Many a soldier is familiar with Fort Ord. However, but very few have any knowledge of the man for whom it is named. Only a small number of historians familiar with Los Angeles's early history know that the name Ord is almost synonymous with that city. But few students of early California history are cognizant of the Ord Surveys of Sacramento and of the Ord Survey of the pueblo de Los Angeles in 1849. Remarkably, even fewer have any knowledge of the man himself other than the fact that he was an army officer.
Edward Otho Cresap Ord was born on October 18, 1818, in Cumberland, Maryland. He was the third son of James and Rebecca Ruth (Cresap) Ord. His father was an officer in the United States Navy for a short time, and afterwards a lieutenant in the army during the War of 1812 (1), and his mother was the daughter of Colonel Daniel Cresap (2), an officer in the American Revolution. His grandfather had commanded one of the regiments which Washington sent to Pennsylvania to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1819, the Ord family moved to Washington, D.C., when Edward was just a year old, where he received his early schooling. He showed in his boyhood great mathematical ability, which attracted attention and gained for him an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in September 1835 at the age of sixteen.
On July 1, 1839, Edward graduated seventeenth in a class of thirty-one, and was commissioned as a 2d lieutenant, Third Artillery Regiment. He was one of two lieutenants that were selected by Colonel William S. Harney to assist in the Florida Everglades against the Seminole Indians, where for gallant service he was promoted to first lieutenant. During the four following years he served on garrison duty on the eastern seaboard.
In 1847, during the Mexican War, Lieutenant E. O. C. Ord, with his classmate, Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck, and Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman, was sent to California by way of Cape Horn, arriving at Monterey aboard the LEXINGTON on January 28, 1847, two days before Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco. Shortly after his arrival, he was dispatched with two men to capture three murderers. He caught up with them at Santa Barbara, shot one who attempted to escape, brought the other two to jury trial before an alcade court, securing their conviction, and promptly executed them.
As a young Lieutenant Ord was placed in charge of the Monterey garrison (1847-49) and by his individual efforts did much toward preserving law and order in Monterey during the Mexican war.
In 1849, Lieutenant Ord had just finished a survey of Sacramento when Governor Bennett Riley sent a request to the Ayuntamiento (City Council) at Los Angeles for a map of the city and information as to titles and the methods of granting city lots. Governor Riley was informed by the Alcalde that there was no city map in existence and never had been one, and furthermore, there was no surveyor in the town to make one. In response, Governor Riley sent Ord to Los Angeles.
Upon the arrival of Lieutenant Ord in Los Angeles, and following a short conference with the Council, Ord received three thousand dollars to survey the city. Ord was to call his map the "Plan de la ciudad de Los Angeles."
On September 7, 1850, Ord was promoted to the rank of captain. That year he was on Indian duty in the Pacific Northwest and was engaged in Coast Survey (December 30, 1852 to March 29, 1855).
Captain E. O. C. Ord was married to Mary Mercer Thompson at San Francisco on October 14, 1854. The couple had two sons and a daughter.
In April 1855, Ord was placed in command of the garrison at Benicia, California (1856-58). During 1856, and again in 1858, he campaigned against the Indians in Oregon, campaigning successfully against the Rogue River Indians and later against the Spokane Indians in the Washington Territory. In 1858 he was placed on frontier duty and placed in charge of Fort Miller in the San Joaguin Valley, near the present city of Fresno (3).
In 1859, Ord was attending the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Virginia, when he participated in the suppression of the John Brown insurrection at Harpers Ferry. From there, he was placed on frontier duty at Fort Vancouver, Washington, returning back to Benicia, California, in 1861, and later that year was stationed at the Presidio, in San Francisco, at the time of the firing on Fort Sumter.
On September 14, 1861, Ord was made brigadier-general of volunteers and given a command in the Army of the Potomac assigned to defend the capital. Ord was ordered East, and there, led the attack against Confederate forces under Gen. J. E. B. Stuart at Dranesville, Virginia, on December 20, 1861, and was promoted to major-general of volunteers on May 2, 1862, and transferred to the Western Theater. On September 19, 1862, he was given a colonel's brevet in the regular army "for gallant and meritorious service" on the field and was severely wounded a few days later at Hatchie, Mississippi, and was incapacitated until June 1863, when he returned to the army in time to take part in the siege of Vicksburg as commander of the Thirteenth Corps. After the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, Ord held commands in Louisiana and in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. During the siege of Richmond he commanded first the Eighth Corps and later the Eighteenth Corps. He was again seriously wounded at the storming of Fort Harrison in September 1864 and did not return to his command until January 1865.
