During the Civil War thousands of American Jews enlisted in the armed forces of both the Union and the Confederacy. In July of 1861 the United States Congress passed a bill which provided for the appointment of chaplains from any recognized Christian denominations. In a Pennsylvania regiment called the Cameron Dragoons, Rabbi Arnold Fischel was appointed chaplain. Ironically it was Simon Cameron, as Secretary of War, and for whom the regiment was named, who denied the appointment of Fischel as contrary to law.
However, Fischel didn’t give up and moved to Washington, ministered to wounded Jewish soldiers and lobbied the Lincoln administration to allow the appointment of Jewish chaplains. On December 11, 1861, the Rabbi met with the President . He described the meeting in this letter: