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General Orders No. 11
Cesar Kaskel’s faith in America was wavering. Born in the town of Rawitsch, then part of Prussia, he, like tens of thousands of other young Jews in the 1850s, had left home and endured a long, perilous voyage across the Atlantic in hopes of establishing himself in business in the United States. Opportunities in Prussia were circumscribed for Jews, owing to domestic unrest, a failing economy, and severe legal limitations on where they could live and what kinds of occupations they could pursue. America, Kaskel had heard, was different. Dispatches in the German-Jewish press and letters received from earlier immigrants reported that in America opportunity was unlimited and freedom guaranteed to people of all faiths—Jews included. That guarantee, Kaskel now feared, had been voided.
Moving to Paducah, Kentucky, in 1858, Kaskel imagined he had found just the opportunity he had been looking for. The newly incorporated city, located on the Ohio River below the mouth of the Tennessee River and fifty miles up from the Mississippi, was booming. Its population grew exponentially, reaching almost five thousand residents by the Civil War. A timely investment by city fathers in the stock of the New Orleans and Ohio Railway brought Paducah excellent rail connections and a growing volume of trade. Kaskel and his business partner, merchant Solomon Greenbaum, looked to participate in this prodigious growth. They set themselves up in business.
Two years later, in 1860, a Kentucky native son, Abraham Lincoln, was elected the sixteenth president of the United States. Fewer than 1 percent of Kentucky voters supported him. Fearing that the new president and his party threatened slavery and the distinctive character of life in the South, seven Southern states, led by South Carolina, seceded to form the Confederate States of America. When the Confederacy bombarded the coastal fortification of Fort Sumter at the entrance to Charleston harbor on April 12, 1861, forcing it to surrender, war broke out. Once President Lincoln called for troops to quell the rebellion, four more states, including Virginia, joined the Confederacy, while four states on the border between the North and the South, including Kentucky, did not.
The Civil War disrupted economic life in Paducah and changed Kaskel’s life for the worse. The North began restricting Southern trade with Paducah as early as June 12, 1861, seeking to place economic pressure on the Confederacy. On September 6, Ulysses S. Grant and his troops captured and occupied the city, further restricting its trade with the South. The state of Kentucky declared itself neutral in the war, but Grant believed that the majority of Paducah’s citizens “would have much preferred the presence of the other army.” Be that as it may, at least some of the city’s thirty-odd Jews publicly supported the Union’s cause. Cesar Kaskel was one of them; he served as vice president of the Paducah Union League Club. His younger brother, Julius, operated as a recruiter for the Union army.
The disruption of free trade in Paducah created bountiful opportunities for speculators and smugglers, who always find ways to profit from wartime shortages and imbalances between supply and demand. While merchants like Kaskel burnished their pro-Union credentials in hopes of obtaining precious trade permits, officials entrusted with governing trade in and out of the city found backhanded ways to line their own pockets; so did many soldiers. In short order, public corruption rose, mutual trust declined, and recriminations abounded. As is so often the case in such circumstances, suspicion fell particularly upon the Jews, long stereotyped in Christian culture as being financially unscrupulous. Jews became the focus for much of the hatred and mistrust that the war unleashed within the city. Even though few in number in Paducah, they played an outsized role in business and trade, and as immigrants they were easily marked by their European accents and foreign ways. Unionists and Confederates alike doubted their loyalties—partly because they doubted the loyalty of all Jews and partly because Jews nationwide were known to be on both sides of the struggle. Many therefore assumed, even in the absence of supporting evidence, that “secessionists and Jews” were engaged in “rascally conduct” in Paducah and that widespread smuggling was carried out “as usual chiefly by Jews.”
