Friday, March 16, 2012

Grant's greatest blunder

An interesting article (by the author of a forthcoming book on the subject) about General Grant's short-lived expulsion of Jews from his domain, and the consequences of his repentance.
the memory of what his wife, Julia, called “that obnoxious order” continued to haunt Grant to his death in 1885. Especially when he was in the company of Jews, the sense that in expelling them he had failed to live up to his own high standards of behavior, and to the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold, gnawed at him. He apologized for the order publicly and repented of it privately. He consciously excluded any mention of it from his acclaimed Memoirs. He gloried in the fact that, on his deathbed, Jews numbered among those who visited with him and prayed for his recovery. Jews also participated wholeheartedly in the national mourning that followed his death in 1885, and later in the dedication of his tomb. They did so in spite of General Orders No. 11, recognizing, as the Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise noted at the time, that Grant had “often repented” of his order, and “that the wise also fail.”


  1. Everyone who is well read in Civil War history knows about this order. From some sources I have read but do not recall Grant's father was said to have a hand in thinking up this order. It was very common for named individuals to be banned from Military Departments mostly newspaper reporters and Northern cotton traders.JL

  2. Yes, I'm not sure how one gets an entire book out of this topic, but that seems to be the trend in history publishing these days: "How ___________ Changed/Made/Saved the World."

  3. I agree although a book that can turn Grant into "one of the greatest presidents of his era" would be quite a read.JL

  4. The book (to read the article) seems to focus on what Grant did later, particularly as president, to make amends. I have the distinct impression that it's trying to make a short chapter in the US Jewish history into a pivotal point, and straining to do so.

    What made me hesitate to post about this article was a glaring error in the article: The author says that one reason the order did not get the notice it might have had was that, shortly thereafter, Bedford Forrest raided the Union supply depot in Holly Springs.

    That would be "Van Dorn's Raid" not "Forrest's Raid." Forrest was up marauding in Western Tennessee at the time. Maybe it's just from the perspective of someone who grew up reading about the Vicksburg campaign, but that seems a huge factual error for a historian, and put me off the book. Couldn't decide whether posting about the error was worth the time, and commenting on Slate is far to annoying to raise it there.

    Sad to take away Van Dorn's one major achievement not involving bedding other men's wives.

    One thing I did note-- this means that Grant was probably here in Oxford, and the order was likely executed in a house about a block from where I am sitting.