Beyond The Battlefield: Jews and the Civil War

Submitted by JessicaW on November 29, 2011

The celebration and recognition of the 150th anniversary of our nation’s civil war took place on November 17th in the Dolan School of Business dining room. The event was sponsored by Adolf and Ruth Schnurmacher. Author, Adam Mendelsohn, assistant professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, gave a lecture entitled “Beyond the Battlefield: Jews and the Civil War.” Mendelsohn, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, co-edited the book “Jews and the Civil War” in 2010 and is currently working on a new book which would encompass the history of Jewish involvement in the second-hand clothing trade in the United Sates and British empire throughout the 1800s.  His lecture provided a detailed history of the production of clothing and uniforms for the confederate army in the southern United States throughout the civil war. This trade was dominated mostly by the Jewish population.

Throughout the war, the confederacy was at a severe disadvantage because of their inability to provide enough textiles and stockpiles for the uniforms of their soldiers. Because of this lack in supplies, a man named Caleb Hughes went on a mission to London and found the Jewish-owned company Isaac Campbell & Co. who would be willing to export the supplies needed by the south. This company shipped nearly $300 million worth of goods on credit to the confederacy, who later negligent in paying their debt, causing the company to fail a few years after the war.

Mendelsohn explained how the civil war forever changed the lives of American Jews, especially women who were given more occupational abilities and often pushed the boundaries that had been previously set for them. He gave the example of the Pembrooke sisters: In 1961 Phoebe became the first woman superintendent in a hospital after her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was a fearless and successful superintendent in the largest hospital in the world which. She paved the way for other women to understand how useful they could be as nurses. This thought transformed the profession into what it is today, dominated mainly by women. Phoebe’s sister, Eugenie Philips, married a lawyer at the age of 16 and moved to Washington D.C. where she was accused of being a confederate spy causing her family to move to New Orleans. After being arrested and spending 3 months in prison, Eugenie was seen as a martyr when she reentered the confederacy.

After the civil war, the low wage workforce accounted for 90% of civilian clothing manufacturing in the 1980’s. this immigrant force is also credited with creating the first sizing scale for mass manufacturing of clothing.

The important role played by the Jewish clothing manufacturers during the civil war could not be ignored. Without their assistance the confederacy would have had no way to clothe their soldiers, something that Mendelsohn made perfectly clear throughout his entire lecture.

 

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