Why We Still Revere our Ancestors
My speech to the Gainesville Kiwanis Club on Confederate History & Heritage Month
By Lewis Regenstein
10 April, 2007
Thank you, I am honored to be here today with the Gainesville Kiwanis Club, and
to speak before such a distinguished group, on the occasion of Confederate History
and Heritage Month.
The observance of this month has generated some controversy and misunderstanding,
and I’d like to explain why so many of us are proud of our Confederate
ancestors, based on the experiences and writings of members of my own family.
Before I begin I’d like to emphasize that while I am very proud of my
ancestors, I‘m not bragging about anything. I can claim no personal distinction
for their heroism, which reflects what was common among the hopelessly outnumbered,
outsupplied but not outfought Confederate troops, something in which we all
take much pride.
Our ancestors often ran low on food, ammunition, and other supplies, but never
I write and talk about all this because I am proud of our heritage and committed
to helping keep its memory alive and honored, amidst the ongoing campaign to
rewrite history and discredit the valor and honor of the Confederate soldiers
and their Cause.
The Valor of the Confederate Soldiers
It’s been almost exactly 142 years since General Sherman burned Columbia,
South Carolina and sent a battle-hardened military unit towards nearby Sumter,
presumably to do the same. My then 16 year old great grandfather, Andrew Jackson
Moses, rode out to defend his hometown, along with some other teenagers, invalids,
old men, and the disabled and wounded from the local hospital.
Jack kept running away from school to join the Confederate army, so they finally
let him join up and act as a courier on horseback. His final mission was as
hopeless as it was valiant, but the rag-tag group of volunteers did manage to
hold off the tough and experienced “Potter’s Raiders” for
over an hour before being overwhelmed by this vastly superior force.
The date of this skirmish at Dingle’s Mill was 9 April, the same day that
General Robert E. Lee surrendered, and that Jack’s eldest brother, Joshua
Lazarus Moses, was killed in the War’s last big engagement.
Josh had been in the thick of the shooting when Fort Sumter was attacked at
the beginning of the War, and was wounded in the war’s first major battle
(First Manassas or Bull Run). He was killed at Fort Blakeley, Alabama, commanding
the last guns firing in defense of Mobile. Josh was shot down a few hours after
Lee surrendered, his unit outnumbered 12 to one, in this battle in which one
brother was wounded and another captured.
The fifth Moses bother, Isaac Harby Moses, who began the War as a Citadel cadet,
was fighting with Wade Hampton’s legendary cavalry, commanding his company
since all of the officers had been killed or wounded. His Mother wrote very
proudly that after the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, he rode home from
the War, never having surrendered to anyone.
The War was Not Fought Over Slavery
The five Moses brothers were among the 3,000 or so Jewish Confederates, part
of an amazingly diverse army that also included Native Americans, Hispanics,
Scotch, Irish, Germans, Italians, even Blacks, all fighting for a common purpose,
to throw back the invasion from the North.
These Confederates showed incredible courage and valor in fighting not for slavery,
as is so often said, but for their country, their families, and to save their
Indeed, slavery and other political issues were probably the furthest thing
from their minds as they fought desperately against an invading army that was
trying, with great success, to kill them, burn their homes, and destroy their
Yet, those of us who take pride in our ancestors’ bravery are constantly
portrayed in the press as ignorant and intolerant bigots, vilified as defenders
of slavery, and derided as living in a past that never really existed.
I know this first hand, because when the battle over Georgia’s flag was
raging a few years ago, I wrote for the Atlanta Journal Constitution a mild
mannered article trying to explain why so many good and decent Georgians take
pride in their ancestors and the symbols & flags they fought under.
I tried to explain that we revere our ancestors because, against overwhelming
odds, they fought on, often hungry, cold, sick, wounded, or shoeless to protect
their homeland from an often cruel invader.
In response, the newspaper published two letters to the editor:
One said that my statements “were reminiscent of neo-Nazi apologists denying
the Holocaust.” The other letter accused me of defending slavery and “a
treasonous movement” called the Confederacy.
My then 84 year old Mother asked me, “please wait until I die before you
write any more articles.”
Longstreet’s Chief of Commissary
Here in Gainesville, not far from the home of General James Longstreet, under
whom my ancestor Major Raphael Jacob Moses served as chief commissary officer,
is a good place to talk about how that War really was fought.
Raphael Moses was a fifth generation South Carolinian who in 1849 moved to Columbus,
Georgia, where he was a lawyer, planter, and owner of a plantation he named
“Esquiline.” Moses’ English ancestors came to America during
colonial days, one of them being his great, great grandfather Dr. Samuel Nunez,
fleeing the Inquisition. He is credited with saving the newly-established, mosquito-infested
colony of Savannah, Georgia from being wiped out in 1733 by a “fever,”
then thought to be yellow fever but which was probably malaria.
