William Wallace Smith Bliss


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Mary Elizabeth Taylor

William Wallace Smith Bliss

  • Born: 17 Aug 1815
  • Marriage: Mary Elizabeth Taylor on 8 Dec 1848
  • Died: 4 Aug 1853 at age 37

  General Notes:

William Wallace Smith Bliss (17 August 1815 - 4 August 1853) was a United States army officer. He was born at Whitehall New York. He was the son of Captain John Bliss (of Lebanon New Hampshire) and Olive Hall Simonds (of Todd County, Kentucky). Captain Bliss was a graduate of West Point in 1811.

Military Career

William Bliss entered the United States Military Academy on 1 September 1829. He showed very great mathematical gifts while a student. He graduated 1 July 1833 (not yet 18 years old) as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Infantry. It was his choice to serve in the infantry.

He served in the Fort Mitchell army garrison in Alabama from 1833 to 1834. During 1845 he was involved in operations against the Cherokee.

From 2 October 1834 until 4 January 1840 he served as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at West Point. As a Captain, he served as Chief of Staff to the Commanding General in the Florida War from 1840 until 1841. He served at Fort Smith, Arkansas and at Fort Jesup, Louisiana.

In 1845 he took part in the military occupation of Texas. Between April 1846 and November 1847 he took part in the Mexican War, including fighting in the Battle of Palo Alto on 8 May 1846. His conduct warranted promotion to Major on 9 May 1846. He fought in the Battle of Buena Vista and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in February 1847 for gallant and meritorious service.

During his service in Texas and in Mexico he served under Major-General Zachary Taylor. Bliss was noted for his efficiency. His writing was simple, elegant, vigorous, and picturesque. He was cheerful and popular with the public.

Intellectual Pursuits

He received an A.M. from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire in 1848. He was a member of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries of Copenhagen, Denmark and an Honorary Member of the American Ethnological Society. He was gifted at languages, and was fluent in at least thirteen. George Perkins Marsh, the philologist, said that Bliss was the best linguist in America.

"Political" Life

In 1848, at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he married the general's youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth Taylor ("Miss Betty"). When General Taylor became President of the United States, on 4 March 1849 he became Private Secretary to the President. The President's wife took no part in formal social events and delegated this to her daughter. Bliss' wife was, in effect, the First Lady at the White House at the age of 22. The popular young couple seemed destined to become powerful figures in Washington.

On 22 March 1849 the State of New York presented him with a Gold Medal for his bravery in Mexico, at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey and Buena Vista.

Last Years

The President died suddenly in July 1850. Colonel Bliss accompanied the widow to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she too died in 1852. Bliss then took up the post of Adjutant-General of the Western Division of the Army. Following a visit to plague-ridden New Orleans on behalf of Tulane University then named the University of Louisiana, Colonel Bliss died of Yellow Fever at Pascagoula 5 August 1853, aged 38. Thus 'Miss Betty' lost her father, mother and husband in a little over 3 years.

On March 8, 1854, the Post of El Paso officially became Fort Bliss. Bliss had never visited El Paso. A 20 foot memorial of Italian marble was raised to the memory of Colonel Bliss, "a finished scholar, an accomplished gentleman and a gallant soldier", in the Girod Street Cemetery, New Orleans. In 1955, the cemetery being condemned for the building of a highway, Colonel Bliss' remains and monument were moved to Fort Bliss.

William married Mary Elizabeth Taylor, daughter of President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret Mackall "Peggy" Smith, on 8 Dec 1848. (Mary Elizabeth Taylor was born on 20 Apr 1824 near Louisville, Kentucky and died on 25 Jul 1909 in Winchester Co., Virginia.)

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