Tense as conditions were in Paducah, nothing had prepared Cesar Kaskel for the events of December 28, 1862, and his agitated response to them was understandable. Pursuing his business, in his words, as a “peaceable, law abiding citizen,” he was suddenly summoned, on a Sunday, to report “immediately” to Paducah’s provost marshal, Captain L. J. Waddell. There he was handed the following order banishing him from the city:
OFFICE OF PROVOST MARSHAL
Paducah, Ky., December 28, 1862
C. J. Kaskel—Sir: In pursuance of General Order No 11, issued from General Grant’s headquarters, you are hereby ordered to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours after receiving this order.
L. J. WADDELL,
Captain and Provost Marshal
Kaskel was not the only person ordered to leave. As he heatedly informed the newspapers, anyone “born of Jewish parents” was likewise expelled: “nearly thirty other gentlemen, mostly married, all respectable men, and old residents of Paducah, two of whom have served their country . . . and all loyal to the Government.” Women and children were expelled too, and in the confusion—so it was recalled years later—one baby was almost forgotten, and two dying women had to be left behind in the care of neighbors. Historian John E. L. Robertson preserves a (dubious) local tradition that citizens of Paducah hid some Jews to prevent their being sent away. “One soldier,” he reports, “is said to have knocked on the door of a Jew and demanded, ‘What are you?’ The resident of the house answered truthfully, ‘Tailor.’ To which the none-too-bright soldier replied, ‘Sorry to bother you, Mr. Taylor, but I’m looking for Jews.’ ”
Cesar Kaskel quickly came to understand that Captain Waddell, in expelling him from his home, was simply following orders. The decision to evict Jews from the vast war zone under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant—known as the “Department of the Tennessee,” but actually stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Illinois, and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River—appeared in a document entitled “General Orders No. 11” issued under Grant’s own signature eleven days earlier, on December 17. Waddell handed Kaskel a copy of Grant’s scarcely-to-be-believed order, and he wisely preserved it. Subsequently described as “the most sweeping anti-Jewish regulation in all American history,” it read as follows:
GENERAL ORDERS No. 11, Hdqrs. 13th A.C. Dept. of the Tenn.,
Holly Springs, December 17, 1862.
The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application for trade permits.
By order of Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant:
JNO. A. RAWLINS,
Kaskel instantly decided to fight the order expelling him from his home. His faith in America, after all, hung in the balance. There was, however, nobody of authority in Paducah with whom to fight. Nor, even had he tried, could he have appealed to General Grant. Less than seventy-two hours after issuing General Orders No. 11, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs had been surprised by thirty-five hundred Confederate raiders led by Major General Earl Van Dorn. Since Grant himself was far from the scene, and the commanding officer, Robert C. Murphy, was “out at some entertainment” that made him, in the delicate words of a contemporary journalist, “a trifle over bold,” the results proved devastating: “Holly Springs was surrounded by rebel cavalry and surrendered without resistance; over a million rations burned, several hundred bales of cotton destroyed . . . and 2,000 troops [captured].” Simultaneous raids to the north by troops of the dreaded Confederate cavalryman General Nathan Bedford Forrest inflicted significant damage and tore up fifty miles of railroad and telegraph lines.
Communications between Grant’s headquarters and the military command were disrupted for weeks by these surprise attacks. As a result, news of Grant’s order expelling the Jews spread slowly and did not reach army headquarters in a timely fashion—sparing many Jews who might otherwise have been banished. Nor did remonstrations against the order reach Grant. To overturn General Orders No. 11, Kaskel would have to appeal to superiors in Washington.
