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Zenas Bliss

Zenas R. Bliss
File:Z R Bliss.jpg
Major General Zenas R. Bliss
Born (1835-04-17)April 17, 1835
Johnston, Rhode Island
Died January 2, 1900(1900-01-02) (aged 64)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1854–1897
Rank Major General
Commands held Rhode Island 10th Rhode Island Infantry
Rhode Island 7th Rhode Island Infantry
24th US Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War
Indian Wars
Awards Medal of Honor
Other work author

Zenas Randall Bliss (April 17, 1835 – January 2, 1900) was an officer and general in the United States Army and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He formed the first unit of Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, and his detailed memoirs chronicled life on the Texas frontier.[1] He was the father of Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Zenas Work Bliss.

Bliss was a native of Rhode Island and graduated from West Point in 1854. He served most of his thirty-seven-year career on the Texas frontier, and served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. During the Civil War he was captured by Confederate forces and held as a prisoner of war. Bliss received the Medal of Honor for his actions while leading his regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg.[1]

Early life and military career

Bliss was born April 17, 1835 in Johnston, Rhode Island to an upper-middle-class family. His parents were Zenas and Phebe Waterman Randall Bliss.[2] He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in July 1850 when he was only fifteen years old.[1] He graduated from West Point in 1854 and served the next six years in Texas. He was stationed at Fort Davis and Fort Quitman, but his first assignment was as a brevet second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Infantry regiment. He was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant in the 8th U.S. Infantry on March 3, 1855 and subsequently promoted to first lieutenant on October 17, 1860. Following the outbreak of war, he was promoted to captain on May 14, 1861.[1]

Civil War service

When the American Civil War began on April 12, 1861 Bliss immediately saw action. He was captured by Confederate forces and spent eleven months as a prisoner of war, first in San Antonio, Texas, and later in Richmond, Virginia. He was finally exchanged and sent back to Union lines where he subsequently took command of the Tenth Rhode Island Infantry. He received a commission in the volunteer army as a colonel in May 1862.[1] Bliss assumed command of the Seventh Rhode Island Infantry on August 21, 1862. In October 1862 the Seventh Rhode Island joined the First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac.[3] The regiment saw action in December 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg, during which Bliss performed actions that earned him the Medal of Honor several decades later. When IX Corps was sent West, it participated in the Siege of Vicksburg. The Seventh served under Major General William T. Sherman in the capture of Jackson, Mississippi.[1] In April 1864 the Seventh rejoined the Army of the Potomac. Bliss became commander of the First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Corps. His brigade fought in the Battle of the Wilderness. Bliss was badly injured by a horse at Spotsylvania, but he returned to lead his brigade in the Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of the Crater. The court of inquiry following the fiasco at the Crater censured Bliss, but he remained on duty. During the Civil War, Bliss received a brevet (honorary promotion) to major dated December 13, 1862, for "gallantry and meritorious service" in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was later breveted to lieutenant colonel on May 7, 1864, for "gallantry and meritorious service" in the Battle of the Wilderness. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 3, 1898, for valor during the Battle of Fredericksburg.[1]

Postbellum career

Bliss remained in the Regular Army after the Civil War and was promoted to major of the 30th Infantry Regiment (a unit with black soldiers and white officers) on August 6, 1867. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 19th Infantry on March 4, 1879, and to colonel of the 24th Infantry on April 20, 1886. Bliss was promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army April 24, 1895, and to major general on May 14, 1897. He retired from the Army eight days later on May 22. Including his four years at West Point, Bliss had served 46 years, 10 months and 22 days in uniform when he retired.[1]

Bliss was a member of the District of Columbia Commandery of the Loyal Legion and was assigned insignia number 2601.

Zenas Bliss died in Washington, D.C. January 2, 1900, at age 64.[4] He is buried alongside his wife at Arlington National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia.[2][4] His grave can be found in section 1, lot 8-B.[4] The Bliss family had four children, two of whom lived to adulthood.[5] He was the father of Zenas Work Bliss (1867 - 1957) who served as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island from 1910 to 1913.

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Colonel, Seventh Rhode Island Infantry. Place and date: At Fredericksburg, VA., 13 Dec 1862.

This officer, to encourage his regiment; which had never before been in action, and which had been ordered to lie down to protect itself from the enemy's fire, arose to his feet, advanced in front of the line, and himself fired several shots at the enemy at short range, being fully exposed to their fire at the time.[6]

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