Cesar Kaskel, a prominent Jewish Unionist from Paducah, Kentucky, traveled to Washington to protest Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s controversial General Order Number 11, which called for the expulsion of all Jews from the Military Department of the Tennessee. As Kaskel traveled, he 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 with President Abraham Lincoln on January 4. At the meeting, Kaskel explained that while Grant had supposedly meant to ban all who were illegally trading with Confederates (many of whom happened to be Jewish), the order called for all Jews, regardless of occupation, 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 General-in-Chief Henry W. 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.” The furor over this controversial order soon died down.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Longacre, Edward G. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.