Letter by Lewis Regenstein
Editor’s Note: The text of the letter below was sent via email by Lewis Regenstein to Rabbi Boteach back in August 2005 when Boteach’s article (text below) first appeared. Boteach did not extend the courtesy of a reply to Mr. Regenstein.
The falsehoods, bigotry and ignorance in Boteach’s commentary are so shocking and outrageous, we considered not repeating them here below. Example: Boteach compares Robert E. Lee to Al Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda terrorist. But Truth trumps our comfort zones and it is necessary that our readers understand the depth of bigotry and ignorance directed toward the South. We can’t decide if Boteach’s commentary is willful deception or shocking ignorance of American history. In any event, Mr. Regenstein’s command of the facts and his considerable patience are admirable. He presumes Rabbi Boteach to be ignorant until proven a willful liar.
Dear Rabbi Boteach,
Your vicious and ignorant article, comparing the Confederacy with terrorists and calling it "a truly evil cause", shows that you know little about the Civil War, its causes and participants.
It is especially offensive to the multitude of Southern Jews who served their country with great honor, sacrificing much, sometimes their lives, and all they owned, defending their people and cities that were under attack by the North.
Moreover, to describe war criminals like Grant and Sherman as "great men" shows that you must be completely ignorant of the fact that they were notorious anti-Semites. Indeed, prejudice against Our People was blatant in the North, while Jews in the South were largely accepted and treated as other citizens. Indeed, General Robert E. Lee went out of his way to accomodate his Jewish soldiers so they could observe their holy days.
All this is described in detail in Robert Rosen’s "The Jewish Confederates" and Mel Young’s "Last Order of the Lost Cause," as well as many other histories of the era.
Moreover, that "great man" Grant and his family owned slaves throughout the War and did not free them until it had ended.
Some 3,500 to 5,000 Jews fought honorably and loyally for the Confederacy, including its Secretary of War and later State, Judah Benjamin. My then 16 year old great grandfather (Andrew Jackson Moses) served, as did his four brothers, their uncle, his three sons, and some two dozen other members of my Mother’s extended family (The Moses’ of South Carolina and Georgia). More than half a dozen of them fell in battle, largely teenagers, including the first and last Confederate Jews to die in battle (Albert Moses Luria and Joshua Lazarus Moses).
We know first hand, from their letters, diaries, and memoirs, that they and their comrades-in-arms were not fighting for slavery, but rather to defend themselves, their families, homes, and country from an often brutal invading army that was trying to kill them, burn their homes and cities, and destroy everything they had.
Towards the end of the War, a unit of Sherman’s army, which had just burned nearby Columbia, South Carolina, headed towards my family’s hometown of Sumter, presumably to do the same to it. My great grandfather rode out to fight Potter’s Raiders, along with some other teenagers, old men, and the wounded and invalids from the local hospital, a mission as hopeless as it was valiant. And with their families and homes and their own lives in mortal danger, defending slavery was the last thing on their minds.
The Union army was hardly known as a human rights organization. It was a top Union General, Ulysses S. Grant, who on 17 December, 1862 issued the infamous General Order # 11 expelling all Jews "as a class" from his area of operations, including parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Union commanders also forbade Jews from riding on trains (November, 1862), and wrongly blamed them for whatever economic troubles the North encountered.
It was this same Union Army (led by many of the same Civil War generals, including Sherman, Grant, Sheridan, and Custer)) that engaged in virtual genocide against the Native Americans in what we euphemistically call "the Indian Wars," often massacring harmless, defenseless old men, women, and children in their villages.
Other war crimes specifically committed by Grant include:
Ordering the destruction of an entire agricultural area to deny food to the South (the Shenandoah Valley, 5 August, 1864);
Leading the mass murder of the Plains Indians to make land available for the western railroads (the eradication of the Plains Indians, 1865-66);
Overseeing the complete destruction of defenseless Southern cities, and conducting such warfare against unarmed women and children (e.g., the razing of Meridien, and other cities in Mississippi, spring, 1863).
Contrast these atrocities (and many others too numerous to list) with the gentlemanly policies and behavior of the Confederate forces. My ancestor Major Raphael Moses, who was General James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer and is credited with carrying out the Last Order of the Confederate Government, was forbidden by General Robert E. Lee from even entering private homes in their raids into the North, such as the famous incursion into Pennsylvania. Moses was forced to obtain his supplies from businesses and farms, and he always paid for what he requisitioned, albeit in Confederate tender.
Moses always endured in good humor the harsh verbal abuse he received from the local women, who, he noted, always insisted on receiving in the end the exact amount owed.
Moses and his Confederate colleagues never engaged in the type of warfare waged by the Union forces, especially that of General William T. Sherman on his infamous "March to the Sea" through Georgia and the Carolinas, in which his troops routinely burned, looted, and destroyed libraries, courthouses, churches, homes, and cities full of defenseless civilians, including my hometown of Atlanta.
It was not the South but rather the other side that engaged in genocide and other war crimes. While our ancestors may have lost the War, they never lost their honor, or engaged in anything that could justify the vilification that has been directed at them by you.
We honor our ancestors because they showed amazing courage and valor, enduring incredible hardships against overwhelming and often hopeless odds, in fighting for their homeland. You apparently are unaware of any of this history, but perhaps this letter will help educate you a bit.
By the way, your article is being widely circulated on Southern Heritage websites, and I assure you that it is being quite effective in offending large numbers of people whose ancestors fought for the South. Perhaps next time you do such an article on a political rather than religious topic, you could leave off the title of "Rabbi", since your views certainly do not represent those of Our People.
Thank you for taking the time to consider these facts.
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