December 17, 1862 (Wednesday)
General Ulysses S. Grant commanded both the Union Army and the Department of the Tennessee. While his army was slowly moving south through northern Mississippi, he had to keep tabs on everything going on in his department, which included not just Mississippi, but parts of Western Tennessee, some of Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois. This was no job that would evoke envy in even the most sadistic.
Aside from the Confederate Army of Mississippi, commanded by John Pemberton, Grant had to contend with a growing number of cotton speculators and businessmen who needed licenses to conduct business in his department – or as Grant and many others called them: “The Jews.”
Several officers officially complained that the “The Jews” were selling goods to both sides while passing along critical information to the enemy. Both Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Samuel Curtis had complained to Grant and Washington about “flocks of Jews” descending upon their camps like some kind of Biblical plague.
Grant had also spoken up, ordering one of his district commanders to “refuse all permits” to “Israelites.” In that same order, Grant mused: “They are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them.” This set up a foul line of thinking that brought him to this date.
Grant had two solutions to combat this illegal cotton trade. First, as he wrote to the War Department on this date, was “for Government to buy all the cotton at a fixed rate and send it to Cairo, Saint Louis, or some other point to be sold.”
This would cause all of the traders to be expelled. If there was no cotton for sale, there would be no cotton traders. It was simple enough, but Grant probably knew that it would take a long time for this to happen, if it ever happened at all.
And so, without even suggesting that he was about to do it, Grant issued Order No. 11, on this date, the first day of Chanukah:
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 the receipt of this order.
Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
Grant, whose intention was probably only to kick out the Jewish cotton speculators, had issued an order unapologetically expelling all Jewish people, regardless of occupation, from his department.
His letter, written to the War Department on the same day he issued Order No. 11, further explained his views. He admitted that there was little he could do about the illegal cotton trade perpetrated “by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” He explained that he had ordered his officers “to refuse all permits to Jews to come South.” Grant had “frequently had them [Jews] expelled from the department, but they come in with their carpet-sacks in spite of all that can be done to prevent it.”
“The Jews seem to be a privileged class that can travel everywhere,” informed Grant. “They will land at any wood-yard on the river and make their way through the country.” Then, they would either buy cotton themselves or bribe an officer to pay for it with Treasury notes “which the Jew will buy up at an agreed rate, paying gold.”
Though General Sherman had remarked that the illegal trade was “converting everybody into rascals,” and Grant had indicated that “other unprincipled traders” were in it with “the Jews,” his order expelled only the Jews.
He didn’t even bother to single out Jewish cotton traders. All Jews, as a class, were expelled from his department. This included Jewish families, who would be forced to vacate their homes within twenty-four hours.
The order went into effect the following day in and around Grant’s headquarters at Holly Spring, Mississippi. Some of the families were compelled to walk forty miles to Memphis in order to leave the department. Due to Confederate raiding, however, the telegraph lines were down (or, at least, would soon be) and word of the order would take unusually long to spread to places like Paduka, Kentucky. There, thirty Jewish families had lived for years. None of them were cotton speculators, and two of them were Union veterans.
Likewise, it would take weeks for news to reach President Lincoln in Washington.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p421-422, 424; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna. [↩]