The Civil War also influenced the experiences of American Jews. A noted foot specialist and British immigrant, Isachar Zacharie settled in Washington, D.C., in 1862. Some of Washington's top federal authorities and politicians sought out Zacharie's medical expertise for treatment, including Abraham Lincoln. In the process of treating Lincoln, Zacharie became a close friend and confidant, and became the trusted recipient of important political and military information from Lincoln and other federal officials in the capital. In January 1863, the doctor traveled to New Orleans on an assignment to assess public opinion toward the commander of the Department of the Gulf, General Nathaniel P. Banks. As in the instances when he lent a learned and willing ear to federal officials during medical treatment, Zacharie did the same with residents in New Orleans as an intermediary between the military government and the civilian population. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Lincoln enlisted Zacharie to explore peace talks with the Confederacy. As illustrated with the political experience of Zacharie, some Jews found themselves interacting with the highest officials of a government at war. At the same time, however, the experience of Jews during the war, both in the North and the South, was shaped by long-held stereotypes against Jews, the challenge of addressing questions of their loyalty, and access to equitable treatment before the law religiously and ethnically.
Approximately 150,000 Jews lived in the United States on the eve of the Civil War, with 25,000 of them residing in the South. The decade leading up to the war witnessed a significant jump in the Jewish population because of immigration, with Jewish communities in major Northern cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, and in Southern cities like Memphis, Nashville, Mobile, New Orleans, Richmond, and Charleston. New York City was home to 15 congregations alone, Louisiana was home to approximately 8,000 Jews, and New Orleans possessed the largest Jewish community in the South at the beginning of the war. The Jews immigrating to the United States in the 1850s were primarily Ashkenazi, from areas of Eastern and Central Europe, and they quickly outnumbered the Sephardic Jews who had immigrated in the early 19th century and who were descended from Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Sephardic Jews assimilated into American society much more readily than their Ashkenazi counterparts, through intermarriage and a tendency to drift away from the faith. Although these different national origins, periods of immigration, and approaches to Judaism had a profound effect on the experience of Jews within their own communities, the public of the North and South viewed Jews as a whole.
When the war started, Jews living in the North and South faced the challenge of breaking down the stereotype that foreigners were incapable
of demonstrating patriotism. In particular, the stereotype of the ''wandering Jew'' suggested that Jews were citizens of no country, were cowards, and were disloyal. Although accused in both the North and the South of avoiding military service and deemed untrustworthy, Jews enlisted in both armies. Moreover, Jewish companies were organized in Chicago, Illinois; Syracuse, New York; and in West Point and Macon, Georgia. As much as the organization of Jewish specific regiments could demonstrate Jewish patriotism, the limited number of these kinds of regiments pointed to a desire on the part of Jews to avoid segregating themselves. Many fought for some of the same reasons as did their Protestant and Catholic counterparts in the Union and Confederate armies—that is, for liberty and freedom, defense of home, and duty and obedience to the established government, which had been a strong influence in Jewish tradition.
As with Catholic soldiers, meeting the needs of Jewish soldiers on the battlefield proved to be a difficult task on the practical level. Often without the guidance of a rabbi or a Jewish religious leader on the battlefield, soldiers were left on their own to follow Jewish religious practices and observances. In the absence of a rabbi, soldiers sought each other out for
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