Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Jews of Jackson County: Part VII - Simon Straus's War

During the taking of the 1860 census in the summer of 1860, the only Jewish residents established in Jackson Co. were the Fleishman family. Five young German-born men of likely Jewish backgrounds also lived in the county, but these salesmen and merchants were probably peddlers temporarily settling in Marianna which served as a base for their routes into the countryside. Consistent with their peripatetic lives most of these men had moved on from the Panhandle by the time war broke out in the spring of 1861. Samuel Fleishman was in his early forties at the war’s beginning and not required to serve in the military. When the age for compulsory service was extended in 1863 to 45 which included Fleishman’s age, he left for New York to work with his in-laws. Prussian native Aaron Davis joined Company E of the 5th Florida Cavalry Regiment late in the war when he was 22 years old but he soon departed and was reported in his service file as deserting in Dec. 1864. Simon Straus, listed in the 1860 census as a 23 year old German-born watchmaker also stayed in the Jackson County area but had a very different war-time experience.

Described as having a “fresh complexion” with auburn hair and grey eyes, Simon stood five foot five and a half inches. He joined Capt. Lawrence Attaway’s Company F of the 6th Florida Regiment at the Apalachicola Arsenal on May 21, 1862 (Attaway, a Jackson County native, would be dead of illness within two months at Columbus, Georgia – his widow Catherine operated Marianna’s hotel where Maggie McClellan was murdered in 1869). The 6th Florida operated in the Tennessee theater and in December Straus was detailed to the Knoxville, TN police force. By May 1863, Straus returned to his unit, but in July was listed as sick in an Atlanta hospital. Unlike many of his comrades, Straus did not succumb to illness and he returned to police and jail guard duty in Knoxville in August. Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, however, shortly abandoned Knoxville which was taken in September by Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside. Straus’s war ended soon afterwards when he was wounded and captured on Nov. 25, 1863 during the battle at Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga.

Upon being taken prisoner by Union forces, Straus was initially placed in a military hospital at Chattanooga. In early January he was dispatched to the military prison at Louisville KY, but a few days later was forwarded to the prison at Rock Island, Illinois where he arrived on January 17, 1864 and where he spent the rest of the war. At some point during his captivity, Straus contemplated taking an oath of allegiance to the Union as a route to get out of prison. His service file notes that his home was in the North and that he was the “only support of [his] widowed mother.” (I particularly like Straus getting his mother involved!). But for whatever reason, Straus remained in prison at Rock Island and was released only after taking the oath of allegiance after the close of the war on May 9, 1865. Straus, then 28 years old, apparently remained in the North and took up residence in Chicago.

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