The Hebrew Confederate Cemetery, located in Richmond, Virginia, is the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside of Israel. It was created by the anti-Semitism of the two Confederate military cemeteries, in Spotsylvania Court House and Fredericksburg. They refused to bury the Jewish Confederate soldiers killed in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Wilderness. They didn’t want “Jewish boys” in their cemeteries.
They brought them to the Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. They were buried in five rows, with six bodies in a row, in a self-contained hallowed area within the larger Hebrew Cemetery. Those buried came from Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.
In 1866, The Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association was formed to take care these graves. They raised money to pay for individual gave markers for the soldiers, they sponsored memorial services and they commissioned an elaborate ornamental iron fence to surround the hallowed grave area. In the 1930s, they gave the care of this area to the Hebrew Cemetery Company.
Major William B. Myers designed an iron railing fence that enclosed the thirty graves. This fence is considered a work of art.
The posts of the fence are furled Confederate flags with stacked muskets, with a flat Confederate soldier's cap on top of it. The railings between the posts are crossed swords and sabers hung with wreaths of laurel. The design is emblematic of the three branches of the Confederate fighting forces: muskets for the infantry and the swords and sabers for the artillery and calvary.
In the 1930s, the tombstones were removed because of their deterioration and worn away engraving. They replaced them with a large granite stone with a bronze plaque attached with the names of all the soldiers buried. It was erected by Congregation Beth Ahabah, the caretakers of the cemetery.
When Henry Gintzberger was killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor, he was misidentified and buried under the name of Gersberg. A hundred years later, local historians trying to locate his grave, found it in the Hebrew Confederate Cemetery. On October 20, 1963, a special memorial program was held at the cemetery and his birth name was restored with a plaque attached underneath the other one.
Many of the local Jewish Confederate soldiers killed are not in this military cemetery as they were buried in their family plots at the Hebrew Cemetery. One of these soldiers was Isaac Levy of Richmond, Virginia. He was 21 years old when he was killed in the trenches near Petersburg on August 21, 1864. He was an orthodox Jew, who wrote his sister that he and other Jewish Confederate soldiers managed to have a Passover seder with Kosher food.
T.N. Waul, who commanded a Confederate Legion said, “Jewish soldiers were brave, orderly, well–disciplined and in no respect inferior to the gallant body in which they formed a prominent part. Their behavior in the field was exemplary and no Jew was ever before a court-martial. I never heard of any Jewish soldier shirking or failing to answer any call of duty and danger.”
In the Civil War, Jews responded to the call of duty whether it was for the North or the South. The Confederate Hebrew Cemetery depicts the great sacrifices that Jews have made in defending their country.
Richmond area Jewish Confederate soldiers, who were killed in battle, were buried in their family plots elsewhere in this cemetery. They are Gustavus Kann, 16th Mississippi; Henry Smith, Richmond, Otey Battery; Marx Myers, Richmond Grays; Isaac J. Levy, Richmond Blues and Captain M. Marcus, 15th Georgia, killed October 13, 1864.
LIST OF BURIALS
Sources: Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America; Photo courtesy of the Hebrew Cemetery Company of Richmond.