Ga., and Newport, R.I., sent addresses to General Washington, who said in one of his answers:

"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

When the War of 1812 began the Jewish population of the United States was estimated at 6,000. The muster rolls of that period show the names of many Jews, one of whom was Brigadier-General Bloomfield. The officer in command of the Port of New York was a Jew, Colonel Nathan Myers, and there were Jews in nearly every organization. Among the many Jews who fought on the American side in the Mexican War were General David De Leon, Colonel Leon Dyer, Colonel S. M. Hyams, Surgeon-General Moses Albert Levy, Lieutenant-Colonel Israel Moses and Surgeon Henry H. Steiner.

On the roster of the Regular Army there were up to 1895 the names of ninety-six Jews. The list includes the names of men in every branch of the service, many with a distinguished and all of them with an honorable record.


The record of the Jews in the United States Navy is also an honorable one and shows that they were represented in all grades, from the man before the mast to flag officer, and it is due to a Jew, Captain Uriah Phillips Levy, that corporal punishment was abolished in the United States Navy, and of the five names inscribed on the Tripoli Monument, in the Naval Academy grounds, one, Midshipman Israel, is that of a Jew.

The following list gives the number of Jews who served in the various wars:

In the Continental Army  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

In the War of 1812 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44

In the Mexican War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58

In the United States Regular Army . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..96

In the United States Navy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .......73

In the Civil War: Staff officers in the Union Army . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …....  16

In the Confederate Army . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....24

Officers in the Confederate Navy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..... 11

Soldiers in the Union and the Confederate armies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............7,984

The largest number of Jews enlisted from New York, where 1,996 were enrolled and went to the front. Ohio came next, with 1,004 men, and Illinois next, with 702. Louisiana furnished the Confederacy with 224 Jewish soldiers, which was more than balanced by little New Jersey's list of 277 in the Union Army.

The proposition to have a parade of the Jewish soldiers has been spoken of, but men of standing in the Jewish community laugh at the idea and say that they will not encourage the scheme.

"We are proud to have the men come to our places of worship," said a member of the Orthodox Society, "and the field uniform of a United States soldier looks well in a synagogue, and there he may be a Jew, but on parade he can be only a soldier, and no one should question his religion, nor should he make a show of it."





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