"Outlaws Before the World"
The Story of General Orders Number Eleven: also known as The Jewish Eviction of Paducah
A very unusual, but seldom remembered event occurred long ago in Paducah, during the War Between the States. However, the episode is well worth the retelling, as it illustrates the determination of the human spirit when faced with incredible odds.
Kentucky had been admitted to the Union in 1792 as a slave state. But by the time the Civil War erupted in 1861, the state was largely pro-Federal in its practices. Kentucky would struggle with the position of ‘armed neutrality’ for the duration of the war. It was true that men across the state would enlist as soldiers with both armies. However, Paducah was very strong in its Southern sympathies, and many men from West Kentucky chose to fight under the Confederate flag.
Paducah, at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, with other rivers nearby, was of vital importance to the Union. Because of the necessity of commanding the rivers as a means of transportation and shipping, President Lincoln decreed that Paducah must be kept safely under Union protection.
Therefore, on September 6, 1861, Paducah was invaded by Union troops under the command of General Grant. After the initial indignity of the invasion and impending occupation had worn off, the town entered into a no-man’s land of watch and counter-watch that would last for four long years.
Federal General E. A. Paine was left in charge of Paducah, after Grant left town. Paine was known to be rather difficult to fathom. Many of his fellow officers did not particularly care for him. Paine disliked anyone who did not agree eye to eye with his views…and he was known to be highly prejudiced in many matters. On the other hand, it was thought that his iron rule would keep Southern sympathizers under control. What would later be noted as a dark passage of Paducah’s history, had begun.
Paine initiated fierce rules to gain control of its citizens. He was well aware that he might fail to break the spirits of the Secessionists, and this made him fretful. He lashed out with harsh restrictions that endeared him to none. No one was safe from his increasing wrath. Paine became suspicious of everyone. As is the case with many bullies, he often targeted the meekest and mildest of persons to be his victims. His disfavor was not to be taken lightly.
Citizens walked and talked very carefully. Merchants conducted an uneasy business, selling goods needed for daily living to supporters of both North and South. Paducah’s business district was comprised of people of all faiths, including those of the Jewish belief, whose highly successful shops sometimes employed three generations of families. It seemed that the self effacing Jewish residents drew an abnormal amount of wrath from General Paine. It came as no surprise to many when he decided to rid the town of their presence.
Paine began his campaign by putting the blame squarely on the Jews as being the persons who were supporting the bands of roving guerillas which were harassing Union troops all over the area. There was no proof to back up the unfair accusation against the peace-loving Jews. But that did not stop Paine from laying the matter as fact before his superiors. He informed General Grant, now farther South and coping with matters other than the situation at Paducah, that the Jewish citizens were the root of all of Paine’s problems.
On December 11, 1862, Grant, who was then commanding the Department of Tennessee, responded to Paine’s correspondence, by ordering the expulsion of all Jews from Paducah "as a class" from the Department within 24 hours. Paine was jubilant!
Thus, it came to pass that thirty of Paducah’s most respectable families were routed from their homes and businesses without warning. They were given no hearing. There was no attempt made to determine which, if any, had been giving aid and comfort to the enemy. They were simply told they would be evicted from Paducah. All that was dear and familiar to them, including their homes, their businesses, even their beloved dead resting in peaceful repose in the cemetery, would have to be left behind.
Transports arrived at the foot of Broadway to deliver them to the North. Consternation was unavoidable in the rush; soldiers were sometimes not gentle in their prodding to get everyone aboard. It was said that a small baby was tossed across the water to its parents by a Union officer as the boat was already moving from the shore. Three of the men, a 30 year old merchant named Cesar Kaskel, his brother, Julius, and a jeweler named Wolfe, grimly decided that they would fight the unfair eviction, all the way to Washington.
After a journey up what must have seemed a river of despair, the group was put off at Cincinnati, unloaded and left to shift for themselves. The three men immediately fired off a telegram to President Lincoln. The telegram minced no words:
"This inhuman order, the carrying out of which would be the greatest violation of the Constitution and our rights as citizens, would place us, besides a large number of Jewish families in our town, as outlaws before the world."
By now, the story had been picked up by the newspapers and a nationwide rumble of protest arose from Jews and Gentiles, Federals and Confederates alike. The action was so harsh and unreasonable that persons with any morals were aroused to vent their opinions of the injustice that was being done.
Meanwhile, no reply had been received from the telegram, and the Kaskels decided to place the matter before Lincoln in person. They traveled to Washington, where they had little trouble getting in to see the President.
Lincoln listened gravely to the story as it was laid before him. Cesar Kaskel told of the great injustice of having been convicted without a trial, the indignity of deportation, and its consequences.
At the end of the story, Lincoln rubbed his whiskers, and said, "So the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan."
Yes," replied Kaskel steadily, "and that is why we have come unto the bosom of Father Abraham asking protection."
Lincoln smiled. "And this protection they shall have," he replied. The President then asked for paper and pen. He wrote out an order to division headquarters at St Louis and ordered it sent by telegraph to General Grant. Lincoln told Kaskel, "You may return to Paducah when you wish. Before you reach there the order will have been removed."
Kaskel hurried back to Cincinnati, assembled the Paducahans, and rented a boat. The Jewish group started their return journey home. However, when the refugees landed at the foot of Broadway, they were met by the provost marshal and a group of soldiers who wished to prevent them from coming ashore. The marshal demanded to know by whose orders they had returned.
"By the orders of the president of the United States," Kaskel replied evenly, helping his friends ashore.