Major Moses is known as “the father of Georgia’s peach industry,”
and is most famous for having attended the Confederate Government’s last
meeting, and carrying out its Last Order.
As General James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, Major Moses participated
in many of the major battles in the East, and was responsible for supplying
and feeding an army of up to 54,000 troops, including porters and other non-combatants.
General Lee had forbidden him from entering private homes in search of supplies
in raids into Union territory (such as the incursions into Pennsylvania), even
when food and other provisions were in painfully short supply, and his soldiers
were suffering greatly from this lack of supplies..
Often while seizing supplies, Moses encountered considerable hostility and abuse
from the local women, which he always endured in good humor, and it became a
source of much teasing from his fellow officers.
Moses always acted honorably, compassionately, and as a gentleman. Once, when
a distraught woman approached Moses and pleaded for the return of her pet heifer
that had been caught up in a cattle seizure, he graciously gave the cow back
Moses’ memoirs contain some very interesting observations on General Longstreet
and especially the ill-fated and crucial Battle of Gettysburg. “…We
lost the battle,” laments Moses, “and then came the retreat; the
rain poured down in floods that night! I laid down in a fence corner and near
by on the bare earth in an India rubber [tarp] lay General Lee biding the pelting
In his memoirs, Moses reveals that “General Longstreet did not wish to
fight the Battle of Gettysburg. He wanted to go around the hill, but Lee objected
on account of our long wagon and artillery trains.” Longstreet, as historian
Ed Bearss notes, “knew what muskets in the hands of determined troops
could do,” and felt that the Union forces, holding the high ground, would
have the same advantage over his forces that the Confederates had over the Federals
at Fredericksburg. If his advice had been taken, it could have changed the course
of the War.
But Lee rejected Longstreet’s recommendation to swing his troops around
the heights, and instead ordered the attack on the center of the Union forces
at Cemetery Hill, saying of the Yankees, “I will whip them here, or they
will whip me.” Honorable as always, after the battle Lee took responsibility
for the disaster, saying “All this has been my fault.” Longstreet,
feeling that the ground fought over had no military value, called that day “the
saddest of my life.” Shelby Foote calls Lee’s decision “The
mistake of all mistakes.”
Interestingly, the entire battle might have been avoided and the course of the
war changed if Longstreet’s forces had not been forced to wait for reinforcements
to arrive. Moses says that if the Confederates had not been delayed near Cash
Town for over a day waiting for General Richard Stoddert Ewell’s wagon
train of supplies, “…I do know that we could have marched easily
from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, in a day, and been there before the Union troops.”
THE LAST ORDER OF THE LOST CAUSE
About three weeks after the war’s end, as chief commissary for Georgia,
Moses carried out what is reputed to have been the last order of the Confederacy.
It involved safeguarding and delivering the Confederate treasury’s last
$40,000 of silver and/or gold bullion (perhaps $750,000 today).
The money was to be used to feed and help the thousands of Confederate soldiers,
in nearby hospitals, and straggling home from the War, sick, tired, hungry,
often shoeless or wounded.
Moses’ three sons also fought for the South, and one was killed at Seven Pines
in May, 1862 after performing acts of amazing valor – Lt. Albert Moses
Luria, at age 19, the first Jewish Confederate to fall in battle. His first
cousin, Josh Moses, killed at mobile, was the last.
Brutality of the Union Army
The contrast is striking between the humane Confederate policies and those of
the North, wherein Union generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan regularly burned
and looted homes, farms, courthouses, churches, libraries, and entire cities
full of civilians, such as Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina, and most everything
of value in between. Some typical Union actions included:
• Ordering the destruction of an entire agricultural area to deny the
enemy support (the Shenandoah Valley, 5 August, 1864).
• Overseeing the complete destruction of defenseless Southern cities,
and conducting such warfare against unarmed women and children (e.g., the razing
of Meridian, and other cities in Mississippi, spring, 1863, and the burning
of Atlanta the following year and most everything between there and Savannah).
Most terrible of all was the mass murder, a virtual genocide, of Native People,
slaughtered mercilessly before, during, and after the War, such as the Plains
Indians in 1865-66. The victims were mainly helpless old men, women, and children
in their villages, eliminated to seize their land for the western railroads.
What the famous Civil War author and television producer Ken Burns, and other
eminent historians euphemistically call "the Indian Wars", was carried
out by many of the same Union officers who led the war against the South –
Sherman, Grant, Sheridan, Custer, and other leading commanders.
The Role of Southern Women
Some of the most impressive stories of the War concern the role of Southern
women in these perilous and trying times.
