Five Jewish soldiers who also died in battle are buried outside the Soldier’s Section, and as many as 40 Confederates are buried elsewhere within the Hebrew Cemetery.
The iron fence
In 1871, the association commissioned William Barksdale Myers, a noted Richmond artist, to design a wrought-iron fence to surround the Soldier’s Section. Myers had served as an engineer officer and adjutant for Maj. Gens. Samuel Jones and William B. Loring during the war and was described as “witty and full of quaint satire … a good and reliable officer.”
The posts of the fence are furled Confederate flags with stacked muskets, with a flat Confederate soldier’s cap on top of them. The railings between the posts are crossed swords and sabers hung with wreaths of laurel. The fence is considered the finest piece of 19th-century ornamental ironwork in the city. Myers died at age 33, two years after designing the fence.
Like other memorial associations, the HLMA collected money for maintaining the Soldier’s Section and sponsored speakers for Memorial Day celebrations. Because Jews do not adorn graves with flowers, the boundary fence usually was wreathed in greenery for special occasions.
During the early decades of the 20th century, many ladies’ memorial associations began to decline, often merging into other benevolent or commemorative organizations, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The HLMA of Beth Ahabah never numbered more than 60 members. It closed its financial accounts in October 1943.
Capt. Jacob A. Cohen
It’s not clear how these 30 men came to be buried in the Soldier’s Section, and there is only partial information about many of them. Even the accuracy of some of the data on the bronze tablet adorning the monument today is open to question.
Nevertheless, personal information pieced together from Beth Ahabah records, regimental histories and service records stored in the National Archives reveal that these soldiers probably represented a cross section of the rich and diverse Jewish life that thrived in the South during the antebellum and war years.
Three officers are buried in the Soldier’s Section. Capt. Jacob A. Cohen, 41, of Company A, 10th Louisiana Infantry, probably was the oldest when he died along with 18 other men from his regiment on Aug. 30, 1862, in the desperate fighting along the railroad cut at the Battle of Second Manassas.
The men of the 10th Louisiana were predominantly immigrant Irish, recruited in the tough New Orleans neighborhood known as the Irish Channel. Cohen, probably born in Dublin, was a laborer before enlisting.
Literate in spite of his humble profession, Cohen had written a scathing letter to Rabbi Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati after Lilienthal had castigated Southern Jews who supported secession. Across a picture of the respected and well-known rabbi, Cohen wrote: “I shall be engaged actively in the field and should be happy to rid Israel of the disgrace of your life.”
A charming officer
Lt. William Meyer Wolf of Company G, 11th South Carolina Infantry, was just 21 when he was killed at Swift Creek during the siege of Petersburg on May 9, 1864. When Wolf died, the regiment’s colonel wrote to his father in Ridgeville, S.C., calling the young lieutenant “one of the most efficient, active, and charming officers of his rank in my regiment.” Wolf’s company paid for his coffin.
The body of Pvt. Julius Zork (listed as Zark on the plaque) of Company E, 7th Louisiana Infantry, probably traveled the farthest after he was killed in the Shenandoah Valley at the Battle of Cross Keys on June 8, 1862. Pvt. Henry L. Caldwell recorded in his diary that he saw Zork, a hat maker from New Orleans, die instantly from a bursting Union artillery shell.View Entire Story
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