The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg – June 28, 2013

If we had lived in Baltimore 150 years ago, we would be among the thousands of vigilant citizens who were preparing to defend our city from the Confederate onslaught. For the second time in ten months, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had invaded Maryland. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry was riding down Rockville Pike towards Washington, D.C. before it was turned by the Federal defenses of the Capital City. Stuart’s forces would be in Eldersburg and Westminster the next day, June 29, where the cavalry division of 6,000 troopers would fight a skirmish with Union forces. Scouts from Stuart’s column advanced as far as North Charles Street in Baltimore County before turning around to rejoin the main force. On this same day, President Lincoln replaced General Joe Hooker with General George Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade continued the pursuit of Lee’s Army, which was moving north from Virginia through Martinsburg, West Virginia, through Hagerstown to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Elements of Lee’s army had already taken Chambersburg and Carlisle in Pennsylvania. General Early’s raiding party reached the Susquehanna River in its attempt to take Harrisburg. It was stymied by the Pennsylvania militia’s destruction of the only bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville. Early turned his column around and also headed towards Gettysburg, an idyllic small town at the crossroads of great events.

These days were full of dread for Baltimore’s citizenry. From July 1-3, the city’s residents heard what can only be described as “distant thunder,” so loud was the sound of artillery just fifty miles away. Baltimoreans awaited the outcome of this awesome battle, the largest that ever took place on the North American continent. Over 200,000 men fought each other for control of that crucial crossroads. After three terrible days of fighting, Lee’s army turned back towards Virginia, never again to invade the North. The number of casualties was horrendous. About 28,000 Confederates were killed or wounded, nearly 40% of Lee’s force. The Federal casualty rate was 25%, about 23,000 troops killed or wounded. The difference was that the North could easily replace those losses in troops and equipment. The South could not. From this time forth, Lee’s defeat was inevitable. Unfortunately for the North, Lee’s army escaped to fight another day, crossing the flood swollen Potomac River back into Virginia without being seriously pursued by General Meade’s army. Lee’s army would fight on for another twenty three grueling months.

Confederate and Union wounded were brought to Baltimore by the trains of the Western Maryland Railroad, where they were treated in hospitals overwhelmed by the casualties. Confederate prisoners were held at Patterson Park until room was made for them at Ft. McHenry. Many doctors and nurses from Baltimore journeyed to Gettysburg where they were soon employed in caring for the injured. Church bells rang in Baltimore and around the Union on July 4 as the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg were announced to cheering crowds. A North despondent of victory was now elated. The Civil War seemed to be coming to an end. Six months later, on November 18, 1863, President Lincoln delivered his 272 word Gettysburg Address, affirming the equality of all Americans in a birth of new freedom.

Baltimore’s Jews were indistinguishable from other Baltimoreans in our support for one side or the other. Rabbi Bertram W. Korn, the distinguished author of “American Jews and the Civil War,” distilled five key themes of how the Civil War impacted American Jewry.
1. The opportunity accorded Jews to fight as equal citizens and to rise through the ranks of their respective armies, something not granted them in armies elsewhere.
2. Jews’ total identification with their neighbors. We shared the sympathies of the side among which we lived. Jews boasted of their patriotism and loyalty during the Civil War for both the North and the South.
3. Jews tenaciousness in fighting for their rights. Jews fought for the right to have Jewish chaplains in the Union Army and also caused President Lincoln to reverse General Grant’s infamous General Order 11, expelling Jews as a class from his war zone.
4. President Lincoln’s and President Jefferson Davis’ forthright repudiation of anti-Semitism.
5. The acceptance of Jewish equality.
Jews fought in this war not as Jews but as Northern or Southern Americans. There were many Jewish officers in the Union ranks and even seven Medal of Honor winners. Typical of the Jewish soldiers of this time was Leopold Blumenberg, the highest ranking Jewish soldier to come out of Baltimore. Like most Jewish soldiers on either side, Blumenberg was a German immigrant. He was born in Brandenberg, Prussia and, when of age, enlisted in the Prussian Army, where he served in the Prussian-Danish War of 1848 and rose to become a lieutenant, receiving a saber wound to the face in combat, a scar he proudly pointed to throughout his life. Because of anti-Semitism and lack of economic opportunity for Jews, he resigned his commission and settled in Baltimore with his wife in 1854. He became a cloak manufacture (his factory was located on Gay Street near East Street) and a prominent member of the German community, becoming a leader of the anti-slavery Republicans. When the Civil War began, he secured enlistment as Captain of Company C, in the Fifth Maryland Regiment. Given his military experience, he quickly became a major. From September, 1861 through March, 1862, the regiment was bivouacked in Lafayette Square, where they drilled and trained for combat. In March, the regiment became part of the Army of the Potomac and fought in General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. From there it became part of the Washington garrison. In the middle of September, 1862, Blumenberg was ordered to fast march the regiment to Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Union Army was making its stand to repel the Army of Northern Virginia’s advance into the North. It was here, at the Battle of Antietam, that Blumenberg made his reputation, leading his regiment to take Bloody Lane from the Confederates. He was severely wounded in this triumph as his men carried him from the field. His heroism became well known. President Lincoln asked to meet him and rewarded him with the appointment as Provost Marshal of the Third Maryland District in 1863. Later, in thanks for his service, President Andrew Johnson commissioned him a Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers, an honorary title he wore proudly. Upon his discharge at the War’s end, Blumenberg became one of the most prominent Baltimoreans. He was highly respected within the German community, was a member of Har Sinai Congregation and on the Board of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. His daughters and grandchildren remained residents of our city. Blumenberg died in 1876, leaving an indelible mark upon Baltimore and Jewish history.

Dear friends, we were here 150 years ago, gathered in our synagogue on Hanover Street where we prayed for victory, worshipped fervently, and listened intently to Rabbi Szold’s sermons in German. During this week of travail, we were apprehensive of the future but acted quickly to bring succor to wounded soldiers, Confederate and Union, Jew and non-Jew, being cared for in our hospitals. We did so then not as Jews, but as Americans. Thus did these critical days in the middle of 1863 forge our Jewish future then and forevermore.

Amen

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