January 4, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to order Major General Ulysses S. Grant to rescind his controversial General Order No. 11.
Cesar Kaskel, a prominent Jewish Unionist from Paducah, Kentucky, traveled to Washington to protest Grant’s order expelling all Jews from his military department. As he traveled, Kaskel collected letters from rabbis and Jewish leaders along the way supporting the protest. He arrived at the capital to find that many other Jews had come to demand the order be revoked as well.
Kaskel connected with former congressman and current lobbyist John A. Gurley of Ohio, who arranged for him to meet Lincoln on the 4th. At the meeting, Kaskel explained that the order called for all Jews, not just those accused of illegally trading with Confederates, to leave. This forced him and thousands of other Jewish Unionists from their homes. Lincoln claimed he did not know that Grant had issued such an order, and he quickly directed him, though Halleck, to revoke it.
Halleck wrote Grant that day, “A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms it expels all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.” Grant complied three days later: “By direction of General-in-Chief of the Army, at Washington, the general order from these headquarters expelling Jews from the department is hereby revoked.”
But by that time, the order had generated great controversy in the press and among both Jews and Gentiles. Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, editor of the Cincinnati Israelite, urged Jews to go to Washington to protest the order and demand a formal apology from Grant. An editorial in the New York Times lamented that “it remained for the freest Government on earth to witness a momentary revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.”
Halleck explained the situation more fully to Grant in a letter endorsed by Lincoln on the 21st:
“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.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 243-44, 253; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 251, 256; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 308-09, 313-14; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 320-21