Following time-tested traditions of Jewish politics, Kaskel began by appealing to the highest governmental power available. Long experience with persecution had persuaded Jews “that their ultimate safety and welfare could be entrusted neither to the erratic benevolence of their gentile neighbors nor to the caprice of local authorities.” Kaskel appealed instead to the president of the United States. Within just a few hours of being served with the order of expulsion, and without any known assistance from leading Jews of the time, Kaskel, his brother Julius, merchant Daniel Wolff, and Wolff’s two brothers, Marcus and Alexander, dispatched a joint telegram to Abraham Lincoln at the White House. In it, they briefly set forth the terms of General Orders No. 11, described themselves as “good and loyal citizens of the United States,” and pronounced themselves—as Americans—“greatly insulted and outraged by this inhuman order, the carrying out of which would be the grossest violation of the Constitution, and our rights as good citizens under it.” They pointed to the larger implications of Grant’s order, which, if allowed to stand, would stigmatize Jews “as outlaws before the whole world.” They appealed to Lincoln for his “immediate attention to this enormous outrage on all law and humanity” and asked for his “effectual and immediate interposition.” With their own imminent deportation uppermost in their minds, they requested, in the final sentence of their costly telegram, that “immediate instructions . . . be sent to the commander of this post.” Three times in three sentences they repeated the word “immediate.” They were desperate.
Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw this telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), freeing Confederate-held slaves as “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution.” The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on some contemporaries. The Memphis Daily Bulletin published the two documents, one above the other. The juxtaposition of these events, as we shall see, also shaped the responses of several Jewish leaders to Grant’s order. They feared that Jews would replace Blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority. But on December 31, when the telegram was read by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, all of this was far from anybody’s mind. Not being familiar with Kaskel, and having no knowledge of the events that the telegram described, Halleck, with characteristic caution, sought to obtain more information. “Respectfully referred to Gen[era]l Grant for report,” he noted in his endorsement. By the time Grant reported, two weeks later, the order had been discussed in the halls of Congress.
Kaskel, in the meanwhile, did not wait patiently. His telegram to Lincoln unanswered, he climbed aboard the steamship Charley Bowen, which would carry him and other Jews out of Grant’s department, and hastily penned a strongly worded account of their banishment for distribution to the press. The Associated Press picked up the story, and it appeared, dated December 30, 1862, in a number of newspapers, headlined, in one case, “Expulsion of Jews from General Grant’s Department—The Circumstances Stated and Documents Quoted.” As a merchant, Kaskel intuitively understood the power of public opinion. He concluded his account, effectively, with a plea for help: “On my way to Washington, in order to get this most outrageous and inhuman order of Major General Grant countermanded, I ask you, gentlemen, to lend the powerful aid of the press to the suffering cause of outraged humanity; to blot out as quick as possible this stain on our national honor, and to show the world that the American people, as a nation, brand the author of that infamous order as unworthy of their respect and confidence.”
Kaskel passed through Cairo, Illinois, and probably Cincinnati on his Paul Revere–like ride to Washington. He spread the word of Grant’s order wherever he went. Armed with letters from Rabbi Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati and the prominent Cincinnati merchant Daniel Wolf, he hurried on. He was determined to do whatever it took to have Grant’s order reversed and his faith in America restored.
While Kaskel made his way as quickly as he could to Washington, other Jewish leaders, alerted to the order, swung into action. The most important by far was Isaac Mayer Wise, Cincinnati’s most prominent rabbi, the editor of the Israelite, the region’s most widely read Jewish newspaper, and one of the country’s leading proponents of Jewish religious reform. At forty-three, the hyperactive, somewhat contentious, and voluble rabbi was in the prime of his life. He had been in America for sixteen years, achieved mastery of the English language, and won friends in high places. Pragmatic, flexible, and politically savvy, he generally advocated compromise for the sake of unity both within the Jewish community and in the nation as a whole. Consequently, the “live and let live” policy of Democrats like Stephen A. Douglas strongly appealed to him, the policies of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party largely repelled him, and the “fanatical” abolitionists, some of whom displayed deep religious prejudice against Jews, frightened and alienated him. Residing opposite a border state, with “dear friends and near relations . . . in either section of the country,” Wise favored peace and sectional self-determination to uphold the union, even if that meant acquiescing to slavery. When it came to the rights of Jews, though, he was uncompromising. He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League, chronicling antisemitic slurs and actions and doing all in his power to combat them.
