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Francis Bliss

Teacher at Hornbine School

Francis Bliss taught at the Hornbine School (District 10) during the winter term of 1860.

Francis lived in this house on Agricultural Ave in Rehoboth.
This picture was taken after the Civil War.
The young man walking on the front lawn is Albert Bliss.

This is Kent Bliss, Francis' grandson.
He's looking at letters which Francis Bliss sent home during the Civil War.

The following information was written for elementary school children by Dave Downs.

Francis A. Bliss - Civil War Soldier

The Early Years

 Francis A. Bliss was a real person. He grew up on his family farm. The farm was located on Agricultural Avenue in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. During the Civil War, Francis A. Bliss fought to end slavery in America. He wanted to keep our country together. After the Civil War, he returned to the family farm and lived there for the rest of his life.
 Francis attended a one room district school house while he was growing up. A district school was a little one room building. It was attended by children who lived within walking distance.
 Many of Francis’ relatives probably attended the same school. Francis walked to school with his younger sister, Rebecca and his two younger brothers, Thomas and William. There were no school buses.
 Children were expected to attend school in all weather.  School was not canceled as it is today for “snow days”.  The scholars walked to school in the snow or rain and dried their shoes or boots (and often socks) near the wood burning stove if it was necessary.
 If they came to school late, particularly in good weather, they had to stay after school to make up for the lost time. Then, their folks would punish them when they arrived home. The children were needed at home to perform many chores like feeding the animals and picking strawberries.
 The pupils were expected to go to school dressed as best they could every day. The young boys always had nickers and eventually as they got older, they wore long pants. The girls always wore a dress or skirt and blouse.
  The teacher or a neighbor would start the wood burning stove every morning about 6 AM. The school would be warm, later, when the students arrived. One boy would bring in the wood. It was his job to keep the stove going for the day. Some days, it was Francis’ turn to fetch a pail of water from the neighbor’s well or a nearby stream. The water was used for drinking during the school day.  Everyone would use the same dipper to drink the water from the pail.
 At the beginning of the school day, the teacher, who taught all eight grades, would ring the school bell which he kept on his desk. The scholars would line up out side, boys in one line and girls in the other. The first graders were in front, followed by  the  second graders, etc. with the eighth grade students in  back.  They  would
then march in and go to their desks which were nailed to the floor.  The Bliss children were lucky. Many other district schools did not have desks and chairs. It was common for schools to use benches or planks of wood for the student’s desks.
   Then, they’d say a prayer. After that, it was time to work. They studied all the school subjects with the teacher. They didn’t switch classes like the children do today.
 The pupils learned Ciphering, History, Geography,  Reading and Spelling among other subjects.
 The teacher would prepare and begin the lessons for the younger students.  The older children helped the teacher with the younger pupils. Francis probably liked helping the younger scholars. He was a fast learner and could progress at his own rate.
  The teacher had a spelling bee once a week. The school would divide into two teams, one on each side of the room. Each team would try to stay up the longest without misspelling a word.
 Class size varied. Schools had eight grades in one room. One grade might have no scholars while another could have four or five students. Their school was filled with Bliss children and other neighborhood families and relatives.
   Francis and his siblings probably brought their lunches to school in a linen cloth or a used lard pail. They might have bread and jelly sandwiches their mothers made.
 Everyone had to go out side to the privy. They were expected to use the privy before school or during their lunch hour. Students were not allowed to go any time they wanted to during the school day.
 They had no electric lights. The only light to use came through the windows. The only heat came from the wood burning stove.
   During recess, the boys might play ball, tag or marbles on one side of the school yard. The girls might play hide and go seek, roll the hoop, jump the rock, jump rope or hopscotch on the other side. If it rained, they may have played with a  bean bag in school.
  The school didn’t have a lot of books in those days so they had to share any they might have. Paper was expensive and scarce, so many students used slates with slate pencils, if  they  had them. The older children might have steel or quill pens with ink wells.
 Once in a while, a boy would put a girl’s pigtail in an ink well.
When this happened, the offender might have to sit on the wood pile in the back of the room for a half hour.
 If the Bliss children did not behave, they were punished. The teacher made students sit under the teacher’s desk. Other times, students were made to sit in the waste basket. A ruler was also used by the teacher to slap the hand of an offender.
   School was in session only when a teacher was available.   Most schools had two or three sessions, usually in the winter and spring.
 Parents might take turns having the teacher eat and sleep at their house.  This was called “boarding around.”
 The Bliss parents may have gone to school and watched their children put on a Christmas play. The pupils would have dressed up in their “Sunday Best”, which may have been just a new blouse or shirt, for the day. The Bliss children may have had to remember a poem and their part in a play. Perhaps they all got a piece of candy at the end of the day.
 While Francis was attending the district school, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad; The Mexican War was won; and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. These were all events that contributed toward the Civil War.

