Capt. George N. Bliss, 1st R. I. Cavalry, at Waynesborough, Va. Sept. 1964

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
8,299
Location
Central Massachusetts
GeoBliss.jpg
Judge George N. Bliss, 1899

Medal of Honor recipient, Capt. George N. Bliss, Troop C, First Rhode Island Cavalry. His citation reads:

While in command of the provost guard in the village, he saw the Union lines returning before the attack of a greatly superior force of the enemy, mustered his guard, and, without orders, joined in the defense and charged the enemy without support. He received three saber wounds, his horse was shot, and he was taken prisoner.

The date was Sept. 28, 1864, during the Battle of Waynesborough, Va. His own description of the incident was rather more detailed:

Looking back, I saw my men coming on with a splendid squadron front; looking forward, I saw the enemy in column of fours, turning to retreat. The ground was down hill towards the enemy, and I had never seen a better opportunity for a sabre charge, and as the squadron neared me, I shouted, "Come on boys, they are running," and jumping my horse over the low barricade, dashed in among the rebels, only to find myself making the attack single-handed. I had ridden past a dozen of the enemy before I discovered my desperate situation. They were retreating in a loose column of fours, and as I rode in among them there were three files on my left hand and one on my right. I felt that death was certain; and, like a lightning flash, my whole life seemed to pass in review before me closing with the thought, "and this is the end."

There was but one chance; fifty men behind me were shouting, "Kill that d Yankee." To turn among them and retrace my steps was impossible; my horse was swift, and I thought if I could keep on until I came to a side street, I might dash into that, and, by making a circle, reach our lines. As I rode I kept my sabre swinging, striking six blows, right and left. Two of the enemy escaped by dodging their heads, but I succeeded in wounding four of them ... The first side street reached was on the left. Keeping my head close to my horse's neck, I then broke through the three files on my left, and entered the side street in safety, fully twenty yards from the nearest horseman. For a moment I thought I was safe, when suddenly a bullet, doubtless intended for me,, struck my gallant steed and he staggered under the shock. With rein and spur I urged him on, but it was in vain; he fell with a plunge that left me lying upon the ground.

Before I could rise two of the enemy reined in their horses by me, and leaning over in their saddles struck at me, one with a carbine and the other with a sabre. I could parry but one, and with my sabre stopping the crushing blow from the carbine at the same instant that the sabre gave me a cut across the forehead. I at once rose to my feet and said to the soldier who had wounded me, "For God's sake do kill a prisoner." "Surrender then he said; to which I replied, "I do surrender." He demanded my sword and pistol which I “gave him, and had scarcely done so when I was struck on the back with such a force as to thrust me two steps forward. Upon turning to discover the cause of this assault I found that a soldier had ridden upon the trot and stabbed me with his sabre, which would have passed entirely through my body but for the fact that in his ignorance of the proper use of the weapon he had failed to make the half-turn of the wrist necessary to give the sabre smooth entrance between the ribs. I saw also at this moment another soldier taking aim at me with a revolver. There was only one chance left me; I called for protection as a Freemason, and Capt. Henry C. Lee, the acting adjutant-general of the enemy's force, at once came to my assistance, ordered a soldier to take me to the rear and see that my wounds were dressed.

Yet another man saved by his Masonic ties. Bliss was treated very well, indeed. Taken to a Confederate officers’ hospital, he was given free run of the establishment, solely on his word of honor not to try to escape (he had one guard assigned to keep an eye on him, who he once woke up and warned him of the penalty for sleeping on duty).

Eventually, his wounds healed, Bliss was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, and, on Feb. 5, 1865, exchanged. Discharged on May 15, George Bliss settled in East Providence. He remained active in the R.I. State Militia, was a lawyer, and judge. He died at the age of 91, on 29 August, 1928.

