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Benjamin Alvord
[[Image:File:Benjamin Alvord mathematician - Brady-Handy.jpg|center|200px|border]]Benjamin Alvord
Personal Information
Born: August 18, 1813(1813-08-18)
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Died: October 16, 1884 (aged 71)
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Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
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Branch: United States Army
Union Army
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Rank: Brigadier General
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Commands: District of Oregon
Battles: Indian Wars
  • Second Seminole War

Mexican-American War

  • Battle of Palo Alto
  • Battle of Resaca de la Palma

American Civil War

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Benjamin Alvord (August 18, 1813 – October 16, 1884) was an American soldier, mathematician, and botanist.

Early life and career[]

Alvord was born in Rutland, Vermont, where he developed an interest in nature. He attended the United States Military Academy and displayed a talent in mathematics. He graduated in 1833. He was assigned to the U.S. 4th Infantry Regiment and participated in the Seminole Wars. He returned to West Point as an assistant professor of mathematics until 1839, when he was again assigned to the 4th Infantry. He spent 21 years of his military career with that regiment.

He was on frontier, garrison, and engineer duty until 1846, when he participated in the military occupation of the new state of Texas. Subsequently, he served during the Mexican-American War, being brevetted successively to captain and major for gallantry in a number of important battles including the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. He served as chief of staff to Major Lally's column on the march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847.

He was married in 1846 and had six children. His son, Benjamin Alvord, Jr., became a soldier and was a general in World War I.

After the Mexican-American War, he went from line to staff when he was named paymaster and promoted to major. He was assigned to various posts and was sent with the 4th Infantry to the West Coast. He was the engineer in charge of building the military road in southern Oregon. He was then chief paymaster in Oregon from 1854 until 1862.

Civil War service[]

From 1862 to 1865, during the American Civil War, Alvord was at Fort Vancouver as the commander of the District of Oregon with the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. He was named to that post by George Wright, the commanding officer of the Department of the Pacific. Wright wanted an experienced Regular Army officer in that post, rather than a volunteer, since the District was large (encompassing the present-day states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho), underdeveloped, and had a history of friction between the native peoples and settlers. As commander of the District, Alvord built up the defenses around the mouth of the Columbia River, but was unable to do the same for the Puget Sound. Because of low enlistments from Oregon and Washington, he supported the military draft, and failing that, supported the payment of bounties. He was removed from command in March 1865.[1][2] He was ordered to the East Coast, where he resigned his volunteer commission and became paymaster in New York City.


After the war, he subsequently became paymaster of the District of Omaha and paymaster of the Department of the Platte. He became Paymaster General of the Army in 1872 and served in that capacity until his retirement from active service in 1881. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1876.

Alvord wrote several books and essays on mathematics, and became nationally known as an expert in the field. His most famous mathematical writings were on the tangencies and intersections of circles and spheres. He also wrote on natural history, writing the first scientific description of the ability of the compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) to orient itself in a north-south direction,[3] as well as writing about winter grazing in the Rocky Mountains.[4]

He died in Washington, D.C. and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Rutland, Vermont.

Alvord Valley and the Alvord Desert in Oregon were named in his honor.[5]

See also[]


  1. Hubbell and Geary (p.6) state he was removed because: Army commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, thought Alvord ill-suited for command; Oregon's Representative, John R. McBride, accused him of being a "tool of anti-Union men"; and because of Alvord's support of the draft and bounties.
  2. Alvord apparently had heard rumors about his service and asked Department commander Irvin McDowell about them. In a letter dated April 12, 1865, McDowell wrote to Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, addressing Alvord's concerns. McDowell praised Alvord and said that he was unaware of any negative remarks (War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. L, Part II, pp. 1193-1194)
  3. Alvord, Benjamin. "On the Compass Plant." The American Naturalist, 16(8): 625-635.
  4. Alvord, Benjamin. "Winter Grazing in the Rocky Mountains." Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, 15:257-288.
  5. Corning, Howard M. Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing, 1956.


  • Hubbell, John T., and James W. Geary (editors). Biographical Dictionary of the Union: Northern Leaders of the Civil War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. ISBN 0-313-20920-0.
  • Johnson, Allen (editor). Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946.
  • Johnson, Rossiter (editor). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
  • Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske (editors). Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888.

External links[]