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A LIVELY TIME


If you should happen to be in the city of Providence, R. I., and should make your way to No. 19 College Street, and knock at the door of Room 18, you will be greeted by a cheery "Come in," and will find yourself face to face with a handsome, sturdy man, with a bright eye, gray beard and scantily covered head of hair. Although at this writing (1907) he is verging closely upon the proverbial three-score and ten, he is as vigorous, alert and wide awake as most men two-thirds of his age. If the great Civil War claimed its hundreds of thousands of valuable lives, it must not be forgotten that it saved many others. Those who in their early manhood passed safely through its perils, hardships and the rough out-door exposure became strong, rugged and tough. Multitudes of pale, dyspeptic youths who enlisted came out with physiques that laughed weakness and disease to scorn. They have lived the scores of years since in the enjoyment of high health, which otherwise could never have been theirs.

The gentleman to whom I allude is Judge George N. Bliss, but in his case he was a splendid specimen of athletic manhood from the beginning. He is a native of Eagleville, Tiverton, R. I., where he was born, July 22, 1837. He was graduated from Union College, Schenectady, with the of A. B., in June, 1860. Shortly after he entered the Albany Law School, and on his graduation, in May, 1861, was. admitted to the Bar of the State of New York. In September of the same year he enlisted as a private in Company B, First Rhode Island Cavalry. Young Bliss's ability caused him to be made quartermaster-sergeant soon after, quickly followed by his promotion to first lieutenant, which rank he held until mustered in as captain of Company C, in August, 1862.

Having enlisted as a soldier, Captain Bliss set out to become a thorough one. He was a daring and skilful horseman, he had fenced with foils when a schoolboy, and became one of the finest swordsmen in the army. He was known as a man of undaunted bravery, always ready and eager to obey the orders of his superior officers, and never flinching in the face of any peril, no matter how great nor how hopeless the chance of victory might seem. Captain Bliss's modesty causes him to pass lightly over many of his exploits, which would have brought fame to any soldier. But his old comrades agree in pronouncing him a superb officer, whose example in the most trying circumstances was a model to others. He was a splendid type of the American volunteers which have carried our Rag to triumph on many a crimson battlefield. His qualities in this respect won the admiration of his enemies, with whom he crossed swords again and again in the hot conflict, which seemed at times and for so long to waver in the balance.

Captain Bliss's regiment was with Sheridan's army in the valley of the Shenandoah, and in September, 1864, was on duty at General Torbert's headquarters, where Bliss was in command of the provost guard. After the victories of Sheridan at Winchester, on the 19th, and Fisher's Hill, on the 22d, General Torbert with his cavalry occupied Waynes borough, Va. On September 28 they set out to destroy the railway bridge.

About the middle of the afternoon on the day named, Captain Bliss was directed by Major Farrington to ride into Waynesborough with orders to the provost guards to prevent soldiers from entering the houses, since the entire cavalry was about to pass through the town to water their horses in the Shenandoah. It was a crisp, cool day in early autumn, and the captain was in high spirits. A few weeks before he had been in the hospital, but the pure air, delicious spring water, good rations, and rough, out-door life had restored him to his usual perfect health. Life never looked more attractive to the young patriot.

The captain had in his charge about fifty prisoners, captured a day or so before. Just before entering the town a sergeant was met with a large quantity of bread, which by orders of the captain had been baked in Waynesborough for the captives. Promising soon to return, Bliss rode into town to give his orders to the provost guards. Having done so, he was about to go back, when his attention was drawn to the efforts of a Vermont cavalry regiment to destroy the railway bridge. They had nearly completed the work before Captain Bliss heard firing in the distance across the river. Looking in that direction, he saw, about a mile away, the enemy driving in the Union pickets. The latter fell back to the reserves, who charged and drove the Confederates in turn.

Captain Bliss supposed the affair was only a skirmish, but when he saw the Union reserve hurled back, he knew it was an attack in force. He galloped back into the village, where Captain Willis C. Capron, of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, had command of about a dozen men as provost guard, and ordered him to form them in line across the main street, and allow none but wounded men to pass to the rear. This was done, and Bliss was on the point of returning to his squadron, when Captain Capron begged him to take command. Captain Bliss refused, but Capron insisted, and the faces of his men showed that their wishes were the same. They knew that in Bliss they would have the best of leaders. He read the expression of their countenances, and in his crisp, military fashion said:

"Very well; I'll take command; pass to the rear as junior captain.

