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The Washington Artillery.

Address of Colonel B. F. Eschelman at their Reunion.

In response to the toast, ‘Our Veteran Association,’ to which Colonel Eschelman responded, he said:

Comrades and Friends,—Twenty-one years ago, the body of men which has now dwindled down to what you now know as the ‘Veteran Association,’ left this city to gather dear experience in the tented field. We had admired ourselves and each other in our gay uniforms, had felt our jackets swell with military ardor, had played at mimic war—delightful sensations, the heritage of all soldiers in peace. What a pity they do not wear better when the mimicry stops and the reality begins! They did not go far with us. Take it altogether, we did not find war nearly as interesting as parades before our sweethearts and wives, or even as such occasions as this. I cannot attempt to tell you what we did find, but I hope we may be permitted to spend the balance of our time on the peace establishment.

We thought we were doing our duty. It may have been an illusion, but nothing could have carried us through the work, which it is generally conceded we did grandly, if our hearts and [248] consciences had not been where we at least thought they ought to be. Some of us have never been able to get them in any other place to this day.

Now we are a very different body of men than we were twenty-one years ago. We are different—oh, how different—numerically! How memory rushes back to the brave fellows left in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia!

But we must draw a curtain over all that.

After the war was over, the greater part of those who survived drifted back to New Orleans. It was not long before we found that many of our poor fellows, either for themselves or for their families left in destitution, needed help. In order to meet this want, which touched our hearts, we formed ourselves into the Washington Artillery Association. We did not intend to recommence the war, or to hurt anybody, but the commanding officer here at the time—I need not mention his name—must have been ‘afraid,’ for he ordered us to disband. We obeyed as loyal citizens, but reorganized, leaving out the belligerent element in our name, and became the lamb-like Washington Benevolent Association, under which peaceful designation we did our work quite as well. We not only did a good deal for the living, but went on to erect some memorial of the dead. The monument which you all know so well is not what the gallant fellows deserve, but it is the best we could do.

Time has now closed up most of the sad gaps made by the war, and our work as a benevolent association is pretty near at an end, and so we have dropped that name and settled down into the military, but not dangerous title of ‘Veteran Association.’

And now, gentlemen of the battalion, we leave to your keeping the name which we have had no little pride in inscribing on the tablet of history, and with it, we commit in some sort our honor. We do not fear that you will fail to guard it well, and if, unhappily, you shall ever bear it in the din of battle, bring it back, if you must, in defeat, but never in dishonor.

Address of Colonel W. M. Owen.

To the toast, ‘Our Battles, Where They Tried Us,’ General W. M. Owen responded as follows:

Mr. Chairman and Comrades,—A theme so grand,

Our battles, where they tried us,

would require a very eloquent man to reply fitly, and unfortunately [249] I am only a soldier and no speaker; but, appreciating to the full the great compliment paid me by the committee of arrangements in selecting me to respond to such a toast, I thank you sincerely, and only beg of you charity to cover and make amends for my deficiencies.

To ‘Our battles, where we were tried,’ I will gladly answer; but, Mr. Chairman, let me beg your indulgence in slightly changing the lines which follow, ‘Seeking the bubble reputation even at the cannon's mouth.’ To men who fought for principles, who cast their lives in the scale to uphold them, it went beyond such a motive as ‘seeking the bubble reputation.’ Amend the quotation, gentlemen; let it stand, ‘Gaining reputation at the cannon's mouth,’ and I am with you there.

When leaving home, bearing so proudly upon our breasts the tiger-head of our command, with the inscription, ‘Try us,’ little did we think how soon it would receive its baptism of fire, and how many well-fought fields would in after years attest our fidelity and our devotion to our motto.

On the 18th July, 1861, the guns of the four batteries were placed in position upon the banks of Bull Run, and we waited with the breathless interest, and varying feelings of men for the first time under fire, for the opening of the ball, tasting of

That stern joy which warriors feel,
In meeting foeman worthy of their steel.

