December 17

This Day in History

Civil War

Dec 17, 1862:

Grant expels Jews from his military district

On this day in 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lashes out at at Jewish cotton speculators, who he believed were the driving force behind the black market for cotton, and issues an order expelling all Jewish people from his military district, which encompassed parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

At the time, Grant was trying to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Grant's army now effectively controlled much territory in western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and parts of Kentucky and Arkansas. Grant had to deal with numerous speculators who followed his army in search of cotton. Cotton supplies were very short in the North, and these speculators could buy bales in the captured territories and sell it quickly for a good profit. In December 1862, Grant's father came to visit him along with friends from Ohio. Grant soon realized that the friends, who were Jewish, were speculators hoping to gain access to captured cotton. Grant was furious and fired off his notorious Order No. 11: "The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from receipt of this order."

The fallout from his action was swift. Among 30 Jewish families expelled from Paducah, Kentucky, was Cesar Kaskel, who rallied support in Congress against the order. Shortly after the uproar, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Grant to rescind the order. Grant later admitted to his wife that the criticism of his hasty action was well deserved. As Julia Grant put it, the general had "no right to make an order against any special sect."

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