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When General Grant Expelled the Jews (Jewish Encounters Series) Hardcover – March 13, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“An excellent study [from the] gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna . . . His account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power, and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace . . . A compelling page-turner.”
—Harold Holzer, The Washington Post

“This provocative new book is exactly what it sounds like:  an account of how Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued an order to expel Jews from their homes in the midst of the Civil War.  Anyone seeking to rock the Passover Seder with political debate will find the perfect conversation piece in Sarna’s account of this startling American story. . . .  His book is part of the prestigious [Jewish Encounters] series, matching prominent Jewish writers with intriguingly fine-tuned topics.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Richly researched [and] filled with lively, little-known personalities . . . it also contains reams of juicy quotes and delicious bits of doggerel.”
—Jenna Weissman Joselit, The New Republic

“Engaging and splendidly researched . . . A compelling, even inspiring tale of redemption. Sarna’s fine work is a heartening reminder that even politicians are sometimes touched by the better angels of their nature, and it is a welcome revision to the 18th president’s place in American and Jewish history.”
“A thorough and thoughtful analysis.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Sarna’s remarkably illuminating little gem of a book also reminds us that being Jewish in America has always been a complex psychological negotiation. His new book examines this phenomenon while closely studying a little-known slice of early American Jewish history that will both amaze and distress readers.”
—Jerusalem Post Magazine

“Powerful . . . Sarna’s brilliantly nuanced exploration of the worst official anti-Semitic incident in American history offers us a clear reminder in these ideologically fraught days of why keeping up a firm wall between church and state remains a core defense for all of our freedoms. This wide-ranging and judiciously balanced book is the latest entry in the luminous Schocken/Nextbook Jewish Encounters series of books [that] thoughtfully pair a great writer and an important facet of Jewish life.”
—Marc Wortman, The Daily Beast
“An interesting history about a little-discussed event during the Civil War.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Sarna’s book is going to make a significant splash amidst a wave of new books reevaluating the career of one of our most famous army general/presidents . . . Most compelling.”
—John Marszalek, Moment magazine

“Ulysses S. Grant’s order expelling Jews from his war zone has long helped insure his eternal disgrace.  Supposedly, the drunken, bloodthirsty crook was also an anti-Semite! Jonathan Sarna’s excellent, painstaking reevaluation of what really happened helps rescue Grant’s reputation; it is long overdue. It also affirms Sarna’s unsurpassed standing as a historian of American Jewry.”
—Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

“Thoroughly researched and crisply written, this is a very fine work that will interest students of both American and modern Jewish history.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Sarna expertly navigates the repercussions of Grant’s shocking order, which galvanized the American Jewish community into action, reminding many who were refugees from European expulsions how insecure they were even in America. . . . Sarna weighs the short-lived order against important Jewish appointments in Grant’s administration, his humanitarian support for oppressed Jews around the world, and lasting friendships with  Jews.  A well-argued exoneration of a president and a sturdy scholarly study.”
—Kirkus Reviews
“In this compelling and focused study, Jonathan D. Sarna explores the causes—and assesses the little-known impact—of one of the most troubling incidents in the life of the Union's greatest commander.”
—Geoffrey C. Ward, coauthor of The Civil War
“An absorbing account of a lamentable act by the North’s greatest  general, a dishonorable act committed by an honorable man. This fair and balanced treatment of the event places the commander and the Jews in the context of great conflict. Fortunately, redemption and rapprochement would follow.”
—Frank J. Williams, president, Ulysses S. Grant Association

About the Author

Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He has written, edited, or co-edited more than twenty books and is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History, which received the Jewish Book Council’s Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award in 2004. He lives in Massachusetts.

The PBS documentary Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray, which features Jonathan Sarna, explores the hidden stories of American Jews during the Civil War. Presented by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, it is available for purchase on DVD at www.shapell.org.


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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; 1 edition (March 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242799
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna is a non-fiction book about Grant's infamous "General Order No. 11". Yes, this a non-fiction book - who would have thought?On 17 December, 1862 Major-General Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military district which consisted of Kentucky,Mississippi, and Tennessee. Grant intended to hinder the activities of people who smuggle things in and out of the war zone which, in his mind, were Jews.

As history later showed, many people, including those under his commend, engaged in the lucrative smuggling trade. General Order No. 11 caused great distress among the Jewish community. Eventually, Grant was able to recoup and even win Jewish support for his presidency.

When I first saw the title of this book, I had to read it twice.
Could it be?
Is this for real?

Yes, When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna is a the unbelievable, but true, title of this well written and well researched book about one of the most deliberate cases of ant-Semitism in the short history of America.

General Order No. 11 decreed as follows:

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 [of theTennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
Post commanders will see to it 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.
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This is a well written and argued analysis of Grant's relationship with the Jewish Community in the wake of "Directive #11". The author is sympathetic to Grant, and shows how he tried to make amends for his actions in 1862; yet it was unlike Grant to publicly apologize for his mistakes, whether in the case of this document, the last assault on Vicksburg, or Cold Harbor. The author relies heavily on original sources, some of which are difficult to obtain or ignored. Of particular interest to me was the relationship of Grant's father to Jewish smugglers. The author mentions briefly the almost never discussed anti-semitism of the abolitionist leaders. The bibliography and notes are excellent.
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Format: Hardcover
Every year when Jews observe Purim, they recite the Purim story saying Blessed be Mordecai (one of the Jewish heros of the story) and Cursed be Haman (the non Jewish villain of the tale).

If you go to the Yad Vashem in Israel (which commemorates Jews lost in the Holocaust) you can see a scroll there where in place of Cursed be "Haman" Holocaust Jews instead had written Cursed be "Hitler."

Despite being an avid student of history, the idea that Ulysses S. Grant, our eighteenth President, had ever achieved similar disdain among Jews anywhere would have been unthinkable.

And yet, in the middle of the civil war, on December 17 1862, it was more thinkable.

It was history.

It was on that day that Ulysses S. Grant, then head of the Department of Tennesee (which ironically covered only very little of Tennesee but all of Mississippi) signed General Order #11 decreeing that all Jews must evacuate the territory of his department.

To the credit of his immediate superiors, Edwin Stanton (secretary of war) and President Abraham Lincoln the fact of the decree went unknown to them for weeks. But, as soon as they learned of it, they promptly ordered its recission.

In the days between December 17 1862 and when it was rescinded in January 1863 (ironically, the recission happened just when Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1 1863), only a hundred or so Jews (out of possible thousands) were actually evacuated pursuant to its provisions. But those few casualties of this edict caused Grant himself to engage in a lifetime of repentence.

The fruits of that lifetime of repentence are amply detailed in this wonderful volume.
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Jonathan Sarna has done an outstanding job recounting the little known episode of General Grant's infamous general order excluding Jews "as a class" from occupied areas of the Confederacy under his command, and the even less well known instances in the years to follow of Grant's philosemitic actions as President and former-President. Not being a historian, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Professor Sarna's scholarship, but I thought the treatment was well-supported and cogently argued. One last point, unlike much modern scholarly output, this book was exceptionally well written. I highly recommend this book to students of the American Civil War and of Jewish American History.
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I am a history buff and read a review concerning this book in a local publication. The review piqued my interest and I downloaded a sample of the book for my Kindle. I enjoyed the "sample" so much I purchased the complete copy of Grant and the Jews for my Kindle.

The author writes in a flowing easily read style that makes you want to keep reading. The organization of the subject matter is concise with logical progression of events of Grant's career from Civil War General through his presidency and post presidency.

It is an interesting easy read. Not at all "stuffy" like history books that we are used to.
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