Tasker Howard Bliss

Grave of Tasker H. Bliss

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, CT.. 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 Schofield for 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 promoted major-general.

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 Edward Goring.

#00001 Thomas Bliss and Margaret Hulins of England and Hartford, CT
#00008 Lawrence Bliss and Lydia Wright of Springfield, MA
#00042 William Bliss and Margaret Lombard of Springfield, MA
#00099 William Bliss and Experience White of Springfield, MA
#00263 Gad Bliss and Abiah Colton of Springfield, MA
#00721 Elijah Worthington Bliss and Lucy Ripley of NY and CT
#01889 Rev. George Ripley Bliss and Mary Ann Raymond of Chester, PA
#04242 Tasker Howard Bliss and Eleanor Anderson (2 children)