News of Grant’s order first reached Wise independently of Kaskel. Jews expelled from Holly Springs, some of whom were compelled to trudge forty miles on foot to Memphis, communicated with him. Details of their experiences were somewhat garbled (an early report referred to Grant’s order as “No. 29”), but the rabbi quickly understood that what had happened was an “outrage, without a precedent in American history.” He urged all whom the order victimized to send him, without delay, “affidavits to this effect, made before a justice of the peace or a notary public, or publish them in other newspapers, and send us the publications.” He insisted, as warriors against prejudice almost invariably do, that it was “everybody’s business” to investigate the prejudicial order, since what had happened to Jews could happen to other spurned nationalities and religious communities, like the Irish or Catholics generally (in fact, they did face significant wartime prejudice, but never orders of expulsion). Most of all, he sought to rouse his own community to action:
Israelites, citizens of the United States, you have been outraged, your rights as men and citizens trampled into the dust, your honor disgraced, as a class you have officially been degraded! It is your duty, the duty of self-defense, your duty first to bring this matter clearly before the president of the United States and demand redress, the satisfaction due to the citizen who has been mortified and offended.
Privately, though, Wise counseled caution. He worried, given the temper of the times, that too strong a Jewish protest could backfire. In letters to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, he explained that “this is a time of excitement and I do not wish to pour oil in the fire. I do not wish to excite prejudices against military men, as they need all the confidence of the people.” Having spelled out for Stanton the substance of General Orders No. 11 and the contents of “legal affidavits” recounting four different examples of Jews who were expelled from Grant’s territory, barred from entering it, or otherwise degraded because of the order, he called upon Stanton “to make an end to this chicanery.” He hinted that timely action by the secretary of war would forestall the kinds of protests that could only hinder the war effort.
In a follow-up letter five days later, Wise revealed—as he did nowhere else—that he personally opposed sending delegations to the president, but that “notwithstanding my opposition, deputations from Louisville, Ky, Paducah, Ky, Cincinnati and elsewhere have been appointed . . . and I must go with them to Washington.” He encouraged Stanton to move quickly, “previous to the call of the committees.” With Kaskel and so many others en route to Washington, he faced a dilemma that many a leader can empathize with. Those whom he had himself helped to bestir now sought to move further and faster than he did, and he worried that they might rush ahead and cause mischief.
The other “deputations” preparing to descend upon Washington, besides Kaskel, consisted of leaders and would-be leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish life. How many planned to come is unknown, but there were enough of them to catch the attention of journalists. “Deputations of Jews are arriving here to solicit the President to countermand or modify the order of Gen. Grant excluding Israelites from his lines,” one newspaper reported. With the American Jewish community decentralized and divided, many claimed to represent the Jewish community in America, but none did so with authority.
The recently established and grandly titled Board of Delegates of American Israelites (its name echoing that of London Jewry’s influential Board of Deputies), representing some twenty-five mostly East Coast congregations, was poised to send a deputation of notables to Washington. It closely followed events in the capital through the eyes of Adolphus Solomons, proprietor of the notable bookselling, printing, and publishing establishment Philp & Solomons, close to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Board’s leaders had called an emergency meeting and were discussing what to do when a reassuring telegram from Solomons brought word that they could stay home. The Board subsequently took far more credit than it was due for its response to Grant’s order. Events overtook it.
The Jewish fraternal organization B’nai B’rith, which boasted lodges across the United States, likewise geared up to lobby against Grant’s order. An eloquent plea from the order’s Missouri lodges, addressed to President Lincoln, insisted that Jews were a “class of loyal citizens,” who had been “driven from their homes, deprived of their liberty, and injured in their property without having violated any law or regulation” and who were “sacrificing their lives and fortunes for the union and the suppression of this rebellion.” It called upon the president “to annul that Order and to protect the liberties even of your humblest constituents.” Attorney General Edward Bates, who forwarded this poignant document to Lincoln, expressed “no particular interest in the subject.” Lincoln, as we shall see, was interested, but needed no encouragement from humble Missouri constituents. Even before their petition was mailed, he had acted.
