This Day in Jewish History |

1913: A Jewish Civil War Hero Dies

Edward Salomon 'was the only soldier at Gettysburg who did not dodge when Lee’s guns thundered; he stood up, smoked his cigar and faced the cannon balls with the sangfroid of a Saladin ...'

David Green
David B. Green
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Edward Selig Salomon, U.S. Civil War hero, governor of Washington Territory.
Edward Selig Salomon, U.S. Civil War hero, governor of Washington Territory.
David Green
David B. Green

On July 18, 1913, Edward Selig Salomon, the German-born American Civil War hero who later became governor of Washington Territory, died. Edward Selig Salomon was born on December 25, 1836, in the duchy of Schleswig, then part of Denmark. He was one of 11 children born to Salomon M. Salomon and the former Caroline Samuels – all of whom but one (who died in youth) emigrated to the United States.

After finishing school in Europe, Edward Salomon set out for the United States, arriving in New York around 1855. The following year, he moved westward to Chicago, where he worked briefly in business and studied law. Salomon was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1859. Two years later, not yet 25, he was elected an alderman (city council member) from Chicago’s sixth ward.

On May 5, 1861, after the outbreak of the Civil War, Salomon enlisted in the 24th Illinois Infantry regiment, led by Colonel Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker. (Hecker was a German-born politician who immigrated to the United States in 1848, and during the war, set up a unit of German, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak immigrants to fight for the Union.) Hecker later resigned and formed a new regiment, the 82nd Illinois, and Salomon followed him, joining him with the rank of lieutenant colonel in September 1862. He led the regiment’s Company C, which was comprised nearly entirely of Jews. Historian Jonathan Sarna has written how the Jewish community of Chicago raised $11,000 to be divvied up as bonuses to those who would enlist in the ranks of Company C.

Salomon distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg, in July 1863, where he took over for Hecker after the latter was wounded. Although he had two horses shot out from under him, Salomon kept fighting over the three days of battle. His corps commander, Maj. Gen Carl Schurz, later described his comportment as follows: “He was the only soldier at Gettysburg who did not dodge when Lee’s guns thundered; he stood up, smoked his cigar and faced the cannon balls with the sangfroid of a Saladin ...”

In 1864, Hecker resigned and Salomon took over command of the 82nd. He led the regiment during the Atlanta Campaign, and he also fought at Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Chancellorsville. He finally received a promotion to brigadier general on March 13, 1865 for his “distinguished gallantry and meritorious service.” He was all of 28 at the time. (Two of his cousins, Edward Salomon and Frederick Salomon, also served as generals in the Civil War. The other Edward later became governor of Wisconsin.)

Back in Chicago following the war, Salomon was appointed Cook County clerk, a position that oversees the city’s elections apparatus, among other duties. Recognized as a war hero, he remained involved in veterans’ affairs.

In 1870, Salomon’s former supreme commander, Ulysses S. Grant, now president, named him the ninth governor of the Washington Territory. (Washington became a state only 1889.)

The governor, who retained a German accent his entire life, was sometimes a source of mirth. Once, visiting Seattle, Salomon walked up Yesler’s Way from the pier. Scooping up some dark sawdust mixed with horse dung, from the street, he reportedly exclaimed with enthusiasm, “Mein Gott! Vot a splendid soil for cabbages!”

Caught up in the various scandals that characterized the Grant presidency, although his personal record remained unblemished, Salomon resigned the position after two years. He and his wife, the former Sophie Greenhut, together with their six children, moved to San Francisco, where Salomon practiced law, and served as an assistant district attorney and later two terms in the California state assembly. San Francisco is also where he died, on this day in 1913.

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