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The War Within

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The War Within

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The War Within
A Novel of the Civil War
By Carol Matas
Aladdin, (2002)
ISBN: 0689843585

A Large Print Edition is also available.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - August 14, 2003

"The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department [military] orders, are hereby expelled from the department [territory] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order..."

This dictate was not handed down by an anti-semitic bureaucrat in Imperial Russia or Nazi Germany. Rather, it was issued by Ulysses S. Grant. At the time the order was issued, Grant was a Major General in the Union Army, he was later to go on to become the 18th President of the United States. This order is one of the many infamous footnotes to the American Civil War that is often overlooked in history books.

Major General U.S. Grant issued his "General Orders, No. 11" on December 17, 1862. In this document he ordered the expulsion of all Jews - no matter what their political or business associations, out of the Department under his control. The Department in question was the "Department of the Tennessee." This was a military command / administrative district that covered parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

The order of expulsion was resined a few weeks later, but not before numerous families where uprooted. In the process, many people had their possessions destroyed or confiscated, and worse, many discovered that even in America, Jews could be forced from their homes for no other reason than that they were Jews.

Carol Matas's riveting novel for young adults, The War Within, is takes place during this turbulent period. Written in the form of a diary, this novel of the Civil War chronicles the coming-of-age saga of thirteen-year-old Hannah Green.

Hannah, the diarist, is a young Jewish girl who is trying her best to act and look grown-up. She lives in Holly Springs, Mississippi where her parents run a general store. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Germany, and when they settled in Holly Springs they tried to assimilate as much as possible into their new community. They succeeded in their goal, and their children grew up imbued with Southern ideals and sensibilities, and gentile (non-Jewish) friends.

Living in a society that condoned slavery, the Green's owned a few slaves, and the Green children grew up thinking that this was an acceptable practice. In addition, because they identified themselves as true Southerners, the Green's automatically aligned themselves with the cause of the Confederacy. The story opens in December 1862, a time during which Hannah has two brothers serving in the Confederate Army, and her father is away from home serving the Confederacy in an administrative role. Holly Springs has been occupied by Union Forces for a while, so long in fact that Hannah's older sister has had time to fall in love with a Union Officer. Hannah is furious over this blossoming romance, despite the fact that Captain Mazer is a fellow Israelite. In her mind, he is nothing but a Yankee, and for this reason alone he should be despised.

When they learn of Grant's order of expulsion, they, and their neighbors, figure that it does not include the Greens. After all they had lived in Holly Springs for years, and the target of the expulsion order seemed to be directed at profiteers - which the Greens were not. But, no matter how assimilated they were into the community, nor how honest they were when it came to their business dealings - they were Jews and had to go.

Without much more than the clothes on their backs, the Green's are forced to leave Holly Springs. During their exodus, Hannah begins to question all that she understands about slavery and what it means to be a Jew. The war within, of the book's title, takes place in Hannah's mind as she begins to compare the plight of the Southern slaves with the historical plight of the Jews when they were enslaved in Egypt. As the story progresses she begins to see the evil inherent in any system that enslaves or ill-treats a group of people simply because they belong to a specific group.

Grant's decree of expulsion was Hannah's first experience of anti-semitism and discrimination - two elements that constantly buffet her family as they journey out of Grant's territory. Hannah's experiences help convey to the reader the effect of Grant's order, and the human toll that it took. Matas clearly shows how these experiences helped to change Hannah's attitudes toward slavery, the war in general, and her religion.

The War Within is a well-crafted novel that deals with several important issues ranging from discrimination to inter-family relations, as well as touching upon some intriguing aspects of Jewish history during the Civil War. The novel concludes with the text of the General Orders No. 11 and associated documents, plus an brief discourse on Reform Judaism. Although written primarily for upper level elementary and middle school aged children, this book will hold the interest of readers of any age.

For anyone wishing to understand why Grant ordered this abhorrent order, and its aftermath, I'd recommend that they read General Grant's Infamy. This article offers a concise overview of the situation, and the controversy surrounding its implementation.

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