A Peek at Jewish Baltimore’s Civil War History
A blog post by Exhibitions Intern Todd Nesson. Todd is working with Karen Falk on our upcoming exhibition Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. You can read more posts by Todd and other interns here.
“Just imagine Maryland seceding from the new confederacy (I hope she will never join it), Baltimore from the counties, they in turn from each other, Old Town from West End, Fells Point from Federal Hill, and then from each other. What a pretty State of Anarchy does this principle inaugurate.”
-Aaron Friedenwald, 1861
Aaron Friedenwald was expressing his sentiments to his largely pro-Southern family when he wrote the above quote. At the time, Aaron had been traveling in Europe to continue his medical education. He was shocked to learn of the outbreak of hostilities between the Union and the Confederacy and urged his family to recognize what he saw as the folly of the Confederate cause. Aaron’s arguments failed to sway his family and following the Pratt Street Riots, Isaac Friedenwald, one of Aaron’s brothers, went off to fight for the Confederate armies while the rest of his family continued to support the Southern Cause.
Following the riots, Baltimore found itself placed under martial law. The State Legislature was disbanded to ensure no votes of secession could take place and the guns of Fort McHenry and Federal Hill were pointed inward at the city to ensure its compliance. Just as Aaron recognized the strong Confederate leanings of his family, the Federal Government saw the strong Confederate leanings of Baltimore and provided their poignant reason for not revolting.
As noted, the Jewish population in Baltimore (and across the country) was not immune to the division gripping the country. Sometimes these divisions led to rather public arguments between members of the Jewish community. One in particular involved Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. The congregation found itself increasingly in the limelight due to its bombastic, pro-abolitionist and pro-Union Rabbi, David Einhorn. Einhorn would use his newspaper, Sinai, and his pulpit to counter the arguments of Pro-slavery clergy in the Jewish community. These pro-slavery clergy included Rabbi Raphall of New York and Rabbi Illowy of Baltimore. Following the Pratt Street Riots, Einhorn fled Baltimore to Philadelphia due to the strong possibility that he would be attacked for his pro-Northern views. Once there he would continue his support of the Union and abolitionist causes. Following the war, he headed to New York City became the Rabbi for Congregation Adath Israel.
Some Baltimore Jews, such as Leopold Blumenberg would put their prior military training at service of their new country. Blumenberg immigrated to Baltimore in 1854 after leaving the Prussian Army. At the time he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant but was unable to progress further due to the rampant anti-semitism in the Prussian army. When hostilities broke out, Blumenberg volunteered with the 5th Maryland Regiment and rose to the rank of Major. At the battle of Antietam he was wounded in the leg and given an honorable discharge along with an appointment as Provost Marshal of the second Maryland District.
Jews were found on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War, taking up the Blue and the Grey for reasons similar to those of their non-Jewish neighbors. The fires of war would help to forge and shape the Jews of America through politics and warfare, both at home and on the battlefield. Baltimore, due to its location on the dividing line between the Union and Confederacy found itself providing a turbulent atmosphere in which many Jews were forced to decide where they stood on the pressing matters of secession, slavery, and the future of the country that they had traveled so far to become a part of.