Gettysburg uniform survives in Savannah

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — Frederick Bliss, a son of Savannah and first lieutenant in command of B Company of the 8th Georgia Infantry, was wounded 150 years ago this week on the blood-sodden fields of Gettysburg.

Paul Blatner examines the Confederate uniform of Savannah native Frederick Bliss, who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Blatner's father bought it from the Bliss family in the 1950s.  STEVE BISSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
STEVE BISSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Paul Blatner examines the Confederate uniform of Savannah native Frederick Bliss, who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Blatner's father bought it from the Bliss family in the 1950s.

There are different accounts of the wounds he suffered 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 future Hall of Fame pitcher Eddie Plank).

Bliss’ right leg was amputated. Two days later, the 23-year-old son of widowed Sa­vannah boarding house owner Emma M. Bliss died of his wounds, but not before asking the surgeon to turn him so he could die facing the field of battle.

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 state seal 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.

The coat, which looks to be a size suitable for a teenager or diminutive adult, remains in remarkable condition. Much of the original deep gray remains in the fabric, as does the maroon 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 state seal.

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 moths, 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. It was displayed at the Savannah History Museum from 2000 to 2002.

Bliss, according to the 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 May 21, 1861, as a second sergeant.

His uniform 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 Company 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.”


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