At the same time, Captain Bliss drew his saber and placed himself at the front. The firing on the opposite side of the river became hotter, but the Confederates steadily pushed the Federals back and the situation was fast becoming desperate. Seeing that something must be done quickly, Captain Bliss gathered about thirty men for a charge across the river, accompanied by cheering, the object being to make the enemy believe reinforcements were approaching. At the same time the main body of Union cavalry would be given time in which to rally for action.

The charge was made, and Bliss had nearly reached the front, when a major galloped up to him with orders from Colonel Lowell to take his command to the ford of the river and stop the stragglers. By his promptness, Captain Bliss checked fully a hundred and fifty panic-stricken men. With the aid of the lieutenants among them they were gotten into line, when a Confederate battery began dropping shells among them. The whole body was terrified and dashed so tumultuously across the river that they swept Captain Bliss's small force off their feet. He dashed after them, and succeeded in getting a few together, and began to throw up a barricade across the main street. There was not time to complete it, however, and the little body fell back till they reached the Third New Jersey Cavalry, drawn up in column of squadrons in the western suburbs of the town.

Looking again toward the enemy, Captain Bliss saw Colonel Charles Russell Lowell, who had been in command of the picket line, approaching with his horse on a walk. He was the last man to fall back before the advance of the Confederates. The bullets were whistling all about the brave officer, and little puffs of dust in the road showed where many struck. Captain Bliss hurried out to meet him.

"Colonel Lowell, I had only' a few of the provost guards, but I did all I could with them to help you."

"There is no question of that; but, captain, we must check their advance with a saber charge. Isn't that the best thing we can do?"

"I think is."

A few minutes later they came up to the Third New Jersey Cavalry. Colonel Lowell addressed the officer in command:

"Major, let your first squadron sling their carbines, draw their sabers and charge."

The order was given, but not a man moved. They were demoralized by having seen the troops driven back. Colonel Lowell shouted:

"Give a cheer, boys, and go at them!"

He and Captain Bliss set the example, arid charged, cheering and waving their sabers. It was just the thing needed, and the squadron dashed hot after them. A little farther on Colonel Lowell drew to one side, so as to send other troops to the support of the squadron.

This left Captain Bliss to lead the charge. He was mounted on a large, powerful sorrel horse, which speedily carried him a hundred yards in advance of the others. Reaching the partially built barricade, he reined up and looked back. His men were coming on with a splendid squadron front, while in the other direction the enemy, in column of fours, were turning to retreat. It was the psychological moment for a charge, and Captain Bliss, waving his saber high above his head, shouted at the top of his voice:

"Come on, boys! we've got them on the run Touching spur to his horse, he went over the barricade at a single leap, and thrilled by the chance of routing the enemy, the captain put his steed on a dead run, and the next moment was among them swinging his saber right and left, striking wherever he saw a chance of reaching a horseman. Almost in the same instant he made the discovery that he was entirely alone. The men had not followed, and he was caught in the most terrifying peril of his life, for here was one man attacking a squadron of cavalry single handed.

When the fearful truth broke upon Captain Bliss, he had penetrated so far into the company that fully a dozen were behind him. They were retreating in a loose column of fours, and he had three files on his left hand and one on the right. He says that fifty men were shouting:

"Kill that damned Yankee!" and all set vigorously to work to do it.

Captain Bliss did not believe he had one chance in a million. He was certain to be cut down if he tried to retreat, and the farther he went, the worse would his situation become. In the dizzying whirl of the moment, he thought that if he could fight off death until he reached a side street he would spur his horse into that and try to make a circuit back to his lines. He set out to attempt the impossible.

It need not be said that all this time the captain was the busiest man that can be imagined. His saber flashed right and left, for he must needs use it with skill and might and main to repulse the assaults upon him. He aimed one blow at Captain Morgan Strother, who dodged, and W. T. Haines ducked just in time to save his head. But Captain William A. Moss; Hugh Hamilton, color bearer of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, Robert L. Baber and Thomas W. Garnett all caught it fairly and were wounded. (Later on we shall explain how their names came to be known.)

