Major Raphael Moses, who pioneered the commercial growing of peaches in Georgia, was chief supply officer for Confederate general James Longstreet, participated in most of the major battles of the Civil War (1861-65) in the east, and ended up carrying out the last order of the Confederacy.
Raphael Moses was aleading member of an old Jewish South Carolina family that fought in the American Revolution (1775-83). Some three dozen members of the family also served the Confederacy during the Civil War. Moses was born on January 20, 1812, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Deborah Cohen and Israel Moses. A fifth-generation South Carolinian, Moses and his wife, Eliza, moved to Columbus, where he was a lawyer, planter, and owner of a plantation he named Esquiline, after one of the famous hills surrounding Rome, Italy.
In 1851 Moses helped initiated the marketing of plums and peaches in the state and is reputed to have been the first planter successfully to ship and sell peaches outside of the South. In his history of antebellum Georgia, James C. Bonner credits Moses with being the first to succeed in preserving the flavor of shipped peaches, by packing them in champagne baskets instead of in pulverized charcoal.
Moses is best known as the chief commissary officer for General James Longstreet, the man General Robert E. Lee called “my old warhorse.” Moses assumed this position in November 1862, at the age of fifty, and served at Chickamauga; Second Manassas, Virginia; the first battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and the major campaigns around Chattanooga and Knoxville, both in Tennessee.
Moses had regular contact with several of the South’s most famous generals and was especially close to Robert E. Lee. Moses was with him during the Battle of Gettysburg and, on the evening of the defeat, slept near him on the ground while a heavy storm rained down upon them. Lee’s biographer Douglas Southall Freeman called Moses “the best commissary officer of like rank in the Confederate service.”
Moses was responsible for feeding and supplying up to 54,000 Confederate troops and personnel, and his actions contrasted sharply with the Union policy of looting and burning homes, farms, and entire cities full of defenseless civilians. Moses had been forbidden by Lee to enter private homes in search of supplies during raids into Union territory, even when food was in painfully short supply, and he always paid for what he did take from farms and businesses, albeit in Confederate tender.
Moses attended the last meeting of the Confederate government, at the Bank of the State of Georgia (later the Heard House), in Washington in Wilkes County on May 5, 1865. It was there that he carried out the Confederacy’s last order. Moses was ordered by Confederate president Jefferson Davis to take possession of $40,000 in gold and silver bullion from the Confederate treasury and deliver it to help feed and supply the defeated soldiers straggling home after the war—weary, hungry, often sick, shoeless, and in tattered uniforms. With a small group of determined armed guards, Moses successfully carried out his duty, despite repeated attempts by mobs to take the bullion forcibly.
Moses’s three sons also served with distinction in the Civil War. One, Albert Moses Luria (named in honor of Moses’s ancestor Luria), was killed in 1862 in Virginia after courageously throwing a live Union artillery shell out of his fortification before it exploded, thereby saving the lives of many of his compatriots. Luria was the first Confederate Jew to die in battle; the last was his first cousin, Joshua Lazarus Moses, of Sumter, South Carolina, killed on the day Lee surrendered, firing the last shots in defense of Mobile, Alabama.
Moses’s youngest son, Raphael Jr., at age sixteen served in the Confederate navy and participated in important fights at sea. He ended the war in the Twentieth Georgia Volunteers of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, walking home from Appomattox, Virginia, after the surrender. The eldest son, Israel Moses Nunez, served with Captain William W. Parker’s Virginia battery of artillery and fought in the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia.
After the war Moses became an active opponent of the Reconstruction government in Georgia and was elected to the state House of Representatives, becoming chairman of its judiciary committee. When he died on October 13, 1893, on a trip to Brussels, Belgium, his calling card still read, “Major Raphael J. Moses, CSA.” He was buried at Esquiline, his old plantation, now a family cemetery in Columbus. His papers are housed at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta.