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Sketches of the history of the Washington Artillery.

By Colonel J. B. Walton, Captain J. A. Chalaron, Colonel B. F. Eschelman, and Colonel W. M. Owen.
[At the reunion of the famous old Washington Artillery in New Orleans, on the 27th of May last, among other admirable speeches were several which gave valuable sketches of this grand old corps, which are well worthy of preservation in our records, and which we take pleasure in publishing. We give now those of Colonel Walton and Captain Chalaron, and will give in our next Colonel Eschelman's and Colonel Owen's.]

Address of Colonel J. B. Walton.

Mr. Chairman,—In rising to respond to the toast ‘The Washington Artillery,’ I should not fail to give expression of my high appreciation of the compliment which is conveyed by my selection, nor of the apprehension I feel that, in consequence of a somewhat protracted indisposition, which has prohibited anything like application, I may be found unequal to the grateful duty which has been assigned me. But sick, or in the enjoyment of health, it seems to stir within me a spring of action, a defiance of hesitation whenever I am called upon to speak or act in behalf of my old command; a command that has been eminently one of vigor and progress from its earliest organization. Ever faithful—the peer of the most renowned—it has maintained in peace and in war an enviable distinction for high character, devotion to duty, discipline and all those grand qualities that have made the muster roll of the Washington Artillery a roll of honor, and its record a priceless inheritance, not only for the ‘veteran,’ but also for the young men of the battalion of to-day, to whom we have to bequeath the name and fame of those who have preceded them; enjoining upon them, our worthy successors, to emulate the example which is written in the character, and attested by the meritorious [211] services, the sacrifices and renown of their seniors and predecessors.

I do not, Mr. Chairman, propose to pronounce a eulogy upon this occasion, nor would it be fitting that I should, but in my great pride for my old command I may, I trust, without undue egotism, be permitted briefly to refer to our antecedent history.

The Washington Artillery is distinguished by being the oldest military organization in Louisiana, and the oldest perhaps in any of the Southern States.

In the year 1840, the Washington Regiment, commanded by Colonel Persifer F. Smith, was the only military organization of note above Canal street. It was composed of cavalry, artillery and infantry, partaking of the character of a legion. The Washington Artillery, then just reorganized (February 22, 1840), was the right flank company. Thus composed, the regiment under its distinguished Colonel became the crack corps of the State.

Upon the breaking out of hostilities with Mexico, in the spring of 1846, the Washington Artillery, under a requisition from General Zachary Taylor, volunteered with their battery—which had been increased by purchase to six six-pounder bronze guns—and proceeded to Corpus Christi, Texas, where Taylor's army was then encamped, remaining there in the service of the United States three months, without incident. At the expiration of that time the battery returned to New Orleans and was mustered out of service.

In May, 1846, another requisition was made upon the State of Louisiana, now for a brigade of four regiments of infantry. The Washington regiment was the first to offer its services, and was the first in the field. The Washington Artillery, acting as infantry, was Company A of the regiment, and served with it, under Taylor, until all the volunteers on the Rio Grande line were, by orders of Secretary Marcy, sent home and discharged.

From that period the company, in face of all adverse circumstances—the neglect of the State and city authorities, the absence of any appropriations for their support—constantly maintained their organization in a state of efficiency and readiness for service at the individual cost of the members. Such was the spirit of the Washington Artillery more than forty years ago, and, I am proud to say, such it has ever been and such it is to-day.

After the war with Mexico the military enthusiasm very much weakened; organization after organization was disbanded, leaving the Washington Artillery almost alone, struggling and apathetic. In 1852 it was found necessary again to rally for another reorganization. [212] In June of that year, General E. L. Tracy was elected Captain, then Soria, who was killed by the premature explosion of a cartridge. After the lamented death of Soria, the company languished and lost in numbers and in spirit to such an extent that it seemed to be upon the verge of dissolution.

For five long and uneventful years it clung to its existence, and when its numbers were reduced to thirteen members, I, your humble speaker, on the 19th of March, 1857, was offered and accepted the Captaincy.

From that date the company ‘took heart’ and steadily improved in numbers, discipline, drill and efficiency, both as artillery and infantry, until it became and was acknowledged to be the largest, best drilled and disciplined company in the South.

You must pardon me, my comrades, for inflicting upon you these dry details. They are, however, an essential part of the objects of this, the first re-union we have had, serving to put upon record for the remembrance of the seniors the trials and triumphs of years long gone, and for the juniors that they be informed, so that they may share the pride we all should feel in the past history of this truly historic organization. So, I pray you, bear with me, and you shall shortly hear from more eloquent lips of the stirring scenes through which the several companies of the battalion have passed in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Alabama. You will be made more proud when the distinguished officers, who have been chosen for the task, will fire you with their descriptions of the grand career of the five companies, which has, from defeats and victories warranted the inscription of sixty battles upon their colors.

But I am digressing; let me proceed with my narration.

1861—the first act of war.

For several days prior to January 9, 1861, this city was anxiously excited over the rumors that were current, pointing to some contemplated act on the part of the-State hostile to the United States authorities. A commingling of curiosity, apprehension and ignorance prevailed.

The glorious 8th, the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, as was the custom in those days, had been celebrated with great pomp and circumstance. The following day and evening the most intense anxiety was manifested among all classes of citizens. About 7 o'clock in the evening the following order was sent to me: [213]

[order no. 24.]

headquarters first brigade, first division, L. M., New Orleans, January 9, 1861.
To Captain Walton, Washington Artillery:
You will repair immediately to the foot of Canal street, in conformity to orders from headquarters, there to receive the reports and assume command of the following named companies:

Washington Artillery, Louisiana Grays, Louisiana Guards, Chasseurs-a-Pied, Sarsfield Rifles, Orleans Cadets.

You will report the command, when formed, to the Adjutant General for further orders.

Strict order and discipline will be enforced by you, in accordance with the rules and regulations of war now in force in the army of the United States.

By order of Brigadier-General E. L. Tracy.

Thomas F. Walker, Brigade Inspector.

Pursuant to further orders, shortly after 2 o'clock in the morning of the 10th of January, the command, moving by companies, embarked on the steamboat National. It was not made known, until after the departure of our transport what was our destination or purpose; that it was serious and hostile was abundantly apparent from the ample warlike preparation. The expedition was under orders to proceed to Baton Rouge and take possession and occupy, by force or otherwise, the important military post at that point. Arrived at Baton Rouge on the morning of the 11th, it was understood that Major Haskins, commanding the United States forces, had made all necessary preparation to give the State troops a warm reception, but during the day better counsels prevailed and the Federal commander surrendered. Immediate possession was taken of the post and of the vast amount of ordnance and military stores there deposited.

The bloodless capture, by the Washington Artillery and the other troops composing the expedition, of one of the largest Federal military and ordnance depots on this continent, was regarded as a proceeding of the gravest consequence, in view of the fact that it constituted the first serious act of hostility to Federal authority.

The whole country was aroused to the consideration of the grave [214] possibilities and realities which then were presented for the consideration of the people of the South. The shrill voice of war, with all its anticipated horrors, was even then heard resounding through all the Southern States. The bombardment and fall of Sumter and the universal rush to arms, North and South, had not then occurred.

The startling announcement made by Senator Benjamin on the occasion of the presentation of a magnificent stand of colors to the battalion, by the ladies of New Orleans, on February 22, 1861, that war was inevitable, and warning all men to go home and prepare for the grand ordeal, the end of which no one could know, made a deep and solemn impression upon the multitude present to witness the presentation ceremonies. The Washington Artillery bore their colors proudly through the streets of the city that evening. Promptly on the day following they began their earnest preparation for service in the field.

On May 3d, the battalion, then in all respects prepared, composed of four full companies, authorized me, then a Major of Artillery, by a unanimous vote, to tender their services to the President of the Confederate States for the war, which was done in a communication of that date to the Hon.. J. P. Benjamin. On May 13th, after some correspondence by letters and telegraph, as to the exact character of the command, whether it was mounted or horse artillery, the following final dispatch was sent and answer received:

The Battalion Washington Artillery Volunteers for the war. Captain E. A. Palfrey and Mr. David Urquhart, of the battalion, will leave to-morrow for Montgomery; directed to report to the Secretary of War for orders.

J. B. Walton, Major Commanding.


war Department, Montgomery, Ala., May 13, 1861.
Major J. B. Walton, New Orleans:
Your battalion of artillery is accepted for the war. You are ordered to Lynchburg, Va.

L. Pope Walker, Secretary of War.


Upon the return of Captain Palfrey and Mr. Urquhart, with final orders for moving the command, and with the necessary requisitions to complete the armament, for transportation, etc., extraordinary exertions were made to get away to Virginia at the earliest possible moment. The citizens, the ladies especially, came grandly forward and liberally supplied all that was necessary for the comfort of every man. Not satisfied with providing blankets, overcoats and articles of prime necessity, they lavishly supplied luxuries and small stores to an extent almost beyond the means of transportation. Splendidly equipped, with an unequaled quartermaster's, commissary, and medical department, the battalion was unequaled by any command in the South.

Twenty-one years ago, at 8 o'clock, upon a serene and beautiful Sabbath morning, the 26th day of May, the four companies composing then the Battalion Washington Artillery, in their soldierly uniform, fully equipped, bearing the superb flag presented by the ladies, preceded by their full band marched to Lafayette Square to be mustered by Lieutenant Phifer, C. S. A., into the service of the Confederate States for the term of the war. The line was drawn, and even at that early hour the square was filled with the families and friends of the brave fellows who were then about to become bound, for weal or for woe, for life or for death, to serve the cause they had espoused.

A finer body of the youth of New Orleans had never assembled; the impressive silence that prevailed in the well-disciplined ranks, and throughout the mass of spectators, during the entire ceremony of ‘mustering-in,’ gave evidence of the profound feeling that had possession of all—those who were witnesses as well as those who were more intimately concerned.

The impressive ceremony concluded, the battalion with side arms, their colors and band, attended divine service at Christ Church, the Rev. Dr Leacock officiating. His eloquent and impressive discourse was listened to by a crowded auditory, composed, for the most part, of the families, relatives and friends of the members. Many were affected to tears by the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion and of the reflection that many of those who were there so proudly prominent might, alas! be there for the last time, that in a few short hours they would take the last embrace and say farewell forever. Dr. Leacock concluded his impressive discourse with words of encouragement and advice, evincing a keen and sometimes almost worldly appreciation of the occasion. He enjoined upon all to remember that we were educated to be gentlemen, and it behooved all to bring back [216] their characters as soldiers and as gentlemen, unblemished with their arms. ‘Remember,’ said he, ‘that the first convert to Christ from the Gentiles was a soldier. Inscribe the Cross upon your banners, for you are fighting for liberty. May God protect you in your absence. Our hearts will follow you, our ears will be open for tidings of your condition, and our prayers will ascend for your safety and return.’

After the discourse, the colors presented by the ladies were placed in front of the chancel, and the benediction pronounced, the entire congregation rising.

Monday, the 27th day of May, 1861, the twenty-first anniversary of which eventful day we are here now assembled to commemorate, was ushered in with a blazing sun and intense heat. At an early hour it was manifest, from the crowds upon the streets, there was something that had aroused the sentiment of the community at large; business was in a great measure suspended, stores were closed, and all the avenues to the arsenal and upon the streets through which the battalion was to pass on their way to the train were crowded to suffocation. The balconies were filled with ladies, showering flowers upon the troops as they marched by. All distinctions were ignored in the eager endeavor of all to show their affection and to do honor to the soldiers going to the war.

The march from the arsenal to the depot, with the mercury marking 90 degrees Farenheit, the soldiers with everything they possessed in their knapsacks upon their backs, was one of great trial and suffering, scarcely compensated by the pride and happiness experienced through the overwhelming evidence of kindness, sympathy and love exhibited by the people.

Arrived at the train which was to bear us away upon our patriotic mission, the battalion was speedily embarked, by companies, in good order. In a few minutes the signal was given that we were ready, when, amid the booming of cannon, the music of the bands, the deafening huzzas of the multitude and the weeping of the women, the train moved slowly on, and was soon beyond the view of the surging multitude. The scene was deeply and painfully impressive, exhibiting an unexampled display of patriotism, certifying to the determined sentiment the occasion had aroused among all classes of our fellow-citizens.

I am admonished now, Mr. Chairman, that the part allotted to me, to respond to the first toast to the Washington Artillery has been, however indifferently, performed, and that if I proceed, I shall encroach upon the preserves of my friends, who, in their turn, are to tell [217] you what, I am certain, will be found more to your taste and more interesting than the dry narrative of ‘The Rise and Progress’ of the Washington Artillery.

You will hear from the lips of the gallant Chalaron how the Fifth Company, jealous of the fame of the first four companies of the Virginia army, became in the Army of Tennessee the peer of the battalion, and how, in every battle from Shiloh to Spanish Fort, in Mobile bay, they challenged the record of the older companies, compelling by their gallantry and distinguished service the highest encomiums.

To Adjutant Owen (in connection with these proceedings I cannot say General Owen) has been assigned the duty of tracing the career of the battalion from Bull Run in the east and Shiloh in the west, to the melancholy end. He will tell you like a true soldier, with fire and fancy, a soldier's story of the marches and battles, the trials and triumphs of a command whose name and fame is recognized in all parts of our common country. That he will do justice to his theme, there are none here who know as I do of his action and gallantry, his devotion and bravery, signalized upon every field, who will fail to extend to him a hearty reception.

The distinguished president of the Veterans' Association, Colonel Eshleman, and Colonel Bayne, the indefatigable and honored president of the Washington Artillery Association, will also give voice in answer to the toasts proposed to be drunk in honor of their respective charges.

Now, Mr. Chairman, I desire to express my thanks for the attention that has been bestowed upon my unworthy effort and to apologize for the time I have consumed in my weak endeavor to place before you a partial record of the Washington Artillery from its organization to the date of its departure for Virginia in May, 1861. Imperfect as it is, the labor bestowed upon the compilation has been a labor of love as well as of duty. The history is one of which any command, in any land, might well be proud.

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