While laying about him like a Trojan, Captain Bliss was on the alert for the side street to which he had pinned his hopes. He caught sight of one on his left, and dropping his head close to his horse's neck, he broke through three files, plunged into the opening and felt a thrill of hope; but at that instant a shot fired at him struck his steed and fatally wounded him. Feeling him going, the rider vigorously jerked the reins and struck his spurs deep into his flank. The noble animal strove bravely, but he was doomed and went down with a plunge which flung the captain to the ground. Before he could leap to his feet two horsemen were upon him, and each struck a vicious, well-aimed blow. One used his carbine, and Bliss parried the stroke, which otherwise would have killed him. He had no chance to ward off the saber, which inflicted an ugly cut on his forehead. Getting upon his feet, he called out:

"For God's sake do not kill a prisoner!"

"Then surrender!" commanded the horseman.

"I do surrender."

"Give me your sword and pistol."*

(* Referring to this incident, Captain Bliss in a letter to the writer says: "I suppose Shepherd, to whom I surrendered, did not dream how near death he was. If he had refused me mercy, I would have run him at once through the body, and we should have died together.")

The captain handed the weapons to his captor, but had hardly done so when he received a blow in the back, which knocked him forward several paces. Turning his head to learn the cause, he saw that a soldier had ridden up with his horse on a trot and stabbed him with his saber. The captain grimly says that the reason the weapon did not pass entirely through his body was that the soldier, "in his ignorance of the proper use of the weapon, had failed to make the half turn of the wrist necessary to give the saber smooth entrance between the ribs."

In the same moment Captain Bliss observed another soldier taking aim at him with a revolver. In that crisis, when his life seemed scarcely worth a second's purchase, the prisoner made the grand hailing sign of distress of a Mason. Captain Henry C. Lee, the acting adjutant-general, instantly recognized it and dashed up on his horse, and peremptorily checked every demonstration against the w9unded man. He ordered one of the soldiers to take him to the rear and see that his wounds were dressed. The order was obeyed, though on the way the prisoner was obliged to give up his gold watch, his money, and afterward to exchange his cavalry boots for a pair of canvas shoes.

Captain Bliss's wounds bled so much that he was too weak to mount a horse without help, but he was gotten into place behind one of the guards, and a ride of three miles brought him to a field hospital, where his wounds were dressed. Later in the evening he was put into an ambulance with Captain William A. Moss - at that time a lieutenant - who had received a bullet wound in addition to the saber cut from Captain Bliss. Captain Moss, like Bliss, was a Mason, and did his utmost for the comfort of the prisoner. The saber thrust caused the latter more trouble than the wound in his forehead. His lung had been injured, and he had to be plentifully dosed with morphine before he could sleep.

The next forenoon a mounted courier came to the hospital with orders to take Captain Bliss to the headquarters of General Thomas T. Munford, commanding the Confederate force that had made the attack the previous day. The prisoner, however, was too weak to sit a horse, and the messenger went back without him. Late at night the wounded were all landed by the cars in Charlottesville, and Bliss was placed in the officers' hospital. During the two weeks that he remained there he was treated with every courtesy and kindness. The surgeon in charge, J. S. Davis, Professor in the University of Virginia, was specially attentive and did everything in his power for the comfort of the Union prisoner.*

(* Captain Bliss informs me that he met seven Union officers whose lives were saved during the Civil War through their being Free Masons. And these were only a few among the hundreds and thousands on both sides.)

A few days after the arrival at Charlottesville, a wounded Confederate called upon Captain Bliss.

"I am W. T. Haines," said he with a smile, "and was the first man you attacked in the ranks of the Fourth Virginia at Waynesborough."

"But you were not hurt," remarked Bliss.

"No; I was lucky enough to dodge that cut; if I hadn't, I shouldn't be here to shake you by the hand. No man ever tried harder to kill another than I tried to kill you, but your horse was too swift for me; as I followed, your saber looked like a snake writhing in the air."

By the middle of October, Captain Bliss's wounds had healed and he was sent to Lynchburg, where he remained two days, going thence to Libby Prison, in Richmond. The long, hard journey from Charlottesville reopened his saber wound, and he was placed in the hospital, which was located at the south end of Libby. He recovered so rapidly that in little more than a week he was transferred to the regular prison quarters, where he met an old college friend in Captain Lieutenant Murray, were sent down the James River on the flag-of-truce boat and re-entered the Union lines.

The experience of Captain Bliss in Libby Prison was interesting, but the story of the prisoners confined there during the progress of the war has been told too many times to be repeated in this place. The four months' confinement broke the health for the time of the rugged young man, and he was placed on light duty as president of a court-martial at Annapolis, Maryland. On May 15 he was mustered out of service and returned to the profession of law in his native State of Rhode Island.

The stirring events narrated were followed, as has been the case in many other similar instances, by a pleasant sequel. In June, 1875, the Richmond Commandery of Knights Templars made a brief visit to Providence on their return from the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill. Captain Bliss had a cheery time with a number of the members, to whom he related his experience at Waynesborough. When they went home they retold the story. Thus the way was opened for not only an acquaintance with the ex-Confederates whom he encountered, but for the recovery of the saber which the captain had been compelled to surrender when his horse was killed and he stood in imminent danger of death.

Under date of March 24, 1902, Robert L. Baber wrote from Rock Island, Va., to Captain Bliss, asking for his photograph in return for the three saber wounds he had inflicted on his head in that lively scrimmage nearly forty years before. He got the photo and further correspondence followed. As proof of the truth of the account given of Captain Bliss's notable exploit, we quote from some of these letters. Mr. Baber, writing April 29, 1902, said:

"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 men whom 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. Captain William A. Moss has been dead twelve or fourteen years, I suppose.

"I am nearly seventy-six years of age, have been a member of the Methodist Church nearly sixty years, was justice of the peace twenty-five years, a Mason nearly forty-two years and am a notary public now and have been for about twenty-eight years."

Upon receipt of this letter, Captain Bliss wrote to Thoma8 W. Garnett, who answered on May 14, 1902:

"DEAR SIR: I am agreeably surprised to hear from you. I was at Waynesborough, Va., on September 28, 1864. I was wounded by the same man who wounded Captain William A. Moss and Robert L. Baber. (His name I have forgotten.)

"I received a saber 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 saber; 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 Barber. He lives about thirty miles from here. I am glad we are both still living. Write again."

Garnett set out to recover the saber of Captain Bliss with the purpose of restoring it to him. Two months later he wrote to the captain, telling him that after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, General Munford called for men to go with him to join General Jo Johnston, then at Danville, Va. Garnett was one of the volunteers. When they reached Lynchburg, they saw it was useless to try to go farther and gave up. On the way back, Garnett was advised to get rid of his side arms, through danger of being mistaken for one of Mosby's scouts. Ten miles from Arcanum, he hid the saber under the bottom rail of a fence, intending to return and get it after things had quieted down, but he never did so. The saber was found by the owner of the place when removing the fence, and he notified Garnett that while he was willing to let him have it for nothing, it must be with the provision that it was for himself alone; but if he wished it for any other purpose, he would have to redeem it. Garnett wrote on July 27, 1902:

"I had to make the second tri p to see Mr. B. F. Sheppard before I caught him. He said I was welcome to the saber, but if sent to you, five dollars must be paid for it. I put the saber 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 in the edge, which was in it when I got it." [This dent was made by the parrying of the carbine, as has been described.]

The old, battered, but precious saber reached Captain Bliss a few days later, and it need not be said that no relic in the possession of the brave veteran is held in such proud and loving remembrance. It was on exhibition at the annual reunion of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, August 9, 1902. A noteworthy incident on that occasion was the presence of Color Bearer Hugh Hamilton, who received the warmest of welcomes from his former foes, but now his ardent friends. He was the guest of Judge Bliss. Hamilton is four years younger than the judge, erect as an Indian, tall, soldierly, courteous and strikingly handsome. The two had their photographs taken together, and under the picture, which is before me as I write, Judge Bliss has placed the following:

"Once foes, for many years past and for all the years to come, friends."

Captain A. D. Payne died at Warrenton, Va., in March, 1893. In his account of the remarkable exploit of Captain Bliss, he wrote:

