Bliss, Zenas Randall (1833–1900)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 16, 2019

Zenas Randall Bliss, United States army officer, was born in Rhode Island and was appointed from his native state to the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1850. He graduated forty-first in his class and was assigned to duty as a brevet second lieutenant in the First Infantry on July 1, 1854. He was posted to Texas and served at Fort Duncan until 1855, when he was promoted to second lieutenant and transferred to an Eighth Infantry assignment at Fort Davis. In 1858 he served briefly at Camp Hudson and forts Inge and Mason and in 1859 at forts Mason and Clark. Back at Camp Hudson he was promoted to first lieutenant in 1860 and to captain in 1861. Secession found Bliss at Fort Quitman. After Gen. David E. Twiggs surrendered the federal forts in Texas, Bliss attempted to march his garrison to the Texas Gulf Coast, but was intercepted by Confederate troops under Gen. Earl Van Dorn just west of San Antonio and held prisoner until April 5, 1862. In May 1862 he was commissioned as colonel of the Tenth Rhode Island Infantry, and in August he was transferred to the Seventh Rhode Island Infantry. Bliss was brevetted to major in the regular army in 1862 for "gallant and meritorious service" at the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and to lieutenant colonel in 1864 for his service at the battle of the Wilderness. At the battle of Fredericksburg Bliss led his regiment, which had never before been under fire, to within a few yards of the Confederate lines before being repulsed, thereby winning the Medal of Honor. With the end of the Civil War he was mustered out of volunteer service on June 9, 1865.

In the postbellum army Bliss was assigned as major of the Thirty-ninth Infantry on August 6, 1867, and transferred to the all black Twenty-fifth United States Infantry on March 15, 1869. Subsequently appointed commander of the Department of Texas, Bliss made his headquarters at San Antonio and served at forts Bliss, Clark, Davis, and Duncan between 1871 and 1879. He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Nineteenth Infantry in 1879 and promoted to colonel of the Twenty-fourth Infantry in 1886. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1895 and to major general in 1897. He retired from active duty on May 22, 1897, and died in Washington, D.C., on January 2, 1900. A copy of his unpublished memoirs, Reminiscences of Zenas R. Bliss, is housed in the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York (8 vols., New York [etc.]: D. Van Nostrand [etc.], 1868–1940). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Houston Post, January 3, 1900.

Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Bliss, Zenas Randall,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 16, 2019