I am sharing the biographies of a few of the 300 or so men connected with Schaghticoke who fought in the U.S. Civil War. Many local men served in Company K of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment. They left Troy about September 1, 1862, went to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and were surrendered as part of a Union Army of 11,000 men two weeks later to the Confederates under General Stonewall Jackson. After spending the winter in an internment camp in Chicago, they returned to duty in Virginia and fought out the rest of the war.
Henry L. Bliss enlisted as a Private in Company K in August of 1862 at age 19. He was born in Schaghticoke, and had brown hair and blue eyes. He was 5’10” tall and gave his occupation as student. For that to be his occupation, he must have been attending college somewhere. Nineteen was too old to be in a local school. Though his record card states he was born in Schaghticoke, I believe he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1843.
Henry’s mother Julia was the daughter of Colonel Bethel Mather, a prominent farmer in Schaghticoke. He had been a Colonel of the local militia at the time of the War of 1812. His farm house was where the M & T Bank is now. Julia Mather attended Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, a very rare thing in the 1820’s. In 1840 she married Henry Bliss, born in Massachusetts, who was a farmer. Henry, age 34, and Julia, age 30, show up living with her parents in Schaghticoke in the 1850 US Census, along with son Henry, age 7, our future soldier, and daughter Mary, 5. Mary died the following year.
Parents Henry and Julia attended the local Presbyterian Church. Julia died in childbirth in 1859. Colonel Mather died in 1861 and listed among his heirs the son of his deceased daughter Julia: Henry of Springfield, Massachusetts. He may have been living with relatives of his father in Springfield, perhaps attending school there. When it came to enlisting in the Army, Henry returned home.
NYS Muster Card of Henry Lay Bliss
He was promoted to Sergeant in the 125th in April 1863. In March 1864 he accepted a commission as a First Lieutenant in the 31st Regiment, Colored Troops. As the war went on, partially because President Lincoln had turned the focus to the abolition of slavery, partially due to the need for more men, the Union began to recruit African-American regiments. The officers, however, were white. Some of the officers were idealistic and sought to work with the blacks, others were men who saw an opportunity for promotion. Several men from the 125th joined the Colored Troops as Lieutenants. Ezra Simons, author of the history of the 125th Regiment, noted that “men going from us on such service were all men of a marked force and exalted character. They had passed a rigid examination, for only men of special fitness were deemed qualified to land in a service demanding not only intelligence and skill and patience but unusual daring.” He added that if captured they would surely be shot.
The 31st participated in the vicious battles of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, and the sieges of Richmond, and Petersburg in June and July 1864. They stayed around Richmond through the winter of 1864-1865, and were at Appomattox when Lee surrendered in April. The Regiment served in Texas until they were discharged in the fall of 1865. By then Henry had been promoted to Captain. He is listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. , see below.
By the 1870 US Census Henry was a painter living in Chicago, Illinois. That occupation usually indicates the person was a house, carriage, and sign painter. He married Laura Lane in 1873. They lived in Marshall, Iowa for a time and had three children. The 1900 US Census listed him back in Chicago, with a second wife, Nellie H. Henry was now 57, still a house painter, but was also the census taker! He remained in Chicago. Henry also worked periodically as a special policeman for the board of education.
Henry died in 1916, at age 72, and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Chicago. He was widowed, and still worked as a special policeman for the board of education. The bare facts of his life hide his private work as a statistician. An article in a magazine called “The Public” on January 23, 1916 states that though Henry was a paperhanger by trade, he “was known to a wide circle of readers as a statistician. He was a frequent contributor to the press, and during the free silver agitation he wrote a book.” It was as a newspaper controversialist..that he distinguished himself. No one, from the Superintendent of the U.S. Census down to the densest protectionist was immune from his criticism; and it was rare indeed that he failed to make his point. Mr. Bliss was a fundamental democrat and devoted all his spare energies to the propagation of Free Trade and Singletax.” The book was called “Plutocracy’s Statistics: Statistical Lies and Liars, Official and Unofficial.” Published in 1900, it is still available on amazon.com as the company considers it “culturally important.” Henry Bliss must have been a very interesting person.