"The Fourth Virginia Regiment was at this point in the front, and Captain Morgan Strother, its commander, when he discovered the barricade, ordered some of his men to dismount to remove the obstruction. While this was being done, he suddenly gave the order for the dismounted men to mount, which was immediately obeyed, and just then an incident occurred worthy of mention, as exhibiting a deed of individual heroism rarely witnessed. Just as the men of the Fourth Regiment were well in the saddle, after the order of their commanding officer, a single soldier, coming from the direction of the enemy, with sword in hand, dashed into the Black Horse Troop, which composed one of the squadrons of the Fourth Virginia a Cavalry, and on that occasion was the color squadron, sabering the men right and left, wounding several, and among them Lieutenant William A. Moss and Corporal Hugh Hamilton, a gallant soldier and the color bearer. The boldness and suddenness of the attack paralyzed for a moment or two the Confederates, and in that interval this bold assailant succeeded in forcing his way through the Confederate column, and might possibly have escaped, but a shot fired by a Confederate brought his horse down, and he fell with it. He was at once surrounded, and received a saber cut in the face while in the act of parrying a blow from a carbine. Another Confederate gave him a saber thrust in the back, and in all probability he would have been slain but for the timely interference of Captain Henry C. Lee, an aid of Colonel Munford, who, seeing the struggle, rode up and put an end to it. It is said that Captain Lee recognized in the prostrate man a brother Mason, through some sign or cry used by the Masonic order in times of distress or danger."

Brigadier-General T. T. Munford at this date is living at Lynchburg, Va. Writing on March 4, 1882, to Judge Bliss, he thus referred to the olden times:

"In fighting over our battles, as all good soldiers love to do with those who went hand in hand together, I have frequently had the incidents you recalled in your letter mentioned by those of us who witnessed it, and it affords me pleasure to say it was worthy of a better support than you
I received from the ranking officer ordering the charge or the men who should have followed. A little dare-deviltry in a cavalry officer sometimes acts like magic; a few dashing fellows well led have turned a victory from one side to a rout on the other, without any cause. Your courage will never be doubted by any Confederate who saw your manly bravery in the fight, and you may thank a kind Providence that you are now alive to tell your own story in your own way. You have spoken in a manly and generous way of what passed in our lines. When I saw you at night, sitting behind a Confederate cavalryman, with the blood streaming down your face, going to the rear a prisoner, I said to Dr. Randolph, brigade surgeon, that you were one of the 'widow's son party.' He being one of the elder brothers, replied, 'I'll see your mother's son well taken care of this night,' and as most of the staff-officers were of the clan, they did the best they could for a brother in trouble.

"I am not a Mason, but most of my staff were Masons, and I know they frequently did many things that seemed to give them extra pleasure for the unfortunate on the other side. I was sure the institution was full of good works, and although I was only a poor soldier who tried to do his duty, with6ut being a Mason, I believed the organization was based upon Christian principles, and was always in sympathy with the work of the fraternity."

In some respects the most peculiar interest attaches to the narrative of Captain Henry C. Lee, for it will be remembered that he was the one who recognized the Masonic call of Captain Bliss when driven to the last extremity, and by instantly responding saved him from certain death. Captain Lee at that time was in his twenty-third year, so that he could not have been a Mason for more than about a year and a half. He died in Richmond in June, 1889. Some five years before his death he wrote to Judge Bliss:

"Just as Captain Moss got into town, owing to the Third not being up and the Second not well in position, I was sent forward by Colonel Munford, who was then commanding our brigade, to halt the squadron of the Fourth, and as I was galloping up one side (the right) of these squadrons (we were in columns of fours), I saw you galloping down on the other side. Knowing you would be looked after, particularly as you were alone, I kept on and halted the head of the troops, and then I saw your men going in the opposite direction. They were the ones you told me, when I first saw you after the war, you expected to lead in the charge against us and thought they were following you. My orders were also to bring our troops back that had been sent up on the road to the right, the First Regiment, for we were nearly into Sheridan's camp, and were fearful that your troops might sweep down this street and cut this party off. It was as I was returning, and had gotten to the corner, that I saw your horse fall and three or four of our men with you. As I passed you, you called out for relief as a Mason, and making a sign which I recognized, I ordered our men to let you alone, take you to the rear and see that you were attended to, as you seemed to be wounded. I had to go on to bring our troops back, and, although you said something to me, I had no time to stop. One of our men was about to kill you when I got to you, and informed me that you had badly wounded Captain Moss, and had struck somebody else, and thought it wrong for me to interfere. When I came back of course you were gone, and the horse, too, I think, and I never saw you again until you came down to see me here in 1880. I heard that you and Captain Moss were carried back in the same ambulance, and Moss, having some 'apple-jack,' our national drink, you took a drink together.

In conclusion, it may be said that Captain Bliss received the Congressional medal for gallantry, September 28, 1864, and the records of the War for the Union tell of no exploit that was more deserving of the honor. Two of his sons served in the navy during our late war with Spain, and the veteran has long been a judge in the Seventh District Court of East Providence, R. I.


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