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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1833

Vol. I

(Born N. Y.)

William W. S. Bliss​1

(Ap'd N. H.)


William Wallace Smith Bliss: Born Aug. 17, 1815,​a1 Whitehall, NY.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1829,  p543 to July 1, 1833, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 4th Infantry, July 1, 1833.

Served: in garrison at Ft. Mitchell, Ala., 1833‑34; in Operations in

(Second Lieut., 4th Infantry, Mar. 31, 1834)

Cherokee Nation, 1834; at the Military Academy, 1834‑40, as Asst. Professor of Mathematics, Oct. 2, 1834, to June 1, 1837 — and as Principal

(First Lieut., 4th Infantry, Sep. 21, 1836)

Asst. Professor of Mathematics, June 1, 1837, to Jan. 4, 1840; in the

(First Lieut., Top. Engineers, July 7, 1838: Declined)

(Bvt. Capt., Staff — Asst. Adjutant-General, Oct. 26, 1839)

Florida War, 1840‑41, as Chief of Staff of the Commanding General, June 12, 1840, to May 31, 1841; as Asst. Adjutant-General, 2d Military Department, headquarters at Ft. Wayne, I. T., Feb. 11 to Mar. 11, 1842, and at Ft. Smith, Ark., Mar. 11, 1842, to May 23, 1844, — and of 1st Military Department, headquarters at Ft. Jesup, La., June 28, 1844, to July 28, 1845; as Chief of Staff of General Taylor, Aug. 6, 1845, to Jan. 25, 1849, — in Military Occupation of Texas, Aug. 6, 1845, to Apr. 24, 1846, — in the War with Mexico, Apr. 24, 1846, to Nov. 25, 1847, being engaged in the Battle of Palo Alto, May 8, 1846, — Battle of Resaca-

(Bvt. Major, May 9, 1846, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct
in the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca-de‑la‑Palma, Tex.)

de‑la‑Palma, May 9, 1846, — Battle of Monterey, Sep. 21‑23, 1846, —

(Bvt. Major, Staff — Asst. Adjutant-General, July 7, 1846)

(Captain, 4th Infantry, July 12, 1846)

and Battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22‑23, 1847, — and of the Western Division,

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Col., Feb. 23, 1847,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Buena Vista, Mex.)

Nov. 25, 1847, to Jan. 25, 1849; as Private Secretary of President Taylor, Mar. 4, 1849, to July 9, 1850; and as Adjutant-General of the Western Division, headquarters, New Orleans, La., Nov. 19, 1850, to Aug. 5, 1853.

Civil History. — Degree of A. M. conferred by Dartmouth College, N. H., 1848. Presented by the State of New York,​2 1849, with a Gold Medal, for his gallant services in Mexico, at "Palo Alto," — "Resaca-de‑la‑Palma," — "Monterey," — and "Buena Vista." Member of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries of Copenhagen, Denmark, Feb. 15, 1851; and Honorary Member of the American Ethnological Society, New York, 1849.

Died, Aug. 5, 1853, at East Pascagoula, Mis.: Aged 38.

Buried, Fort Bliss National Cemetery,​b El Paso, TX.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel William W. S. Bliss, son of Captain John Bliss, a graduate of 1811 of the Military Academy, was born, Sep. 7, 1815,​a2 at Whitehall, N. Y., and became a Cadet at West Point, Sep. 1,  p544 1829, and hence was not eighteen years old, July 1, 1833, when he was graduated and promoted, by his own choice,​c to the Infantry. After a year's service in the Cherokee Nation, he was ordered to the Military Academy as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics, and was relieved, Jan. 4, 1840, having been appointed, Oct. 26, 1839, as Assistant Adjutant-General.

In his new office he became, June 12, 1840, the Chief of Staff to the Commanding General in the Florida War, where he served a year, and then at various frontier stations till he became, Aug. 6, 1846, the Chief of Staff to General Taylor, continuing with him throughout the Military Occupation of Texas, the Mexican War, and while commanding the Western Department.

Upon General Taylor's becoming President of the United States, Mar. 4, 1849, Bliss, then his son-in‑law, was appointed his Private Secretary. After the President's death, he was assigned, Nov. 19, 1850, as Adjutant-General of the Western Division of the Army, continuing as such till he died of yellow fever, Aug. 5, 1853, at the early age of 38.