It came at last, and the guns of the enemy, whose position could only be discovered by the smoke of their discharges, opened. Then the guns stationed at Blackburn's Ford responded, and with all the steadiness of veterans, men, till then unversed in the rudiments of war, beat back the trained batteries of the Federal army, and by their skill and prowess filled with amazement not only the South, but the world. General Beauregard, in his report of the battle, says: ‘The skill, the conduct and soldierly qualities of the Washington Artillery were all that could be desired. The officers and men engaged, won for their battalion a distinction, which I feel assured will never be tarnished, and which will even serve to urge them and their corps to high endeavor.’

The engagement of the 18th was but the prelude to the opening scenes upon the theatre of the war. On the 21st was fought the battle of Manassas, and again did the battalion do yeoman service. Posted upon the ridge, near the Henry House, they fought the batteries [250] of Ricketts and Griffin, which were finally abandoned on the field. It was a case very similar to the description given by the Duke of Wellington to a lady, who asked him at a dinner party to describe to her the battle of Waterloo. ‘The battle of Waterloo, ma'am? Why, we pommelled the French, they pommelled us, and we pommelled the hardest, so we gained the day.’ Stonewall Jackson and Bee's brigades supported and fought with our guns. During the heaviest of the conflict, when shell and bullet were falling thickest, General Beauregard and staff dashed down the line of battle, and reaching our position, halted and said, ‘Colonel Walton, do you see the enemy?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then hold this position and the day is ours. Three cheers for Louisiana!’ The boys cheered heartily, and ‘voice after voice caught up’ the cheer along the line. Thus, in the two engagements of July 18 and 21 the trial was met and successfully. And now came another trial, that of life in camp; sometimes more irksome to the true soldier than fighting, and yet not without its pleasures, which, however, are perhaps enjoyed more now in retrospection than was the reality at the time.

The second company, under Rosser and Slocomb, had also won their spurs at Munson's Hill and Lewinsville, under the dashing J. E. B. Stuart; and then came the long winter in huts on the banks of Bull Run.

Meanwhile the fifth company had sprung into existence in New Orleans, and at Shiloh the praise and admiration of the whole South was theirs for gallant fighting. Their guns were heard, too, at Monterey, Yorktown, Farmington and Corinth.

And our batteries in Virginia were not idle, as Mechanicsville, Seven Pines, Gaines's Mill, Savage Station, Frazier's Farm, and Malvern Hill, will attest.

Leaving McClellan upon the James, after his famous ‘change of base,’ the battalion marched with General Lee's army, and at Rappahannock Station engaged the batteries of General Pope, and then moved forward through Thoroughfare Gap. Manassas's great battle, of two days duration, followed, resulting in the defeat and flight of Pope's army, notwithstanding his vain glorious proclamation from ‘headquarters in the saddle.’ The greatest compliment the Washington Artillery ever received was from the great Stonewall, who, on this occasion, turned to General Longstreet and said: ‘General, your artillery is much superior to mine.’

‘On to Maryland!’ was then the cry, and the heads of columns were directed to the Potomac, and the river was forded with the high [251] hope of winning peace upon the soil of that State, but, alas, at Sharpsburg, from ‘early morn till dewy eve,’ we fought till

To the right, to the left and around, and around,
Death whirled in its dance on the bloody ground,
'Till God's sunlight was quenched in fiery fight,
And over the hosts fell brooding night.

It was a drawn battle—and sadly the Potomac was recrossed at Shepherdstown.

The fifth Company were not idle and were heard meanwhile at Mumfordsville and at Perryville, Ky.

In December, at Fredericksburg, Va., the battalions held the post of honor on Marye's Hill against repeated attacks of the Federal troops

For the foe had crossed from the other side
That day, in the face of a murderous fire
That swept them down in its terrible ire:
And their life-blood went to color the tide.
The fern on the hill-sides was splashed with blood,
And down in the corn where poppies grew,
Were redder stains than the poppies knew;
And crimson-dyed was the rivers' flood.

Murfreesboro and Stone river followed in quick succession.

In Virginia the four companies participated at Chancellorsville, and at Gettysburg, Pa., were honored by being chosen to fire the two signal guns that opened the great battle of July 3.

In the West came Jackson, Miss., Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge.

