American Civil War: Major General Edward O. Ord

Maj. Gen. Edward O. Ord
Major General Edward O. Ord. Public Domain

Edward O. Ord - Early Life & Career:

Born October 18, 1818 at Cumberland, MD, Edward Otho Cresap Ord was the son of James and Rebecca Ord. His father briefly served in the US Navy as a midshipman but transferred to the US Army and saw action during the War of 1812. A year after Edward's birth, the family moved to Washington, DC. Educated in the nation's capital, Ord quickly showed an aptitude for mathematics. To further these skills, he obtained an appointment to the US Military Academy in 1835. Arriving at West Point, Ord's classmates included Henry Halleck, Henry J. Hunt, and Edward Canby. Graduating in 1839, he ranked seventeenth in a class of thirty-one and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery.

Edward O. Ord - To California:

Ordered south, Ord immediate saw combat in the Second Seminole War. Promoted to first lieutenant in 1841, he next moved to garrison duty at several forts along the Atlantic coast. With the beginning of the Mexican-American War and swift capture of California in 1846, Ord was dispatched to the West Coast to aid in occupying the newly-captured territory. Sailing in January 1847, he was accompanied by Halleck and Lieutenant William T. Sherman. Arriving in Monterey, Ord took command of Battery F, 3rd US Artillery with orders to complete the construction of Fort Mervine. With Sherman's assistance, this task was soon completed. With the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1848, prices for goods and living expenses began to outpace the officers' salaries. As a result, Ord and Sherman were permitted to take side jobs to make extra money. 

This saw them conduct a survey of Sacramento for John Augustus Sutter, Jr. which established much of the layout for the city's central areas. In 1849, Ord accepted a commission to survey Los Angeles. Aided by William Rich Hutton, he completed this task and their work continues to provide insight in the city's earliest days. A year later, Ord was ordered north to the Pacific Northwest where he commenced surveying the coast. Promoted to captain that September, he returned to California in 1852. While on garrison duty at Benicia, Ord married Mary Mercer Thompson on October 14, 1854. Over the next five years, he remained on the West Coast and took part in various expeditions against the Native American in the region.

Edward O. Ord - The Civil War Begins:

Returning east in 1859, Ord arrived at Fortress Monroe for service with the artillery school. That fall, his men were directed to move north to aid in suppressing John Brown's attack on Harpers Ferry but were not needed as Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee was able to deal with the situation. Sent back to the West Coast the following year, Ord was there when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter and opened the Civil War in April 1861. Returning east, he received a commission as a brigadier general of volunteers on September 14 and assumed command of a brigade in the Pennsylvania Reserves. On December 20, Ord led this force as it won a skirmish with Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry near Dranesville, VA.     

On May 2, 1862, Ord received a promotion to major general. Following brief service in the Department of the Rappahannock, he was transferred west to lead a division in Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee. That fall, Grant ordered Ord to direct part of the army against Confederate forces led by Major General Sterling Price. This action was to be coordinated with Major General William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Mississippi. On September 19, Rosecrans engaged Price at the Battle of Iuka. In the fighting, Rosecrans won a victory, but Ord, with Grant at his headquarters, failed to attack due to an apparent acoustic shadow. A month later, Ord won a victory over Price and Major General Earl Van Dorn at Hatchie's Bridge as the Confederates retreated after being repulsed at Corinth.

Edward O. Ord - Vicksburg & the Gulf:

Wounded at Hatchie's Bridge, Ord returned to active duty in November and held a series of administrative posts. While Ord recovered, Grant embarked on a series of campaigns to capture Vicksburg, MS. Laying siege to the city in May, the Union leader relieved the troublesome Major General John McClernand from command of XIII Corps the following month. To replace him, Grant selected Ord. Taking over on June 19, Ord led the corps for the remainder of the siege which ended on July 4. In the weeks after the fall of Vicksburg, XIII Corps took part in Sherman's march against Jackson. Serving in Louisiana as part of the Department of Gulf for much of the latter part of 1863, Ord left XIII Corps in January 1864. Returning east, he briefly held posts in the Shenandoah Valley.

Edward O. Ord - Virginia:        

On July 21, Grant, now leading all Union armies, directed Ord to assume command of XVIII Corps from the ill Major General William "Baldy" Smith. Though part of Major General Benjamin Butler's Army of the James, XVIII Corps operated with Grant and the Army of the Potomac as they besieged Petersburg. In later September, Ord's men crossed the James River and took part in the Battle of Chaffin's Farm. After his men succeeded in capturing Fort Harrison, Ord fell badly wounded as he attempted to organize them to exploit the victory. Out of action for the remainder of the fall, he saw his corps and the Army of the James completely reorganized in his absence. Resuming active duty in January 1865, Ord found himself in temporary command of the Army of the James.

In this post for the remainder of the conflict, Ord directed the army's operations during the latter stages of the Petersburg Campaign including the final assault on the city on April 2. With Petersburg's fall, his troops were among the first to advance into the Confederate capital of Richmond. As Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated west, Ord's troops joined in the pursuit and ultimately played a key role in blocking the Confederate escape from Appomattox Court House. He was present at Lee's surrender on April 9 and later purchased the table at which Lee had sat.

Edward O. Ord - Later Career:

Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 14, Grant ordered Ord north to investigate and ascertain if the Confederate government had played a role. His determination that John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators had acted alone helped calm demands that the newly-defeated South be punished. That June, Ord assumed command of the Department of the Ohio. Promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on July 26, 1866, he later oversaw the Department of Arkansas (1866-1867), Fourth Military District (Arkansas & Mississippi, 1867-68), and Department of California (1868-1871). 

Ord spent the first half of the 1870s commanding the Department of the Platte before moving south to lead the Department of Texas from 1875 to 1880. Retiring from the US Army on December 6, 1880, he received a final promotion to major general a month later. Accepting a civil engineering position with the Mexican Southern Railroad, Ord worked to build a line from Texas to Mexico City. While in Mexico in 1883, he contracted yellow fever prior to departing on business for New York. Falling severely ill while at sea, Ord was landed at Havana, Cuba where he died on July 22. He remains were brought north and interred at Arlington National Cemetery. 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Edward O. Ord." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). American Civil War: Major General Edward O. Ord. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Edward O. Ord." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).