Book Review: “Don’t Tell Father I have Been Shot At”: The Civil War Letters of George H. Bliss, First Rhode Island Cavalry


by George H. Bliss, edited by William E. Emerson with Elizabeth C. Stevens

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018. Pp. x, 298. Illus., maps., notes, biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN: 1476673918

A Young Officer's War

In 1861, 24 year old Rhode Island attorney George H. Bliss (1837-1928) joined the army to save the Union. In the course of the war, cavalryman Bliss saw action in many a battle and skirmish – Front Royal, Aldie, Kelly’s Ford, and so forth.

Like many other soldiers of the day – officer or enlisted, North or South -- Bliss found time to write numerous letters, some right from the saddle. His principal correspondent was his old college chum David Gerald, a neighbor and family friend. Bliss also wrote family members and newspapers, often with interesting tidbits about military life or particular incidents. Many of these letters survive, and the editors have transcribed them carefully, preserving his occasional misspellings and grammatical errors.

Bliss’s letters offer the reader a remarkably lively insight into military service and contemporary society in mid-nineteenth century America. These letters reveal the common social attitudes of era, casual racism, class consciousness, sectional feeling, and more. Many of the letters contain references to the joys and perils of military life. So Bliss speaks of booze, “the diarrhoea”, loot, bad food and worse horses, whore houses, winter picket duty, tenting, mutiny, and even Libby Prison, in which he spent a bit of time, as well as glimpses of combat.

Bliss’s accounts of combat display remarkable sang froid, hence the title, taken from one of his letters to David Gerald. His descriptions of and opinions about senior officers, battles, Southern belles, and such are often telling and insightful.

“Don’t Tell Father I have Been Shot At” is a good read for anyone wishing to see the war from the soldier’s perspective.


Note: “Don’t Tell Father I have Been Shot At” is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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