Edward Otho Cresap Ord was born in Cumberland, Maryland, on October 18, 1818. He was the second of twelve children born to James and Rebecca Ruth (Cresap) Ord. Ord’s father was a United States naval officer, and his mother was the daughter of Daniel Cresap, an American officer during the Revolutionary War. In 1819, the Ord family moved to Washington, DC, where young Edward went to school.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
An excellent student of mathematics, Ord received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at age sixteen in 1835. Among his classmates were Henry W. Halleck and Edward R. S. Canby, both of whom became general officers in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War. Ord graduated from the Academy on July 1, 1839, placing seventeenth in his class of thirty-one cadets.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, the army brevetted Ord as a second lieutenant with the 3rd U.S. Artillery and sent him to Florida, where he took part in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842). On July 1, 1841, the army promoted Ord to first lieutenant. At the conclusion of the campaign against the Seminoles, Ord served at several forts along the East Coast, until officials sent him to California in 1846. Ord arrived in time to serve on garrison duty at Monterey during the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848).
While serving in California, Ord worked as a civilian surveyor to supplement his military pay. In 1849, he created one of the first maps of Los Angeles. In 1850, the army transferred Ord to the Pacific Northwest, where he worked on a coastal survey. While serving there, army officials promoted Ord to captain on September 7, 1850. Ord returned to garrison duty at Benicia, California in 1852.
On October 14, 1854, Ord married Mary Mercer Thompson, the daughter of a California judge, in San Francisco. Their union, which lasted for twenty-nine years, produced eight children. Following his marriage, Ord spent the next four years in the West, including expeditions to Oregon and Washington to campaign against American Indians.
In 1859, Ord returned to the East, where he served on garrison duty at Fort Monroe, Virginia. When John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October of that year, U.S. Secretary of War John B. Floyd, dispatched Ord on the operation to suppress the rebellion.
Union Army Officer
When the Civil War erupted, Ord was back on the West Coast serving as commander of Fort Vancouver in Washington Territory. The army quickly ordered him to San Francisco and then back east. Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on September 14, 1861, Ord joined the Army of the Potomac as a brigade commander defending Washington, DC. On November 21, 1861, army officials promoted Ord to major in the regular army and assigned him to the 4th U.S. Artillery. One month later, troops under Ord’s command defeated several Confederate regiments led by Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart at the Battle of Dranesville (December 20, 1861).
Western Theater Service
After briefly commanding a division in the Department of the Rappahannock, the War Department transferred Ord to the Western Theater and promoted him to the rank of major general of volunteers with Major General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Army of the Tennessee on May 2, 1862.
Battle of Iuka Controversy
In mid-September 1862, Grant dispatched Ord and 8,000 soldiers to attack Major General Sterling Price‘s 3,000-man Army of the West, encamped at Iuka, Mississippi, from the northwest. Grant also ordered Major General William S. Rosecrans and 9,000 soldiers to attack Price from the southwest. Grant accompanied Ord’s headquarters during the expedition.
Ord’s force reached Iuka on the evening of September 18, ahead of Rosecrans. Rosecrans telegraphed Grant that he would not be prepared to attack until the next day. Grant and Ord agreed to hold off their assault until they heard the sounds of Rosecrans’ engagement with the enemy. Rosecrans resumed his march at 4:30 a.m. on September 19 and was within two miles of Iuka by the afternoon. At that point, Price attacked first. The ensuing battle lasted approximately three hours and ended when darkness fell. Realizing how dangerous his situation had become, Price evacuated Iuka overnight, using a road that Rosecrans had failed to secure.
Although the Federals captured Iuka, their victory rang hollow because failing to coordinate the Union attack and to involve Ord’s forces enabled Price’s army to escape. After the battle, controversy swirled regarding why Ord’s troops never entered the fray. Grant and Ord claimed that unusual weather conditions, marked by high winds, prevented them from hearing the sounds of the battle to their south. Some Union soldiers later swore that there were no high winds that day, and others stated that they not only heard the battle but that they could see smoke on the horizon. Even though Ord’s troops did not engage, army officials later him brevetted to colonel in the regular army for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct” in the Battle of Iuka.
Injured at the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge
On October 3, 1862, General Earl Van Dorn‘s Confederate Army of Tennessee mounted a spirited attack against Rosecrans’ garrison at Corinth, Mississippi, forcing the Yankees back toward the center of the city. As nightfall approached, Van Dorn called off the assault, confident that he could finish the job in the morning. Rosecrans regrouped his soldiers overnight and drove the Rebels back the next day. Realizing that the tide had turned, Van Dorn halted the assault and withdrew. Because his soldiers were exhausted, Rosecrans chose not to pursue the retreating Rebels until the next day.
On the same day that Van Dorn withdrew (October 4), Grant had dispatched two separate detachments, led by Ord and Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, to reinforce Rosecrans. On the morning of October 5, the two forces merged, with Ord assuming overall command. Hoping to catch Van Dorn’s retreating forces in a pincer between Ord and Rosecrans, Grant ordered Ord to cut off the Confederate escape route across the Hatchie River at Davis Bridge.