Francis Bliss Goes Away To School

 Most residents of Rehoboth were farmers. Many scholars left the district school when they reached third or fourth grade because they were needed to work on the farm. Most other scholars did not continue beyond eighth grade. A few students in Rehoboth, like Francis, continued their education beyond the district school.
 Francis attended the “Select School” held in the Congregational vestry in Rehoboth Village. He probably rode a family horse to and from the school which was several miles away from his parent’s farm. The teacher was Thomas W. Bicknell. He was a very popular teacher who inspired many students from Rehoboth and the surrounding towns who attended. At one time there were over seventy students who attended the “Select School”!
 Mr. Bicknell encouraged Francis to attend the Thetford Academy in Vermont. Francis was accepted and attended a session beginning in the fall of 1858. In November, Francis wrote home to his sister Rebecca.  “... I don’t dread the examination up here as I used to the district school. I have no fear of Esq. Moss coming in and tormenting me two hours on a stretch...”
   Francis had to study most of the day and seemed to miss his family in Rehoboth. Each day, late in the afternoon, he would “...go straight to the post officer in hopes of finding a letter, but I am most always disappointed. At half past four we all go to prayers again, and then to supper; and so on day after day.
 I have got about tired of one thing. I wish I could come down there and spend a vacation”
 Francis returned to Rehoboth from Thetford Academy and taught “Sabbath School” (Sunday school). He probably helped his father on the farm. Later, Francis enrolled in the Providence Seminary at East Greenwich, Rhode Island. On August 23, 1860, he wrote “We have quite a variety of eatables here. In the morning we have codfish and potatoes for breakfast; for dinner, potatoes and codfish, and for supper, codfish.”
 After returning to Rehoboth from East Greenwich, Francis Bliss taught in the Hornbine and Anawan School districts during the 1860 - 1861 school terms. He may have ridden his horse to school each day or he may have “boarded around” at the scholar’s homes.  He was described in the School Committee report for the year, as a young inexperienced teacher who held the respect of his scholars.
 While Francis was teaching school (1860 -1861), many events occurred that eventually led to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November, 1860. This upset the people in the Southern States. Southerners wanted slavery to continue. They thought that Lincoln and the Northern States would begin to make the Southern States end slavery. Francis, lived in the North and  probably felt that it was wrong to have slavery in the United States. He didn’t want his country to become divided.
 Southern states began to secede from the United States (Union).  By the time Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated president in March of 1861, seven states had seceded and started their own country. They called their new country, The Confederacy.
 In April, the civil war began when the confederates (Southerners) bombarded and defeated the Union (Northern) Troops at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Later that month, Massachusetts Troops were attacked by a mob in Baltimore, Maryland, on their way to protect Washington DC. In July, Union Troops were defeated at the Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. During the summer, three more states voted to leave the union.
 Francis Bliss probably had relatives and friends who had enlisted as soldiers. They may have been involved in some of the battles that had taken place. As the year progressed, Francis must have decided to help his country by enlisting in the Massachusetts Cavalry.