On March 13, 1865, he was awarded the brevet rank of brigadier-general for his role in the battle of Hatchie, Mississippi, and a major general's brevet for his part in the assault on Fort Harrison, Virginia. He was then given command of the Army of the James with responsibility for the Department of North Carolina. He was engaged in the various operations about Petersburg, Virginia, and in the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee until the surrender at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865. He then was given the Department of the Ohio, which he retained until he was mustered out of the volunteer service in September, 1866, after receiving, on 13 March, 1865, the brevets of brigadier-general and major-general in the United States army, and the commissions of lieutenant colonel, on 11 December, 1865, and of brigadier-general in the regular army, 26 July, 1866.
After the surrender of the Confederate armies, he first commanded the Fourth Military District. Subsequently he had command of the Department of Arkansas, the 4th military district, the Department of California, and the Department of the Platte, before receiving assignment to command the Military Department of Texas on April 11, 1875. He supervised the construction of Fort Sam Houston. His command numbered from 3,000 to 3,900 troops, stationed at San Antonio and forts Brown, Concho, Clark, Davis, Duncan, McKavett, and Ringgold. From his headquarters at San Antonio Brigadier General Ord oversaw the scouting, construction of telegraph lines, and post maintenance and repair, as well as suppression of cattle rustling and hostile Indians. Troops under Ord's command were responsible for the discovery of grazing land in the state's trans-Pecos region as well as deposits of silver, iron, lead, and copper.
On 6 December, 1880, being over 62 years of age, he retired with his brevet rank of major-general (by Act of Congress, approved January 28, 1881), and on this occasion General Sherman wrote of him:
"He has had all of the hard knocks of service, and never on soft or fancy duty. He has always been called on when hard duty was expected, and never flinched."
Subsequently he became identified with various civilian enterprises. It was during this period that General Ord accepted the appointment as engineer on the construction of a Mexican railroad, but contracted yellow fever while on his way from Vera Cruz to New York. He was taken ashore at Havana, Cuba, where he died on July 22, 1883.
Upon the death of General Ord, the General-in-Chief, U.S. Army, issued an obituary order, quoted in part here:
"With profound sorrow the General of the Army announces the death at Havana, Cuba, at seven o'clock on the evening of the 22d instant, of MAJOR-GENERAL EDWARD O. C. ORD, retired, and lately Brigadier-General and Brevet Major-General on the active list.... Distinguished among his country's defenders, General Ord was a soldier of national repute. Through his long military service, reaching towards half a century, his career has been marked by faithful, devoted, and intelligent dischard of duty, by personal gallantry, by honest administration, and by a firmness which was not weakened by his great kindness of heart. As his intimate associate since boyhood, the General [W. T. Sherman] here bears testimony of him, that a more unselfish, manly, and patriotic person never lived."
He was regarded as a model officer –a gentleman by all who served under him as well. The Rev. S. S. Seward, who for four years served as his aide-de-camp, said of him:
"I can truly say that I never saw him, under any circumstances, lose his self-control or forfeit for an instant his character as a courteous gentleman. Even his rebukes never gave offence, while his consideration for others never failed him even in the face of the enemy. He was brave as a lion and gentle as a woman. In the camp and on the march he was exceedingly careful of his soldiers, providing for their comfort, their clothing, their rations, their medical attendance, with almost paternal care, and he showed equal solicitude for the sick and wounded. My respect and affection for him grew as my appreciation of his genuine manly worth increased with years and experience." (New York Tribune, July 26, 1883).
His remains were returned to the United States and here he was interned at the National Cemetery at Arlington with full military honors. But although Edward Otho Cresap Ord's military career was a brilliant one, no act of his will place his name in the minds of Californians more forcibly than by the military fort that bears his name –Fort Ord.
Fort Ord was named in 1940 in honor of Major General Edward Otho Cresap Ord. A portion of Fort Ord is now the home of The California State University, Monterey Bay.