Though living but a single score of years after leaving his Alma Mater, few men in so brief a period have left such a brilliant record of military service, liberal culture, and varied accomplishments. While a Cadet, Bliss exhibited marked mathematical ability, and, upon becoming a teacher at West Point, proved himself to be equal to the best qualified of the many competent instructors of mathematics who had preceded him, and it may safely be said, no superior has succeeded him.

As the Adjutant-General of sundry commands, Bliss was always noted for his efficiency; but under General Taylor, in Texas and during the Mexican War, the amplitude and force of his powers manifested their pre-eminence. In arranging military movements, drawing up orders, and conducting a voluminous correspondence he showed himself a master, particularly in the latter sphere. His elegance of diction and vigor of expression in the despatches of Taylor, all written by Bliss, are not surpassed by those of Wellington, edited by Colonel Gurwood, nor by those of any other famous general. Bliss's style, in pure and flowing English, was simple, energetic, and picturesque, unblemished by any chain-mail armor of ponderous polysyllables. Without circumlocution, he always aimed directly at the mark, often illustrating his subject by some familiar allusion. A well-known instance of this was in Taylor's celebrated letter to the Secretary of War near the close of the Mexican War. When the general's military achievements had elevated him to be a probable candidate for the Presidency, the administration at Washington, jealous of his popularity, decided to lessen it by censuring proceedings for which the Government and not Taylor was responsible. Bliss quickly took in the situation, and, though he had to encounter the practiced polemic pen of Governor Marcy, replied to his complaint by suggesting that it was a case of "the well-known fable of Aesop," where the up-stream wolf accused the down-stream lamb of muddying the water, and, therefore, the culprit merited destruction.

Bliss's graceful pen was often employed in other than military matters, and his capacious mind reached out to cultivate other fields of literature, particularly the study of languages, of which he could read thirteen and fluently speak many. George P. Marsh, the great philologist, said that Bliss was the best linguist in America.

To a healthful and well-proportioned intellect Bliss added a natural cheerfulness and vivacity, with a sweet and affectionate disposition. Hence he was a favorite with the public, from which he won plaudits, and from his native state a golden testimonial; while in the Army he was the recipient of two well-earned brevets and the universal esteem of his companions. This sentiment is fittingly conveyed by his commanding general  p545 in the conclusion of the Obituary Order issued on the day of Bliss's death: —

A narrative of the brilliant services of this lamented officer would be superfluous here. They are familiar as household words to his comrades of the Army, often on the lips of his fellow-citizens, and graven on the records of event­ful periods of his country's history. In many official writings are preserved the evidences of a mind power­ful, acute, and adorned with taste and learning.

"Of blameless morals, upright and affectionate in private life, he has, in zeal and devotion to public duty, left an example still more worthy of emulation than the brilliancy of his fame.

"His enlightened exactness and attention, in even the smallest duties of life, could only be equaled in merit by the modesty and temperance which he displayed in the noonday of reputation and at the height of success."

The Author's Notes:

1 Was the son of Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Bliss, who was graduated at the Military Academy in 1811.

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2 Resolved, March 22, 1849, by the Assembly and Senate of the State of New York: "That Lieut.‑Colonel William Wallace Smith Bliss, by his noble and gallant bearing in the service of his country, has reflected distinguished honor upon this, his native State, and is, therefore, entitled to the thanks of his people, which are hereby tendered him; and that, in token of their appreciation of his worth as a soldier and a man, the Governor be requested to procure a Gold Medal, with suitable devices and inscriptions, and present the same to Colonel Bliss in the name of the people of this State, together with a copy of this resolution, and that one copy of said medal should be deposited in the Military Academy at West Point, and one copy of such Medal shall be deposited in the State Library."

Thayer's Notes:

a1 a2 The Register gives Sep. 7, 1815; his tombstone (modern, based on what source I don't know) reads August 17, 1815.

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b As stated on the Find-a‑Grave page linked above, Fort Bliss was named for him the year after he died.

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c His class rank was high enough for him to have chosen another branch of the service. Many men preferred other assignments to the Infantry, so that the latter was usually the branch that fell by default to the lower-ranked graduates; thus Bliss's choice was unusual.

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Page updated: 16 Apr 16