Francis Joins the Cavalry

 On October 15, 1861, Francis Bliss enlisted in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Cavalry was the name for soldiers who rode horses into battle. The Cavalry had an advantage in battle because soldiers could ride much faster on a horse than their enemy could run. It seemed glamorous to many recruits.
 Before the Civil War, the Cavalry was used to charge the enemy. But modern firearms (guns and cannon) had made a Cavalry charge obsolete. During the Civil War, most Cavalry  charges were unsuccessful. The horses and men were often shot before they could ride up to the enemy.
 Most Cavalry, during the Civil War, were used by officers to send messages quickly and to patrol as “pickets” (guards) looking for the enemy.
 Francis was sent to Camp Brigham, in Readville, Massachusetts. His Cavalry regiment stayed in Readville, training, for several months. “We have all had our sabers given to us last Sunday....” “We do not drill on foot much now...” we “... ride horseback in forenoon and drill with sabers in afternoon...”
 The members of his regiment soon learned that the Cavalry soldier had to drill often. His added responsibility of grooming and feeding his horse was not so glamorous.
 By December, Francis was unhappy with camp life. He wrote “My body is in Readville, but my mind is in Rehoboth the most of the time. I guess it will be different when we get in among the Rebels.”
  Many soldiers, who joined the army, got to travel. They saw cities, factories and groups of people that were unknown to them before they joined the army.
 Late in December, Francis Bliss’ regiment was sent to New York City on its way to South Carolina. Francis was fascinated with New York’s Central Park. “That park will be one of the wonders of the world... even now in its is far beyond Boston Common...”
  New York City is located on a large river. Many boats bring supplies and goods to New York City. The city was larger and busier than any other city Francis had seen. “.. I should think that their was more business done on one street on the wharf than in the whole city of Providence. I have come to the conclusion that New York is quite a little place...”
 Francis was sent from New York to Hilton Head, South Carolina. South Carolina was in the Confederacy, down south and behind the enemy lines. Hilton Head was an island near important harbors. Francis helped to protect the troops who kept the Southerners (Rebels) from receiving supplies from ships.
 Francis was interested in farming. He was fascinated with the differences between the southern and northern plants. He wrote back to his sister in January,1862“...When I was on picket (riding around looking for the enemy) the other day ...” I found some flowers. I thought it was rather early for them, so I picked a few and will send them to you....” ”...I have seen quite a number of the plants larger than I ever saw in New England...” That April, he saw orange and lemon trees in bloom, cotton plants and blackberries in May.
 Rehoboth was known for its strawberries. Francis had helped plant a new field of strawberries just before he left. He would write home often to ask how the crops were progressing on his family’s farm. “...I suppose you can tell me something about what kind of a crop of Strawberries you are going to have. That was a good bed we had, and as the winter was not broken I should judge you would have a good crop.”
  The Cavalry was not receiving enough proper food for the horses that May. Many horses were sick. One or two horses in Francis's regiment were dying each day.
 Many soldiers got sick during the war and hundreds of them died. Francis became sick and was put in the hospital twice while
he was in the Cavalry.
 In July, President Lincoln called for an additional 300,000 troops. Massachusetts offered a bounty to men who joined. This was extra money paid to people who enlisted. Francis wrote a letter to his brother, Thomas, on August 4th. He knew the dangers of war and wanted to persuade his younger brother not to enlist. He said,”...I would advise you to stay at home if you can be contented. There is a cloud passing over the country now. all looks dark and discouraging...”
  Thomas enlisted in the Union army against his brother’s advice. He trained in Readville as Francis had done before him. Francis would write home asking if his family had head from his brother.  “...I want to hear from Thomas, to know what regiment he is in, and what part of the field they are going to take....”
 Francis had “quite an adventure” in October 1862 at the battle of Pine Plain. He was with Union soldiers who were going to destroy a railroad bridge between two important Rebel cities. If they were successful, the Rebels would not be able to send supplies by railroad easily. They did not succeed. Several hundred Union soldiers were killed.  Francis wrote, “...We were in thickest of the fire for nearly three hours...” “...I was wounded slightly in my right arm. The ball went through my blouse...” “...tore my vest near the arm hole, and struck the inside of my arm. I thought it broken at first...” “... I had about made up my mind that my days of service in the army was to be short.” Later that day, Francis hit his knee as he rode past the wheel of a cannon. Both injuries continued to bother him for years.

A Sad Event For Francis

 The Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863. This was a law that ended slavery in the United States. Thomas’ regiment left Massachusetts. Francis wrote home on January 19th ”...I have not heard from Thomas since he left Mass. I hope he will get along well. He will need our prayers...” “...That is all we can do for him now...”
 In March, Francis was worried about his youngest brother William. “...Tell William not to think of enlisting. Tom and I will do all the fighting enough for our family, if they will give us the chance. He (William) will be serving his country better on the farm than he will in the ranks...” “...If Thomas and I should not return, he will be glad that he stayed at home.”
 In March, Congress voted to have a draft for men between 20-45. This meant that some men would have no choice. The government would make some men join the army. A lot of people protested against the draft because they did not want to be soldiers. Francis wrote home and said he thought the protesters were “cowardly traitors.”  The protesters would “...encourage the Rebels and discourage our troops.”
 On May 2nd, Francis was concerned about Thomas. “I wish you could send Thomas a box. I have written to him several times.” On June 9th, Francis received bad news, from home, about Thomas. “I received your letter last evening...” ”...I can hardly believe he is dead.”  “I wish I had saved all Thomases  letters...” “In one I remember after telling me to take good care of myself, (he) said ‘If we never meet again on earth, I shall try to meet you in heaven’, and I think we shall.” “I almost dread to get a letter now. The last three of four that I have had has contained bad news; first came the news of grandfather’s death, then cousin Martin, and last evening I received two letters, the contents of which have made my heart sick”
 Many young men joined the army to get a bounty. In November, Francis must have worried that his younger brother, William, might be tempted to enlist for the bounty. “Well to be honest William, I don’t think it is your duty to leave home now under the circumstances. If my life is spared, I shall be at home another fall and then if there are more men wanted in the service and you think it is best, it will be time enough to go then....” “Do you think it would be just right to leave father alone on the farm?”
 It seems that Francis persuaded his brother William to stay home. William never did enlist. Francis sent money home, later the following year, so that William could go to school during the winter term.
 In January,1864, Francis wrote home and told his parents that he had reenlisted. “We ought to ask ourselves what our duty is, not what will give us the most pleasure.” Many of his fellow Cavalry men reenlisted with him.
  During the war, some dishonest men would enlist in a regiment and after they were paid the bounty, they would desert (leave with out permission). Then, they would go to another state and enlist in a regiment there. After they collected the bounty money, they would desert and enlist somewhere else. This was a dishonest way to make a lot of  money. If the offender was caught, he was executed. Francis Bliss was witness to just such an event. “A day or two since five men were taken out into the field near our camp and shot for desertion. There was one oldish man with gray hairs who seemed not the least affected...He declared he had jumped nineteen bounties and had made his family comfortable and now he was willing to die.”

