JEWISH CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS: My Family’s Fate on the Day Lee Surrendered
By Lewis Regenstein
April 2, 2010
One hundred and forty five years ago, on 9 April, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant, marking the effective end of the South’s struggle for independence. It was a fateful day for the South, and in particular for my great grandfather and his four elder brothers, all of whom were fighting for the Confederacy.
On that day, the eldest brother Joshua Lazarus Moses was killed a few hours after Lee, unbeknownst to the troops elsewhere, had surrendered. Josh was commanding an artillery battalion that was firing the last shots in defense of Mobile, before being overrun by a Union force outnumbering his 13 to one. In this battle, Fort Blakeley, one of his brothers, Horace, was captured, and another, Perry, was wounded. Josh was the last Confederate Jew to fall in battle, one of the more than 3,000 estimated Jews who fought for the South.
His first cousin, Albert Moses Luria, was the first, killed at age 19 at the Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) in Virginia on 31 May, 1862. While Lee was surrendering at Appomatox, a 2,500 man unit attached to Sherman’s army, known as Potter’s Raiders, was heading towards my family’s hometown of Sumter, South Carolina. Sherman had just burned nearby Columbia, and it was feared that his troops were headed to Sumter to do the same. My then 16 year old great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Moses, rode out to defend his hometown, along with some 157 other teenagers, invalids, old men, and the wounded from the local hospital. It was a mission as hopeless as it was valiant, but Sumter’s rag-tag defenders did manage to hold off Potter’s battle-seasoned veterans for over an hour before being overwhelmed by this vastly superior force outnumbering theirs by some 15 to one.
The fifth bother, Isaac Harby Moses, having served with distinction in combat in Wade Hampton's cavalry, later rode home from North Carolina after the Battle of Bentonville (North Carolina), the War’s last major battle, where he commanded his company, all of the officers having been killed or wounded. He never surrendered to anyone, his Mother proudly observed in her memoirs.
Over two dozen members of the extended Moses family fought in the War, and it sacrificed at least nine of its sons in defense of their country. The best known of the Moses family Confederates was General James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, Major Raphael Jacob Moses, whose three sons also fought for the South. The uncle of the five Moses brothers, Major Moses ended up attending the last meeting and carrying out the Last Order of the Confederate government – to deliver the remaining Confederate treasury, $40,000 in gold and silver bullion, to help feed and supply the defeated Confederate soldiers in Augusta hospitals, and straggling home after the War -- weary, hungry, often sick, shoeless and in tattered uniforms.
Like their comrades-in-arms, the Moses’ were fighting, for their homeland -- not for slavery, as is so often said, but for their families, homes, and country. Put simply, most Confederate soldiers felt they were fighting because an invading army from the North was trying to kill them, burn their homes, and destroy their cities.
The anniversary of this fateful day should serve to remind us why, in this time when the South is so often vilified, native Southerners still take much pride in their ancestors’ courage and sacrifices.
Lewis Regenstein, a Native Atlantan, is a writer and author. email@example.com
April is Confederate History Month.