The B’nai B’rith petition remains valuable nevertheless, for it listed the locations where Grant’s order had been enforced against Jews: “Holly Springs, Trenton, Corinth, Paducah, Jackson, and other places.” These were not the major Jewish population centers in Grant’s department; far more Jews lived in Memphis. Some 150,000 Jews, most of them new immigrants, lived in the United States as a whole at that time, at least 25,000 of them in the lands of the Confederacy. Yet where Grant’s order might have led to the expulsion of thousands of Jews, it seems to have affected fewer than one hundred. Aside from Kaskel and his fellow Jews in Paducah, almost all those expelled were residents and traders in the vicinity of the main body of Grant’s army, in northern Mississippi.
To be sure, some were treated roughly. A “Mr. Silberman” from Chicago, temporarily in Holly Springs, was reportedly imprisoned for twelve hours just for the “crime” of seeking to telegraph General Grant to find out if the expulsion order he received was genuine. An unnamed young Jewish trader and his fiancée, traveling through Grant’s department on their way east, described in New York’s Jewish Record how they were detained, forbidden to change out of wet clothes, robbed of their horses and buggy, verbally abused, and also had one of their trunks burned and their pockets picked in the wake of the order. Their expulsion, if not their mistreatment, was explained by Brigadier General James Tuttle, commander of the Union garrison in Cairo, Illinois, with the utmost simplicity: “You are Jews, and . . . neither a benefit to the Union or Confederacy.”
As painful as these and parallel stories of Jewish mistreatment undoubtedly were, it is the widespread disregard of Grant’s order in the large territory under his command that actually cries out for explanation. Part of the reason, we have seen, was the breakdown of communications following the attacks on Holly Springs. Some in Grant’s department never saw General Orders No. 11, while others who asked questions before carrying the order out likely received no replies.
One obvious question that may have given commanders pause was whether the expulsion order applied to soldiers who were Jewish. Of the eight to ten thousand Jews who donned uniforms during the Civil War, many hundreds, in late 1862, were serving under Grant, including a lieutenant colonel named Marcus M. Spiegel and a captain of the Ohio Volunteer Cavalry named Philip Trounstine. According to the broadest interpretation of Grant’s order (“The Jews, as a class . . . are hereby expelled from the Department”), they should all have been banished. Nobody is known to have interpreted the order that way, but the presence of Jews in the ranks may well have delayed the order’s execution in some instances.
At least four different officers did telegraph Grant to inquire as to whether his order applied to Jewish sutlers, the merchants and peddlers who followed the military camps selling tobacco, liquor, clothing, foodstuffs, and a wide range of other nonmilitary goods in stores on or near the post, under license from the commander. The word “sutler” comes from a root meaning “to follow a mean or low occupation” (the word “soot” comes from the same cognate), and no doubt for that reason Jews, even back in Europe, had long been permitted to engage in it. As so often before, they were admitted into this less-than-respected trade and then hated all the more for practicing it. It was risky, unpopular, but nevertheless vital and lucrative work, and immigrant Jews with long experience in peddling, marketing, and extending credit took it up during the Civil War, several of them serving in the territory under Grant’s command. If Jewish sutlers were expelled, commanders wondered, who would meet the day-to-day needs of the soldiers? While they waited for an answer, most commanders allowed their Jewish sutlers to keep on working.
Finally, and most significantly, there is evidence that at least one commander refused to carry out Grant’s order, believing it to be illegal. Isaac Mayer Wise, relying on information from Jews in the field, reported that General Jeremiah Cutler Sullivan “refused to execute Grant’s order,” on the grounds that “he thought he was an officer of the army and not of a church.” Sullivan had himself worked as a lawyer and came from a family eminent in the law. His father was a justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and his brother, Algernon Sydney Sullivan, later cofounded the white-shoe New York law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. This may have made the general especially sensitive to human rights abuses and those legal “niceties” too often overlooked (even in our day) on the field of battle. At the time of Grant’s order, General Sullivan commanded the District of Jackson, Tennessee, and was busy repelling Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s marauders. So his instinctive refusal to carry out Grant’s order is instructive. While additional evidence concerning those who refused to carry out Grant’s order is lacking, Wise reports that Sullivan’s principled resistance to the order was eventually broken: “He was forced after 4 days to enforce it.”
