Born: December 31, 1853 in Lewisburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: November 9, 1930 at Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Diplomat, Scholar, Soldier
Source Citation: Dictionary of American Biography and Genealogy
of the Bliss Family in America.
Tasker Howard Bliss (Dec. 31, 1853 - Nov. 9, 1930), soldier, scholar, and
diplomat, was born at Lewisburg, PA, the son of George Ripley and Mary
Ann (Raymond) Bliss, the latter a sister of John Howard Raymond.
He was a descendant of Thomas Bliss, who emigrated from England to Braintree, Mass., in 1635 and later settled in Hartford,
The father was professor of Greek in the University at Lewisburg, a
Baptist institution, the name of which was changed in 1886 to Bucknell
University, and the boy was reared in a devout and scholarly atmosphere.
He was the seventh in a family of thirteen children, and one reason for
his application for admission to West Point in his sophomore year at
Lewisburg was to relieve the family budget of further cost for his
education, since his father's salary was only five hundred dollars a year,
twenty-five of which was given to the church.
Assigned to the artillery upon his
graduation, he was called back to West Point in 1876 to teach French and
artillery tactics. After the Custer massacre; Bliss appealed to Major John
active service in the West, but he bade him remain until he had finished
his four years' tour as instructor. Since the outbreak of the
Russo-Turkish War Bliss had employed spare hours in the study of Russian
in order to get first-hand information about the campaign. Schofield found
a lecture Bliss delivered upon it so excellent that he asked him to expand
it for publication. Meanwhile he was paying court to Eleanor E. Anderson.
She was highly educated, had lived abroad, and knew both French and
German. They were married on May 24, 1882.
Following a period of routine service after the end of
his tour as instructor at West Point, Bliss was chosen as the army officer
to teach military science at the new Naval War College at Newport
(1885-88), where he made so distinctive an impression that he was sent on
a mission to get information about military schools in England, France,
and Germany. When General Schofield succeeded Gen. Philip H. Sheridan as
commanding general of the army, he chose Bliss as his aide and as
inspector of artillery and small-arms target practice.
His desire for a change from Washington official life
was balked when Secretary of War Daniel Lamont who did not
want to part with his services in the War Department, made him his special
assistant. At the close of Lamont's term, with the incoming of the
McKinley administration in 1897, the relations of the United States with
Spain were becoming critical. Bliss now received an appointment to his
taste, that of military attaché to Spain, where he remained until the
declaration of war.
Upon his return he was made a major and took part in the
Puerto Rican campaign as chief of staff to Major-General James H. Wilson.
His administrative record and his knowledge of the Spanish language and
Spanish ways recommended him for the difficult task of chief of the Cuban
customs service during the occupation of Cuba. The Cuban custom houses had
become sinks of corruption under the Spanish régime and Bliss had a
harrowing task in cleaning the major Augean stable of Havana and the minor
ones at other ports. In 1902, when the Cuban
Government took over all administration, Elihu Root brought Bliss to Washington
as an adviser in reorganization of the army under a general staff system.
In November of that same year, at the request of Secretary of State John
Hay, he proceeded to Cuba to negotiate the important Cuban reciprocity
treaty, which he wrote so definitively in the final draft that it was
subject to practically no changes.
In the meantime, President William McKinley had
recommended that he be made a brigadier-general of the regular army and
the Senate had confirmed the promotion without an opposing voice. He now
had the rank suitable for him as the founding president of the new Army
War College. After command of the Department of Luzon in the Philippines,
1905-06, he had for three years that of the Department of Mindanao, where
he successfully kept the peace as arbiter of the quarrels among the
fractious rival Moro (Mohammedan) chiefs and exerted his administrative
authority and personal influence in a progressive educational program. In
1908-09 he was in command of the Philippine Division. Upon his return to
the United States in 1909 he was ad interim president of the War
College, briefly assistant chief of staff, held departmental and
divisional troop commands, and became assistant chief of staff under
Major-General Hugh L. Scott then chief in 1915, when he was
A month after the entry of the United States into the
First World War, when General Scott was sent on a mission to Russia, Bliss
had the supreme military responsibility as acting chief of staff.
Secretary of War Newton D. Baker relied unreservedly upon Bliss's
experience, foresight, and balanced judgment in the midst of the pressure
and confusion of national energies in the hasty forming and equipping of a
huge army. Bliss could bring perspective to bear in simplifying a complex
situation back to first principles; he could swiftly dictate an analysis
of all sides of any baffling problem and have it promptly on the
Secretary's desk; or in a few words he could dispose of a pile of
impracticable memoranda. Upon General Scott's retirement for age, Bliss
succeeded him as chief of staff on Sept. 22, 1917, the office carrying
with it the rank of general. Bliss himself had only three months to serve
before retirement for age, but he was continued on active duty by order of
the president. In October he was assigned as military representative on
the mission under Edward M. House which went abroad to effect better
coordination of Allied effort. The mission arrived in London after the
Caporetto disaster, which had driven the Italian army with huge losses
back to the River Piave. Russia was already out of the war; it was feared
that Italy might soon be forced out. The best that could be expected of
her was to hold on the Piave with the aid of the British and French
divisions which were rushed to her rescue. The Allies now faced the danger
of the concentration of German power on the Western Front in an inevitable
great spring offensive for a decision. In this crisis France and Britain
looked across the Atlantic for the reinforcement of the million men in
training in United States cantonments. Bliss visited the Western Front,
consulted with the statesmen, generals, and experts, and hastened back to
Washington with his exhaustive report, pressing the importance of prompt
and unified action, which was a valuable guide to the American policy.
After brief consultations with home chiefs he was again
crossing the Atlantic to be military representative on the new Supreme War
Council. Since President Wilson could not be present at the meetings Bliss
had measurably a statesman's rôle. When his resources of tact and
argument failed, his stubborn resolution, backed by a thorough study of
the subject, was a check on the conflict of national interests among the
Allies at the expense of joint action. His letters to Secretary Baker, in
their intimate reports of the operations of the council, are an
indispensable contribution for the historian. They also reveal how the
Allied leaders early sought to circumvent President Wilson's Fourteen
Points and his plans for a league of nations. From the outset he was for the unified command in
the field which ultimately was given to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, and at the
same time he supported Gen. John J. Pershing's insistence that American
troops should not be infiltrated into the Allied armies. He was for
unconditional surrender of the German army in conclusive admission of its
defeat, but then for wise and farsighted support of the German Republic to
insure its endurance. He was concerned about the League of Nations, which
he strongly favored, lest it should be too ambitious at the start. He
thought that it should be inaugurated by an international agreement for an
all-round limitation of armaments.
Much to his surprise he was chosen a delegate to the
Peace Conference. His friends and admirers regretted that President
Woodrow Wilson did not make more use of his counsel in the negotiations.
He joined his colleagues, Secretary of State Robert Lansing and Henry
White, in a forthright but unsuccessful protest against
granting a mandate over the Chinese province of Shantung to Japan in the
Treaty of Versailles. His diaries are prophetic of the results of the
Treaty, which he signed without enthusiasm.
He was relieved as chief of staff on May 19, 1918, and
the following day received the brevet rank of general. As governor of the
Soldiers' Home in Washington, 1920-27, he found relaxation in a more
profound study of Latin in company with Father Christopher of the Catholic
University. But his great interest in his declining years was in advocacy
of the entry of the United States into the World Court, and in the cause
of peace through general reduction of armaments. He was a member of the
editorial board of Foreign Affairs, to which he contributed several
articles. Through a cruel illness his mind remained clear until his death
in his eighty-seventh year. He was survived by two children, Eleanor and