But, there is a fascinating postscript to this story, which I will tell in the next post.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
8,299
Location
Central Massachusetts
Our story is continued exactly one decade after the war’s end. George N. Bliss writes:

I did not know the names of the Confederates I wounded at Waynesborough, but in June, 1875, the Richmond Commandery of Knights Templars made a short visit to Providence on their return from a celebration of the centennial of Bunker Hill battle. I met some of these brother Masons and told them my experiences at Waynesborough, and, on their return, the story passed from one to another until the names of Captains Lee and Moss were sent me.... In 1882 I met Captains Moss and Lee in Virginia, and, in 1897, Gen. T. T. Munford was a guest at my home in Rhode Island.

Moss and Lee had been officers in Munford’s 4th Virginia Cavalry, and engaged at Waynesborough that September 28, 1864.

A few years later, in the spring of 1902, he received the following letter:

Rock Island, Va., March 24, 1902.
Capt. Geo. N. Bliss, Providence, R. I. :
Dear Bliss: Having seen in the Richmond Dispatch a very interesting war incident, speaking of your wounding at Waynesborough, Virginia, four men with a sabre, and as I received three sabre wounds on my head, and believing that you were the man that wounded me, I respectfully request you to send me your photograph. I was a member of Capt. W. A. Moss's company, Buckingham County troops, Fourth Virginia Cavalry, Company K, Wickham's brigade, Lee's division, and also a Mason. Please let me hear from you and oblige.
Yours fraternally,
Robert L. Baber.

Bliss promptly answered, and received the following reply:

Rock Island, Buckingham Co., Va v
April 29, 1902.
Dear Bliss: Yours of recent date was duly received and I was highly gratified to learn of the man who gave me such an awful drubbing, but proud to know that it did not seriously injure me — it only gave me six weeks' furlough. You say that three of the four men that you wounded, after thirty years are still living, which is correct. Mr. Thomas W. Garnett is the man, if I mistake not, whose name you had not learned, who is living, and whose post office is Arcanum, Buckingham County, Va. Capt. Wm. A. Moss has been dead twelve or fourteen years I suppose.

As we have been giving a short history of our lives, I will go a little further, but do not know that it will interest you, but, however, will give you a little anyway. I am nearly seventy-six years of age, have been a member of the Methodist church nearly sixty years, a Mason nearly forty-two years, was justice of the peace twenty-five years, and am a notary public now and have been for about twenty-eight years. You desired me to give an account of the fight, but, having been so long, I think it would be difficult to give a correct account of the same. I would like to learn a little more of your history, if it will not tire or weary you too much, as I have right much interest in the person who wounded me, and should you ever find it convenient I should be glad for you to visit me.
Yours truly,
Robert L. Baber.

A month later came another letter, this time from Thomas W. Garnett:

Arcanum, Va., May 14th, 1902.
Capt. Bliss:
Dear Sir: I am agreeably surprised to hear from you. I was at Waynesborough, Va., on the 28th of September, 1864. I was wounded by the same man who wounded Capt. William A. Moss and Robert L. Baber.

I received a sabre wound on my head. He, or you gave me a right cut and passed on. I followed you to a left hand street. I shot at you and your horse fell. Just then Captain Moss called me to his assistance. I went and did not see you again until that night at the hospital. I was the first man you wounded in the fight.

I got your sabre from Thad Sheppard, and carried it the balance of the war, and buried it on my return home after the surrender.

I never knew Hamilton. Captain Moss has been dead about twelve years. I know Baber. He lives about thirty miles from here. I heard yesterday that he is dead; I don't know that it is true.

I am glad we are both still living. Write again. „
Yours truly,
Thomas W. Garnett.

Robert Baber had not, in fact, passed away. But it was Thomas Garnett who would continue the correspondence, and open a new chapter in our story.
 
Last edited:

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
8,299
Location
Central Massachusetts
Arcanum, Va, July 16, 1902.
Judge Bliss:

Dear Sir: Your letter and papers came promptly to hand. I would have answered sooner, but I sent out a scout for the sabre. He reported last night that he had found it.