Cesar Kaskel, making his way as fast as he could to Washington, probably knew nothing about any of this. Arriving in the nation’s capital just as the Sabbath was concluding on January 3—travel on the Jewish day of rest would have been sanctioned even by the most scrupulous authorities, given the nature of his mission—he called at once upon Cincinnati congressman John Addison Gurley. Gurley was a Republican, and though defeated in his 1862 bid for reelection, he had Jewish friends and supporters in Cincinnati and enjoyed ready access to the White House. The ousted congressman, with Kaskel in tow, sought an immediate audience with the president, and according to the likely embellished account published many years later, Lincoln “sent word that he was ‘always glad to see his friends,’ and shortly made his appearance.” The president turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many nineteenth-century Americans linked Jews to ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:
Lincoln: And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?
Kaskel: Yes, and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.
Lincoln: And this protection they shall have at once.
Even if (as seems likely) no such conversation actually took place, Lincoln did instantly command the general in chief of the army, Henry Halleck, to countermand General Orders No. 11. He reassured Kaskel that he had nothing further to worry about and could return home. Halleck, for his part, still had trouble believing in the authenticity of the original order, though Kaskel had shown him a copy. Consequently, in writing to Grant, he chose his words carefully. “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram of January 4 read, “it will be immediately revoked.” Two days later, several urgent telegrams went out from Grant’s headquarters in obedience to that demand: “By direction of the General in Chief of the Army at Washington,” they read, “the General Order from these Head Quarters expelling Jews from this Department is hereby revoked.”
Kaskel, by then, was safely home in Paducah, having reached there before the revocation became known. When the post commander demanded to know by whose orders he had returned, Kaskel, even years later, recalled his vigorous and definitive reply: “By order of the President of the United States.” Thanks to Lincoln, his faith in the country had been restored.
Unofficially, Halleck’s assistant adjutant general, John C. Kelton, explained to Grant the president’s central problem with General Orders No. 11: “It excluded a whole class, instead of certain obnoxious individuals.” Sixteen days later, Halleck followed this up with an official explanation, likely prepared for public consumption:
It may be proper to give you some explanation of the revocation of your order expelling all Jews from your department. The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which, I suppose, was the object of your order; but, as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.
News of the revocation soon spread. Newspapers across the country carried the story. Adolphus Solomons personally confirmed the news in a jubilant telegram to the Board of Delegates (“Feeling happy to have it in my power to attest the promptitude of our Government in countermanding the ill-liberal and un-lawful ‘order’ of Genl. Grant”). Delegations of Jews from Cincinnati and Louisville, on their way to Washington to lobby against General Orders No. 11, also heard the news, probably from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which carried it in its issue of January 6th.Rather than turning around in Philadelphia and going home, though, they decided to continue onward and thank the president personally for what he had done.
Owing once again to Congressman James A. Gurley’s influential ties to the White House, the Cincinnati and Louisville delegations quickly got in to see Lincoln—so quickly, indeed, that the delegates, including rabbis, lawyers, and one of Grant’s victims, Abraham Goldsmith of Paducah, had no time to change out of their traveling clothes. Isaac Mayer Wise, who participated in the meeting, wrote a widely circulated account of what transpired. Though he had not previously been one of the president’s acolytes, he was now deeply impressed. Lincoln, he reported, “knows of no distinction between Jew and Gentile.” In addition, he “feels no prejudice against any nationality,” and “by no means will allow that a citizen in any wise be wronged on account of his place of birth or religious confession.” “To condemn a class,” he quoted Lincoln as declaring, thereby turning Grant’s order practically on its head, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”