One of my ancestors of whom I’m most proud is my great great grandmother,
Octavia Harby Moses, who was a leader in Sumter, S.C. in supporting the troops
from the homefront, and I think she typifies many of the Southern women who
did so much to help the war effort.
Octavia lost her Mother at age four, and married Andrew Jackson Moses Sr. (Jack’s
father) at age 16, bearing 17 children (three of whom died in infancy), and
outliving most of them. She was very active on the Homefront in support of the
Confederacy. As she put it, “When the War broke out, …like every
other Southern woman, I immediately began work for the soldiers”:
I organized a sewing society, to cut and make garments for them. Many boxes
of clothes and provisions were sent off, not only to my own sons, but to any
others who needed them. I made it a point to try and meet every train that brought
soldiers through our town, and, with others, frequently walked from my home,
sometimes at two o’clock in the morning, to take food to our men as they
passed through. We always greeted them with the wildest enthusiasm, and no thought
of defeat ever entered our minds.
During all this time, I was working unceasingly for our soldiers – getting
up entertainments [meetings] to furnish means and, like other women, I cut up
my carpets and piano cover for them, sent them blankets, etc. … Whenever
the boys were fortunate enough to get home on short furloughs, they were the
guests of the town – everybody feted them, nothing was too much to do
in their honor.
Octavia’s daughter Rebecca adds that “For our own soldiers, she
felt that nothing she could do would be too much – they deserved all that
With young children clustering round her knees, with her home filled with aged
and helpless relatives who had refugeed there from Charleston and other points,
she yet found time to work unceasingly for “the men behind the guns.”
Octavia stressed that, considering the widespread suffering so prevalent throughout
the South, she did not consider her sacrifices to be a hardship, writing that
“I have always said that I knew no privations during the War.”
“The History of Sumter County” related how “The women of Stateburg
and Sumter formed themselves into the Soldier’s Relief Associations…”:
They knitted socks, rolled bandages and lint for dressing wounds, and sent boxes
of supplies to the larger centers of Charleston and Columbia…At the depot
in Sumter, the ladies set up a long table beside the tracks, where in fair weather,
hot food was served to soldiers on the crowded troop trains passing through.
In bad weather, they used the dining-room of the Rev Noah Graham’s hotel.
Later in the war, when hurrying soldiers did not have time to stop, the ladies
handed out packaged lunches, while their little daughters filled the canteens
with fresh water. Even in the hours after midnight, Mrs. Octavia Moses and other
devoted women would walk to the depot, taking food for the soldiers.
With provisions in short supply, “the busy women of Sumter,” doing
all they could to support the war effort, “stitched by hand the garments
for their families as well as for the soldiers. They made coffee from okra seeds
and parched peanuts, and dim, evil-smelling candles from tallow and myrtle berries.
They devised hats from corn shucks, and new dresses from old window curtains.
They sent their silver to the Confederate government, the church bells to the
foundries to be cast into cannon, and cut their carpets into blankets for the
soldiers. They held fairs and bazaars to raise money for the war activities.”
When hospitals were established in Sumter, Octavia writes, “Our ladies,
of course, took immediate charge, and the soldiers were fed and nursed with
all the means of our command, and all the tenderness of Southern women.”
She also showed compassion for the Union troops who had been taken prisoner:
“When I heard that the Northern prisoners would be brought through our
town and that they were nearly in a starving condition, I immediately exerted
myself to obtain a large quantity of provisions…to give to them…”
After the war, she devoted her life to memorializing "The Lost Cause,"
and in 1869 was elected president of the "Ladies Monumental Association.”
Succeeding her was her eldest daughter Rebecca, who wrote that “Daughters
and grand daughters were all taught by her that this was a sacred duty.”
In 1903, at the age of 80, Octavia wrote a summary of her memoirs, describing
the family’s experiences during the war, concluding with the paragraph, "the
rest of the miserable story, through the days of Reconstruction, need not be
told. We suffered, as others did, and endured as best we could."
How can you not take pride in people like that!
And how can we not undertake the “sacred duty” to continue to speak
of our ancestors’ sacrifices and valor?
Southerners are stubborn people. And so we will never give up on honoring our
ancestors, remembering their valor, recognizing their sacrifices, defending
our heritage, and insisting that The Truth be known.
It may have been a Lost Cause, but it was an honorable one, and no matter how
hard and frustrating it is, we must never let that be forgotten.
Thank you for inviting me and for the honor of being with you today.
Lewis Regenstein email@example.com, a Native Atlantan, is descended
Mother’s side from the Moses family of Georgia and South Carolina, whose
patriarch, Myer Moses, participated in the American Revolution. Almost three
dozen members of the extended family fought for the Confederacy, and participated
in most of the major battles and campaigns of the War. At least nine of them,
largely teenagers, died in defense of their homeland, and included the first
and last Confederate Jews to fall in battle.