Now I will write you a little history. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox Gen. Munford called for men to go with him to Johnston, then at Danville, Va. I volunteered to go. We went as far as Lynchburg and gave up the hunt. On my way back I was advised to get rid of my side-arms, else I might be taken for one of Mosby's scouts. Ten miles from here I hid the sabre under the bottom rail of a fence, near a large white oak tree, thinking at the time that I would go after it after things got quiet, but never did. When Mr. Sheppard moved his fence, his son tells me he found the sabre. His message to me is: "If you want the sabre to keep you can get it; but if you want to send it off you will have to pay for it. I suppose he thinks I have a scheme on hand to make something out of you. He did not say what I would have to pay for it. The blade is good, but the scabbard is broken. I have not seen Frank Sheppard himself. I heard all this from his son, Mosby. These Sheppards are not Thad's relations. You write to me again and I'll take your letter to Mr. Sheppard, and let him see that I am only trying to get the sabre for you. He should give it up without remuneration.

Yours very truly,
Thomas W. Garnett.



July 21, 1902.
Thomas W. Garnett, Esq,:

Dear Sir: Your letter about the sabre is received. I should like to have the sabre, together with its broken scabbard, but if I can not have it, I should like to have it hung in your home, for of right it belongs to you. I have received the Congressional medal for gallantry, Sept. 28, 1864, at Waynesborough, Va., which was the last time the sabre was in my hands. I do not much care for the sabre for myself, but my boys, two of whom served their country in the United States navy in the war with Spain, would be delighted to have it. Hugh Hamilton, the color bearer I wounded at Waynesborough has promised to visit me this summer, and I expect him to be present at the reunion of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, Aug. 9, 1902. I should be delighted to have you come here at the same time and become my guest.

Yours truly,
George N. Bliss.


Arcanum, Va v July 27, 1902.
Judge Bliss:

Dear Sir: I am glad to say I have been getting a daily mail from you for several days. Your picture looks like you are just in your prime. You look like you might stand another campaign. I had to make the second trip to see Mr. B. P. Sheppard before I caught him. He said I was welcome to the sabre, but if sent to you $5 must be paid for it.

I put the sabre under the fence April 11, 1865, and Sheppard found it in 1874. Nine years under the fence had left their marks. The leather on the hilt had rotted off, and the scabbard was nearly eaten up by rust. Sheppard put a wooden hilt on in place of the leather, and used it to kill rats with, and cut off a part of the guard to make it handy. There is but one thing about it I can recognize and that is the dent place in the edge, which was in it when I got it. Thad Sheppard has been dead for many years. I don't know that Thad Sheppard was the man to whom you surrendered, but I suppose he was, as he had your sabre. I have heard nothing more from Baber since I wrote you of his death. I will express the sabre to you from Farnumville, Prince Edward County, July 28th, and hope it may reach you by August 9th.

Many thanks for your cordial invitation to visit you, but it is out of my power to do so. We would be glad to see you.
Hoping to hear from you again, I am, yours

very truly,
Thos. W. Garnett.


The sabre arrived at Bliss' East Providence home a few days later and was on exhibition at the annual reunion of the First Rhode Island Cavalry on Aug. 9, 1902, on which occasion the 4th Virginia Color Bearer Hugh Hamilton was warmly welcomed as a friend by his former foes.


George N. Bliss wrote about his wartime experiences, and presented them before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society:

Reminiscences of my Service in the First Rhode Island Cavalry, R.I.S.S.H.S. Personal Narratives, Series 3, Number 3, 1884

Cavalry Service with General Sheridan, and Life in Libby Prison, R.I.S.S.H.S. Personal Narratives, Series 3, Number 6, 1884

How I Lost my Sabre in War and Found it Again in Peace, R.I.S.S.H.S. Personal Narratives, Series 6, Number 2, 1903 (all letters quoted herein are from this source)

There is also a recently published collection of his letters: ”Don't tell father I have been shot at": the Civil War letters of Captain George N. Bliss, First Rhode Island Cavalry .
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
19,151
Location
Central Pennsylvania
This is an excellent story, gosh. You can't quite believe he made it out of that hideous fight, much less survived the war. This Mason connection is always fascinating. Odd or not as a concept in 2018, there's something about that strong a sense of ' brotherhood ' . Our entire country split apart. Masons do not seem to have quite agreed to kill each other.

Now to go look up George. A Bliss, from Rhode Island, will be some far flung cousin.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top