At a time when there were only 150,000 Jews in the United States, 10,000 Jewish men fought in the Civil War.
That 6,000 took up arms for the Union Army and 4,000 for the Confederacy surprises some, said Civil War historian Bruce Form during a Nov. 18 program at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.
Form came in period dress to the program with his wife, Mira Katz-Form. He portrayed Capt. Myer J. Asch of the 1st New Jersey Calvary and she came as Rebecca Moss, secretary of the Ladies Hebrew Association for the Relief of Sick and Wounded Soldiers in Philadelphia.
The Highland Park couple, who are both “living historians” and re-enactors, brought along period artifacts, including a pocket-sized siddur and collapsible Kiddush cup, likely carried by a Jewish soldier.
They read from letters from Jewish soldiers about the horrors of battle, and from military leaders attesting to the loyalty and bravery of Jewish soldiers. Another described a makeshift seder organized by Jewish Union troops on Passover.
“We love history,” said Form, who is retired as a history teacher at Colonia High School and as vice principal at Avenel Middle School.
Both are members of the Robert E. Lee Civil War Round Table of Central New Jersey in Woodbridge. Form is executive director of its Civil War library and research center, and Katz-Form is an organizer of the annual Civil War Living history weekend at Parker Press Park in Woodbridge.
Form also portrays a Confederate figure, Maj. Raphael Moses, a fifth-generation southerner who served as chief supply officer for Confederate Gen. James Longstreet. Moses ended up carrying out the last order of the Confederacy from President Jefferson Davis — to take possession of $40,000 in gold and silver bullion from the Confederate treasury and deliver it to help feed and supply the defeated rebels straggling home after the war.
Katz-Form portrays his wife, Eliza Moses, active on the home front in Columbus, Ga.
Form also described the career of Edward S. Salomon, a native of Prussia and a founder and commander of the 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which included more than 100 Jews. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Salomon was instrumental in repulsing a Confederate charge by 15,000 soldiers, resulting in his promotion to brigadier general.
“Edward Salomon was cited by his commanding general after his horse was shot out from under him,” said Form. “He just stood there calmly smoking a cigar and continued to order his men on what to do.”
After the war, Salomon would serve in the California legislature.