Francis Returns Home

 Francis and his friends were sent to Florida in March. They took part in the battles of Olustee and Palatka, Florida. At Olustee, Francis wrote that “...A cannon ball struck the ground just in front and covered me over with dirt. The next instant a cannon ball tore through the branches of a tree over my head and the branches of the tree fell on the horse...”
 Francis was ordered to Virginia in April.  In June, Francis wrote this sad story. “Sergeant Cole of our company and who was at home on furlough with us, brought his son back with him, a boy about fourteen years old. He was a smart boy and seemed perfectly healthy when he got here...” “...but he was taken sick and died yesterday at four o’clock. His father feels very bad about it, especially as he came against the wishes of his mother.”
 At times, both the Union and Rebel forces would be stationed very close to each other. On the fourth of July 1864, Francis wrote, ”...we were within easy range of each other...” “...They say they will not fire on us if we will not on them, but further to our right there is quite a different state of affairs. The lines are still nearer and if a man shows himself on either side he is about sure to be shot.”
  For most soldiers, letters from home were their only contact with their family. Letters were often delayed. Francis would become a little home sick when he didn’t receive a letter.  Once, he wrote, “I had begun to feel a little blue not hearing from home...”
 Letters were written with steel tipped pens and ink. This made it nearly impossible to correct mistakes. Often, Francis would start a letter one day and finish it several days later. Francis wrote his sister often. Sometimes he would write about private feelings and then decide he shouldn’t have. If he did not want other people to see what he had written, he would tell Rebecca to burn the letter. “Don’t let anyone see this. I always write just as I feel; if I feel like a fool, I write like one. You can guess how I feel tonight.” There were people who sold items to the soldiers, but often they charged so much that the soldiers could not (or would not) buy from them. “Why is it that a soldier that risks his life to defend his country is charged double for what other things he needs and by the very ones that he is protecting.”
 During the Civil War, Francis would send money home and ask his family to send a box full of items to him. They sent mittens and warm flannel clothes for the winter. They sent lemons, preserves, pickles, cheese and honey. Francis enjoyed reading religious pamphlets and newspapers sent from home.
  This is part of a letter, Francis sent home asking for items to be packed in a box.  “Put in a bottle of Pain killer. It is worth more than all the old Dr’s Brown pills. I want a pair of suspenders and a jack knife. I have lost mine and they ask a tremendous price for them out here....put in what ever else you think of, a little...of tea and sugar would be very nice. As for eatables, don’t put in anything soft such as pies or anything that will not keep. Thin ginger snaps and cake (fruit) has come out here in good shape....but I guess I have mentioned things enough. You must do as you think it’s best about sending it.”
 Francis was appointed quartermaster sergeant in September. Now he was an officer in charge of giving out the supplies to his regiment.
 In many of his letters, Francis had expressed contempt for officers. “In the first place our colonel is not a man you can respect....The officers stand in such fear of him that they punish the men and use the most profane language to them in order to please him; if they do not they are broke.”
  Francis participated in the battle of the Wilderness in April 1865. He witnessed the surrender of General Lee who was in charge of the Rebel army. In May, the rest of the Confederate forces surrendered. The Civil War was over.
 Francis and his Cavalry regiment were sent to Petersburg to stay until November. Years later (1890) he wrote “ October I was taken sick, was sent to the hospital. in a few days it developed into chills + fever. I was just able to get home in Nov. and suffered severely from that disease for five years. and have never fully recovered from it.”
 When Francis returned home, he bought his family farm. He worked hard to improve it.
 Francis Bliss was active in Rehoboth after the Civil War. He was on the School Committee for a few years. He was a founder and president of the Farmer’s Club.
 Francis became a deacon of the Congregational Church in Rehoboth and remained in that office for thirty-two years. For eighteen years, he was superintendent of the Sunday-school.
 Francis Bliss married and had six children. His grandson, Kent Bliss, is owner of Bliss Dairy, Inc.
 Francis Bliss died two months after his wife on October 17, 1914. At seventy-seven, he had lived a full life. He must have been proud to know he had helped to end slavery and keep our country together during the Civil War.