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Edward Otho C. Ord was a major general in the Union army during the Civil War and commanded the Department of Arkansas and the Fourth Military District during Reconstruction.
Born in Cumberland, Maryland, on October 18, 1818, Edward O. C. Ord was the son of James and Rebecca Ord. The family moved to Washington DC when Ord was young. Tutored by his father, he was known as a mathematical genius. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of sixteen. He graduated in 1839 and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Third United States Artillery.
After service during the Second Seminole War and a promotion to first lieutenant in 1841, Ord sailed to California. Arriving in 1847, he commanded an artillery battery at Monterey and worked on the Presidio. He did not see action during the Mexican War but did serve with fellow future generals Henry Halleck and William Tecumseh Sherman. While in California, he was promoted to captain and was transferred to Fort Independence, Massachusetts, in 1850. After two years of service in Massachusetts, Ord returned to the West Coast, where he served in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Ord married Mary “Molly” Thompson in 1854, and the couple would have thirteen children. He participated in the Rogue River Indian War in Oregon in 1855. Ord was at Fort Monroe, Virginia, in 1859 when John Brown led his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Ord was ordered to participate in putting down the raid but did not arrive in time.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Ord was once again in California. He returned to the eastern United States, where he received a promotion to brigadier general and commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania infantry. He saw his first action at the Battle of Dranesville, Virginia, on December 20, 1861, leading his unit to a victory against Confederate brigadier general J. E. B. Stuart. On May 3, 1862, Ord was promoted to major general and moved to the Western Theater, where he served in the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Leading a division at the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge on October 5, 1862, Ord received a serious wound. He did not return to duty until June 1863, when he took command of Major General John McClernand’s XIII corps at the Siege of Vicksburg.
With the capture of Vicksburg, Ord and the corps moved to Louisiana to serve in the Department of the Gulf. Ord returned to Virginia, where he took command of the XVIII corps in early 1864. Wounded in an attack against Fort Harrison in September, Ord returned to duty in January 1865 as the commander of the Army of the James. During a meeting with Confederate lieutenant general James Longstreet, Ord was approached about the possibility of a meeting between Grant and Robert E. Lee to discuss a way to end the war. This overture was eventually rejected by President Abraham Lincoln. Working with the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah, the Army of the James forced the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse. Ord was present at the surrender.
Ord continued his service in the regular army after the war at the permanent rank of brigadier general. Ord took command of the Department of Arkansas and the Indian Territory in August 1866. The same month, he received a brevet promotion to major general for his service in the war.
As the commander of the department, Ord was responsible for ensuring that federal law was followed in the state. With just over 1,000 men to help enforce these laws, Ord was often at a disadvantage when tasked with arresting violators. Also serving as the assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the state, Ord worked to protect former slaves from attack. He threatened to remove all freed people from Ashley County in response to the large number who were attacked or killed in the area. Ord authorized bureau agents to use U.S. marshals to arrest violators. The general also worked to improve working relationships between landowners and the former slaves. While he protected the freedmen from abuse and violence, he also ordered his agents to force the workers to fulfill their contracts with plantation owners and not leave before the harvest was completed. He later issued Order Number 5, calling for freedmen to continue to work to provide for their families and keep their contracts with landowners. A permanent bureau court system was proposed by Ord but not supported by the administration of Andrew Johnson. He did, however, successfully increase the number of schools for freedmen in the state. Ord was replaced as assistant commissioner in Mach 1867.
Congress took control of Reconstruction the same month. The states that seceded from the Union, with the exception of Tennessee, were divided into five military districts and were occupied by Federal troops. The Fourth District consisted of Arkansas and Mississippi, and it was further subdivided into departments. Ord took command of the district, with his headquarters at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Brevet Brigadier General Charles Smith commanded the Department of Arkansas. Ord went to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in April to remove L. B. Cunningham as the Arkansas state treasurer. The Arkansas Supreme Court had ruled that scrips issued by the state Confederate government could be payable by the treasury, and Ord appointed a new treasurer to ensure that this did not occur. The same month, he informed Governor Isaac Murphy that the recessed Arkansas General Assembly would not be allowed to reconvene. This was to prevent the body from trying Unionist judges for actions taken during the war.
Ord also forbade any state money to be paid to the families of deceased Confederate soldiers if the same amounts were not also made available to the families of Union soldiers. The general created tribunals to oversee crop disputes between landlords and tenants, as many tenants were too poor to appear in state court. He also established military commissions to try criminal cases when local courts were unable to do so or when an assault or murder occurred. Fifteen cases were tried in Arkansas, most involving stolen livestock. Ord also directed both states to extend the assistance offered through poor laws to African Americans. Ord ordered that groups of armed civilians be prevented from assembling in order to curtail the intimidation of African Americans. His troops and bureau agents began voter registration efforts for freedmen in June 1867. By September, more than 66,000 whites and freedmen were registered.
An election to call a constitutional convention was held in November 1867, and the voters approved the measure. It began meeting in Little Rock on January 7, 1868. Two days later, Ord turned his command over to Major General Alvan Gillem and departed for San Francisco, California, to take command of the Department of the Pacific. Holding the command for three years, he next led the Department of the Platte with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Ord commanded the District of Texas from 1875 until 1880, when he retired from the army.
In retirement, Ord worked for a railroad company in Mexico, where he contracted yellow fever. He died in Havana, Cuba, on July 22, 1883. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
For additional information:Cresap, Bernarr. Appomattox Commander: The Story of General E.O.C. Ord. San Diego: A. S. Barnes, 1981.
Edward Ord Papers. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 12/28/2016
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