These two letters were written by Samuel Bliss (1827-1863) and his brother, Levi Amidon Bliss (1828-1891)—the two eldest sons of Levi Bliss (1798-1867) and Joanna Amidon (1806-1846) of Worcester county, Massachusetts. Samuel wrote the first letter on 24 November 1862 from Port Royal, South Carolina, while serving in Co. K, 7th Connecticut Infantry. He wrote the letter to his wife, Sylvia (Coomes) Bliss (1824-1901) whom he married in October 1849 in Woodstock, Connecticut, where Samuel worked as a shoemaker. In the letter, Samuel shares with his wife how he felt when under enemy fire. He told her, “I don’t know as I felt afraid. I felt that the Lord protect[ed] me in the battle as well as anywhere. I felt sorry for my poor comrades [who] lay wounded. I didn’t think much about myself. I felt that I was willing to do my duty—more than willing. I could not hardly wait for orders. I wanted to fight the rebels.” But then he added, “…when I thought of my family at home and the anguish that would fill the heart of my dear Sylvia [if I were to be killed], it filled my eyes with tears.”
Less than a year later, in August, 1863, Samuel died in a Beaufort, S. C., hospital, no doubt bringing that anguish to fruition. In the second letter, written on 2 February 1864, Levi Bliss—also of Co. K, 7th Ct. Inf.—expresses his condolences to his sister-in-law on Samuel’s death and shares his own pain and anguish at the loss of their loved one. In packing his brother’s clothes to send home, he wrote, “I must say that I had a sad time in packing them up. And when I found the letter he wrote to you with the Oleander blossoms in it for you, I could restrain my tears no longer, hardened soldier that I am.” Together the two letters provide a poignant reflection of the cost of war to soldier’s families.
I note that Samuel’s letters as a whole were published in 1994 in “Cruel war and cursed rebellion: The Civil War Letters of Samuel Bliss. Seventh Ct. Vol. Infantry: an annotated collection (Horace A. Smith), although it may have been privately published, as I can’t locate any copies.
Samuel enlisted on 28 August 1861 as a private. He mustered into Co. K, 7th Connecticut Infantry in September 1861. He died on 22 August 1863. From the second letter we learn that Samuel’s body was retrieved and sent home. He was buried in East Woodstock Cemetery, Woodstock, Windham Co. CT.
[Note: These two letters are published by the express consent of Richard Weiner.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Port Royal, Beaufort, S.C.
November 24th 1862
My darling wife,
I received a letter from you dated 5th of November and you wanted to know how I felt when in the battle. ¹ I don’t know as I felt afraid. I felt that the Lord protect[ed] me in the battle as well as anywhere. I felt sorry for my poor comrades [who] lay wounded. I didn’t think much about myself. I felt that I was willing to do my duty—more than willing. I could not hardly wait for orders. I wanted to fight the rebels. I thanked the Lord when the rebels was obliged to retreat back from place to place. I felt that all was right with me for I was trying to maintain our government and I was doing the Lord’s service. But when I thought of my family at home and the anguish that would fill the heart of my dear Sylvia, it filled my eyes with tears.
I received three letters and two papers and there was eight postage stamps in the letters. There has been some trouble about getting our mail. I suppose the people in York was afraid of the yellow fever—they did not want us to answer the letters. There is not any cases of it now.
We come out on review yesterday. It was a General Review. There was seven companies of infantry and two artillery companies and two cavalry companies. It was a pretty sight. I wish you could have seen us, Col. [Joseph R.] Hawley‘s wife ² and her sister—she married a captain of the regular United States Artillery Regiment.
I went to meeting in the afternoon. Rev. [Heman L.] Wayland preached from the text found in John the 19th Chapter and the 30th Verse—“It is finished, and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.” It was a very good sermon. The two Sunday’s before I went to a meeting house. It did seem good to go to the House of God to worship but it would [have] seemed a great deal better if it had been at home with my dear Sylvia and with our friends. I should loved two heard Brother [Edward H.] Pratt preached from that text. Brother Pratt is not an ordinary preacher.
Tell Marietta to be a good girl and be kind to her Aunt Sylvia. I give my [love] to you from your kind Uncle. Tell Marah to be a good girl. I give my love to her. I have not forgot her. Give my love to all of the friends, little Jabez is about the same. He sends ]love] to all of the friends. My health is very good today. We had a white frost last night. It is very pleasant here two day. My dear Sylvia, I give my love to you from your affectionate husband, — Samuel Bliss
¹ Samuel is probably referring to the Second Battle of Pocotaligo which occurred in late October 1862.
² Joseph R. Hawley married Harriet Ward Foot on 25 December 1855 in Guilford, CT. She died of pneumonia on 3 March 1886.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
U. S. General Hospital, Ward A
Hilton Head, South Carolina
February 2, 1864
Dear Sister Sylvia,
I will take this opportunity to write you a few lines in answer to the letter you wrote me & sent in one of Lydia’s letters. It is with deep feeling I now take upon myself to answer the letter you wrote me in the hours of your great sorrow. I was glad to learn that you got all brother Samuel’s clothes and things. I expected it would make you feel very sad & that you would shed many tears over them. I must say that I had a sad time in packing them up. And when I found the letter he wrote to you with the Oleander blossoms in it for you, I could restrain my tears no longer, hardened soldier that I am. I do not wonder that you feel as though you had nothing to live for now & that you feel as if you could not be reconciled about his dying far away from you & all his kindred friends, & in the prime of life. It makes me feel very sad. I miss the dear brother very much & sometimes now I feel as though there was no one who cared for me. No wonder your heart is crushed & bleeding at every pore, for the loss of your loving husband.
You have no need to thank me for anything I have done in getting Samuel’s things to you or for anything I have tried to do in getting a burial case & have the remains of the dear one moved home. I feel I have done no more than it was my duty to do about the matter. It made me feel bad that I could not do more. I wanted to come home with the remains very much but Providence determined it otherwise. I am glad that by sending to New York I was enabled to save you 20 or 25 dollars—so much saved to you from the hands of the robbers, for that is the name that I feel applies to my fellow man in general [with] a very few exceptions. I don’t know but you will think I write rather bitter things against them but more they murder the innocent. Oh how many hearts are broken today by this cruel war, started by a few big men. I often think of King David’s prayer [2 Samuel 24:17] when he had sinned by numbering the people & God sent forth His angel & slew many thousands. David said, “I have sinned but these poor innocent sheep—what have they done?” But I have come to the conclusion that in this life, the innocent suffer for the guilty many times.
After I received your letter, I went & saw Mr. Taylor that took care of brother Samuel in his last sickness to learn if there was any last words for you when he knew he was about to die. The dear one tried to say some for you, his wife, & me his brother, but he was so weak, Taylor could not make out what he said. I say it was to bad. You—or me—would have given a good deal to have known those last words. Take it all around, it is the darkest Providence I have ever seen. But there is one thing to comfort us in this affliction & that is the dear husband & brother died a good Christian. If he wasn’t a good man, then I don’t think there are any. I would be glad if I was half as good as he was.
Dear sister, may we have grace to not murmur against God in this matter & to follow more closely in the footsteps of the dear departed one as he followed Christ, & it will be but a little time when we will hear the Savior’s voice calling, “Child, come home.”
Accept my love & sympathy. From your affectionate brother, — L. A. Bliss
I hope you may have got the remains of brother before this.