The Savannah Morning News
SAVANNAH — Frederick Bliss, a son of Savannah and first lieutenant in command of B Co. of the 8th Georgia Infantry, was wounded 150 years ago this week on the blood-sodden fields of Gettysburg.
There are different historical accounts of his wounds July 2, 1863. One says his right foot was blown off on that second day of the Civil War’s most savage and seminal battle. Most, however, say he was wounded when a Union cannon shot smashed into his right thigh.
There is no dispute of what came next: Bliss was brought to the rear to be treated at the Confederate divisional field hospital set up at Plank Farm (owned by the ancestors of eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Eddie Plank).
Bliss’ right leg was amputated. Two days later, the son of widowed Savannah boarding house owner Emma M. Bliss died of his wounds, but not before asking his attending surgeon to turn him so he could die facing the field of battle.
So ended the short, eventful life of Frederick W. Bliss. He was 23.
Bliss is buried in Savannah’s Laurel Grove Cemetery, but part of his story lives on among Paul Blatner’s collection of historical Savannah material.
Blatner is the proud curator of several items of Bliss’ Confederate uniform, including his long gray jacket, a battle sash, a leather belt with a buckle adorned with the Seal of Georgia and a slouch hat that bears a button with the Seal of Georgia and the insignia of the Oglethorpe Light Infantry.
“The uniform descended down through the Bliss family, and I received it from my father, who bought it from the Bliss family sometime in the 1950s,” Blatner said Monday, the 150th anniversary of the first day of the bloodiest battle ever fought on North American soil.
Blatner, as he spoke, sat at a table on his second-floor deck that looks westward over the swaying marsh of Tybee Island. His right leg was in a walking cast courtesy of a nasty spider bite.
On the table, draped snuggly over a garment form, was Bliss’ uniform jacket, replete with sash and leather belt.
The coat, which looks to be a size suitable for a teenager or diminutive adult, remains in remarkable condition even after a century and a half.
Much of the original deep gray color remains in the fabric, as does the maroon color of the sash. Several of the original brass buttons are missing from the double rows on the front, but the majority remain, each with their own Seal of Georgia.
The piping on the sleeves, which signified Bliss’ rank as an officer, is intact. There are areas where the wool has separated, and there is some small damage to the front from mothing, though none of the holes appeared larger than the nail of a pinky finger.
“We believe the garment was probably made in Virginia, sometime about 1861,” Blatner said. “The fact that there are no bullet holes created a bit of a mystery, but this was his actual uniform worn at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
The back tells a different story, particularly that portion that would have been above Bliss’ right leg wound. That area of the coat is slightly more tattered, with rips, larger moth holes and brownish stains. Blatner attributes the latter to Bliss’ spilled blood.
Blatner said the uniform has been authenticated by several Civil War experts and historians and pictured in the well-regarded Civil War history, “Civil War Relics from Georgia” by Celeste C. and David L. Topper. It also was displayed at the Savannah History Museum from 2000 to 2002.
Bliss, according to Mauriel Joslyn’s book “Charlotte’s Boys: Civil War Letters of the Branch Family of Savannah,” joined the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, a Savannah militia, in 1856 and served as a clerk in a commission house in 1860.
He joined the Confederate army on May 21, 1861, as a second sergeant. According to a June 30, 1915, letter to the Georgia commissioner of pensions from the U.S. Army’s adjutant general, Bliss was commissioned a second lieutenant on Sept. 1, 1861, and promoted to first lieutenant “sometime in December, 1861.”
A story that appeared in a collection of Gettysburg seminar papers published by the National Park Service, based on an Aug. 2, 1904, address to the Walton County Confederate veterans by George Hillyer, said Bliss was “accused of cowardice for leaving the field due to illness in a previous battle” — Blatner believes it was Fredericksburg — but was exonerated in a court martial.
Another vignette from Hillyer’s lecture offers a glimpse of Bliss as commander and person:
“As the men of G.T. Anderson’s brigade waited to advance July 2, one of the soldiers posed a question. ‘Suppose,’ he said, ‘that by divine revelation, it were made known in a manner that we all believed it, that some one of us would walk across that valley and up to those batteries and be blown to atoms by one of those cannon, thus sacrificing one life instead of many, the victory would be ours, is there one of us that could do it?’ 1st Lt. Frederick Bliss (Co. B. 8th Ga.) immediately rose up, pointed to the enemy’s guns and said, ‘Yes, if I could do that, I would walk straight across that valley and put my breast to one of the cannon and myself pull the lanyard.’”
Bliss, according to “Charlotte’s Boys: Civil War Letters of the Branch Family of Savannah,” originally was buried at Plank Farm before his body was returned to Savannah on Feb. 9, 1886, and buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery.
His uniform also had something of a winding road back to Savannah. Blatner said it ultimately was returned to the Bliss family by the officer who succeeded Bliss as commander of Co. B.
“This man needs to be honored,” Blatner said. “This is a man who gave the last, full measure of his devotion to his country.