Rare Jewish military cemetery in Richmond

By Laura Geller - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Did you know Richmond is home to the largest, Jewish military cemetery, outside of Israel? It's the confederate soldiers' section at the Hebrew Cemetery, which sits near the intersection of Fourth and Hospital Streets.

In a place steeped with confederate history, it is rare to find a little known facet of the civil war. Tucked away in a small section of Shockoe Hill are the graves of thirty Jewish confederate soldiers. It is the oldest Jewish military burial ground in the world.

The plaque reads "To the glory of God and in memory of the Hebrew confederate soldiers resting in this hallowed spot." One hundred and fifty years later, the significance of this plot is not lost on Bonnie Eisenman with Temple Beth Ahabah's museum and archives.

"It's important to know that all facets of the community participated in the cause that they were fighting for.  People ask all the time why did they? And my answer is they were citizens of this community and they did the same thing that their neighbors did," said Eisenman.

Jews fought and died in defense of the confederacy.

There are many gravesites marked unknown at large confederate cemeteries like the one at Hollywood or Oakwood not too far away. Many of them are probably for Jewish soldiers. It was difficult to determine identifications at the time, let alone someone's religion.

There is not a lot of information on why or exactly when this separate Jewish cemetery was established.

"We know that some of the soldiers were brought directly here for burial after they died and others were buried where they fell and brought here later, but our records don't tell us how that happened," Eisenman said.

What the records do show is that in 1866 the Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association sent out a letter asking for money to properly memorialize the burial sites of these Jewish soldiers saying similar organizations would not do so.

Throughout the years, historians have been able to track the thirty soldiers resting here, the companies they fought with and the battles in which they died. And that tribute still stands today, marked by an elaborate wrought iron fence. Muskets for the infantry, sabers for the cavalry and artillery, furled flags and soldier's caps keep guard of the burial site.

"This memorial will be the proof that Jewish soldiers were as loyal to the confederacy as anyone else," Eisenman said.

The individual grave markers at the cemetery were removed in the 1950's because of wear and tear. A large plaque with each soldier's name inside the fence now marks the hallowed ground. 

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