Fort Bliss, TX Image 1
    Fort Bliss, TX Image 2

    Fort Bliss, TX History

    Named after Colonel William Wallace Smith Bliss, a West Point professor of mathematics and line officer, the son-in-law of President Zachary Taylor. Today Fort Bliss occupies 1.12 million acres of land (larger than the state of Rhode Island) in parts of New Mexico and Texas, but it started as a small border post in a time of border tension between the USA and Mexico. Fort Bliss was established with the purpose of maintaining order and law in newly gained US Southwest, protecting the new border, and protecting California-bound settlers from Indian raids and bandit attacks. During its early years, budget problems and irregular use caused the Fort to be closed twice, and moved five times.

    From 1861 to 1862, Texas Confederates seized Fort Bliss after Texas withdrew from the Union. The fort was used to support the New Mexico Campaign, an effort to pull that territory out of the Union. The Confederates were forced to leave by a force of Californian Union troops in 1862, who used the fort as an occasional operating base.

    In 1868 the fort was flooded by the Rio Grande, and a new fort built nearby. This fort was used until 1876, when it was briefly abandoned, then returned to active duty in 1878 as a permanent post for several infantry and cavalry units, including the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, an all-black cavalry unit of the Old West. This post continued until 1893, when the fort was relocated to its current headquarters site.

    From 1902 to 1910, the army began increasing the number of troops at the fort, eventually switching from an infantry station to the biggest cavalry post in the U.S.

    In 1910 Fort Bliss was a cornerstone defense base, securing the US border while the Mexican Revolution was underway, and operating base for General Pershing's 1915-1916 Punitive Expedition, pursuing Pancho Villa in northern Mexico.

    World War I and the 1920s saw the conversion of US cavalry from horse-mounted to armored vehicles. Some of the first motorized vehicles of the US Army were field tested at Fort Bliss, including armored cars, heavy trucks, and motorcycles. This was the before the Army adopted its first tanks.

    The 1st Cavalry Division was activated at Fort Bliss in 1921, and the William Beaumont General Hospital and Fort Bliss Flying Field were opened at Fort Bliss at about the same time. Through the 1920s and 1930s Bliss cavalry developed American armored cavalry tactics, slowed by budget problems that allowed for few field exercises. Not until the late 1930s, during military preparation under the Roosevelt Administration, were there sufficient funds for regular field exercise, just before the US entry into World War II.

    In World War II Fort Bliss's land increased from a few thousand acres to more than a million, including a lot of land in New Mexico. The 1st Cavalry Division was deployed to the Pacific Theater in 1943, and the Fort became mainly an artillery training post, with an emphasis on anti-aircraft gunnery.

    After the war, Fort Bliss became the United States Army Air Defense center in 1946, and contributed to the art of operating and building missiles with the aid of over one hundred rocket scientists, employing liberated German rocket scientists and housing their families, and contributed to the development of several missiles. From the mid 1950s on, the base saw an increase in construction and expansion, and use of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

    During the Cold War Fort Bliss was a training center for thousands of troops, many deployed to the Korean War and Vietnam War, and was a main anti-aircraft missile weapons development center, using the expertise of the German rocket scientists liberated during and recruited after World War II. Missiles developed here included Nike-Ajax, Nike-Hercules, Sprint, Redeye, and Chaparral. This required an expansion of base facilities, and a few rounds of building in the 1950s followed.

    Fort Bliss was fairly stable for most of the Cold War. The US Army Sergeant Major's Academy was established at Fort Bliss in the early 1970s, and a Ranger School was stationed here for desert training in the 1980s, which closed with the end of the Cold War.

    The Cold War's end brought many changes to Bliss, and the War on Terror even more. In the mid-2000s shifting priorities led to the long-standing air defense units being transferred to Fort Sill, the transfer of the 1st Armored Division to Fort Bliss, from its 40 year posting to Germany. Today Fort Bliss stands as one of the largest US military posts, regularly conducting live fire exercises and tests, with a vast maneuver area.