Sensing the seriousness of his situation, Van Dorn ordered his men to hold at Davis Bridge while he searched for an alternate route across the river. When Van Dorn’s soldiers tried to cross the river at Crum’s Mill to the south, Ord’s troops engaged the lead elements of the Confederate force and drove them back to Davis Bridge. During the action, Ord was wounded, and Hurlbut assumed command. The Federals eventually drove the Rebels across Davis Bridge, but not before the bulk of Van Dorn’s army crossed the river at Crum’s Mill and escaped back to Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Return to Duty
Because of the severe nature of Ord’s injuries, he was on sick leave from October 6 to Nov. 24, 1862. After serving in some administrative positions, Ord returned to combat duty, on June 18, 1863, as commander of the 13th Army Corps in time to take part in the final stages of the Siege of Vicksburg.
Following the fall of Vicksburg, Ord took part in the capture of Jackson, Mississippi on July 16, 1863. He then moved on to Louisiana, where he served with the Army of Western Louisiana from August to October, before going on sick leave again from October to December. On January 8, 1864, Ord returned to active duty as commander of the 13th Army Corps, in the Department of the Gulf, until February 20, when the army ordered him east.
Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights
After serving briefly in the Shenandoah Valley, army officials gave Ord command of the 18th Army Corps on July 21, 1864, during General Grant’s Petersburg Campaign. On the night of September 28-29, Ord led the 18th Corps across the James River at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia. Grant had ordered him to capture Fort Harrison, to destroy the Confederate bridges near Chaffin’s Bluff, and then, to assault Richmond from the southeast.
On September 29, Ord’s soldiers began their assault on Fort Harrison. Led by Brigadier General George Stannard’s division, the Yankees rushed the lightly defended Confederate position, sending the 800 Rebel defenders scurrying for shelter behind a secondary line to their rear. The triumph, however, was costly; all three Union brigade commanders were killed or wounded during the action.
When Ord personally took charge, he too received serious wounds. Devoid of leadership, the federal assault soon bogged down. Alarmed by the initial Yankee successes, Robert E. Lee redeployed 10,000 reinforcements to the Petersburg defenses overnight. The next day, he ordered an unsuccessful counterattack to retake Fort Harrison. Reaching a clear stalemate, both sides re-entrenched in their new positions eight miles outside of Richmond, where they remained until Lee evacuated the Confederate capital in April 1865.
24th Army Corps Commander
After the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights, Ord went on sick leave for nine weeks to recover from his wounds. On December 3, 1864, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 297, reorganizing the Army of the James. The order discontinued the 10th and 18th Army Corps, merging the white infantry troops from those two corps to form the new 24th Army Corps commanded by Ord. Black troops from the two discontinued corps formed the new 25th Army Corps commanded by Major General Godfrey Weitzel.
Army of the James Commander
Later in December, Grant appealed to President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for authorization to replace Major General Benjamin F. Butler as commander of the Army of the James. On January 7, 1865, the Adjutant-General’s Office issued General Orders, No. 1, which stated in part that, “By direction of the President of the United States, Major General Benjamin F. Butler is relieved from the command of the Department of North Carolina and Virginia.” On the same day, U.S. Army Headquarters issued special orders appointing Ord to temporary command of the department and of the Army of the James.
Ord commanded the Army of the James throughout the Petersburg Campaign and the Appomattox Campaign. When Richmond, Virginia fell on April 2, 1865, black soldiers of the 24th Corps of the Army of the James were among the first Union troops to occupy the city on the following day. At the Battle of Appomattox Station, the 25th Corps of the Army of the James cut off the Army of Northern Virginia’s last avenue of escape, prompting Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.
As the Civil War drew to a close, army officials brevetted Ord to the rank of brigadier general in the regular army for gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of the Hatchie’s Bridge and to major general in the regular army for gallant and meritorious services at the assault of Fort Harrison. Both promotions were effective to date from March 13, 1865.
Regular Army Assignments
At the conclusion of the Civil War, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 118 on June 27, 1865, which divided the United States into military districts and divisions. The order placed Ord in command of the Department of the Ohio, headquartered in Detroit. Ord assumed his new command on July 5, 1865, and served until August 6, 1866. During his tenure with the Department of the Ohio, army officials promoted Ord to lieutenant colonel in the regular army on December 11, 1865, and to brigadier general in the regular army on July 26, 1866. On August 29, 1866, the War Department assigned Ord to command the Department of Arkansas. Three days later, on September 1, 1866, Ord mustered out of the volunteer army.
Ord remained in the U.S. Army for the next fourteen years, holding various commands in the West, including the Fourth Military District (March 26, 1867 to January 9, 1868), the Department of California (April 24, 1868 to December 4, 1871), the Department of the Platte (December 11, 1871 to April 6, 1875), and the Department of Texas (April 11, 1875 to December 6, 1880).
Ord retired from the army on December 6, 1880, at age sixty-two. The next year, Congress enacted special legislation promoting him to the rank of major general, effective January 28, 1881.
Death in Cuba
Following his retirement, Ord accepted a position as a civil engineer with the Mexican Southern Railroad. Upon assuming his duties in Mexico, Ord contracted yellow fever. While traveling back to the United States, he was taken ashore at Havana, Cuba, where he died on July 22, 1883, at age sixty-five. Ord’s remains are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.