In Virginia the battalion was doing brave work.

The Russian Field Marshal Suwarrow once sent word to the Austrian Archduke Charles, ‘I know nothing of defensive warfare; I only know how to attack.’ The Washington Artillery could not say they knew nothing of ‘defensive warfare,’ but certainly it was always more to their inclination to take the aggressive, and at Drewry's Bluff Suwarrow's tactics of ‘Stupay, Ibey’ (‘advance and strike’), was the order of the day, and with his army badly beaten, old ‘Ben Butler was bottled.’

In the west the guns of the Fifth Company were engaged at Cassville, Dallas, New Hope Church, Pine Mountain aad Kennesaw mountain. At the latter place fell Louisiana's lamented Bishop, General Leonidas Polk. [252] And then in the east began the siege of Petersburg

With scream of shot and burst of shell
And bellowing of the mortars.

In the west battles followed in quick succession. Peach Tree creek, siege of Atlanta, Jonesboro, Mill Creek gap, Columbia, Franklin, second Murfreesboro, Nashville, and Spanish Fort in Mobile bay, Alabama.

Meanwhile, at Petersburg, in our trenches,

We lay along the battery's side,
Below the smoking cannon,


The enemy's mines had crept surely in,
And the end was coming fast.

It was smoke and roar and powder stench,
And weary waiting for death.

So the men plied their hopeless war
And knew that the end was near.

April 2, the lines were broken. By a singular coincidence the Fifth Company held Spanish Fort, Mobile bay, and a detachment of the Washington Artillery were in Fort Gregg—the two last forts held by our two armies.

Fort Gregg, a detached work south of Petersburg, was defended by 150 Mississippians, of Harris's brigade, and two guns of the Washington Artillery, under the intrepid McElroy. The Federals, 5,000 strong, under Gibbon, attacked, and were thrice driven back by our messengers of destruction and death. Again and again they charged, until upon this little spot, it was like unto the fire of hell, and amid the crashing rain of leaden missiles, severing soul from body, the brave little garrison was overwhelmed and taken prisoners. Swinton says out of 200 souls in Gregg, but thirty lived to be taken, and the victory cost the Federals dear, as the defendants had killed three to one of the assailants, and our retreat began—marching, starving, hopeless, yet still fighting and keeping the enemy at bay, till in the forenoon of April 9, our beloved commander, the glorious Lee, laid down his arms at Appomattox Courthouse. His simple words are graven on our hearts: ‘Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more.’

We all know the grand pathos of those simple words, of that [253] slight tremble in his voice, and it was no shame on our manhood that ‘something upon the soldier's cheek washed off the stains of powder’; that our tears answered to those in the eyes of our grand old chieftain, and that we could only grasp the hand of ‘Uncle Robert’ and pray, ‘God help you, General.’ His last order, issued that day, April 9, 1865, is historical, and I will not refer to it. I will only say, could anything be grander?

Thus our battle flags were furled forever, and we bade a long farewell ‘to all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.’

Thus were the five companies of the Battalion of Washington Artillery tried, ‘amidst the clangor of resounding arms,’ during the four years of active warfare, gaining for themselves the admiration not only of their own countrymen, but of the soldiers of the world— never lacking in spirit, energy, and courage, ‘stern to inflict, stubborn to endure, yet smiling undaunted in the face of death.’ In their country's cause, and in support of principles to them sacred, their guidons were carried from the Susquehanna to the Gulf of Mexico.

The guns reverberating over and beyond the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge, were reechoed by those of gallant Slocomb and Chalaron, in the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee.

Scarcely had the smoke of battle curled in wreaths above the pines of Virginia, than our brothers in the West took up and prolonged the dreadful note.

Then our guns were never quiet; now their roar is heard only resounding ‘down the corridors of time.’ And with the talented Zariffa we say—

From the war-graves of Manassas,
     Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill,
Carrick's Ford and Massanutton,
     Fast the Shadowy Legions fill.
From the far off Rappahannock,
     From the red fields of Cross Keys,
Gettysburg—the Wildernesses—
     From defeat and victories.

Tired trooper—weary marcher—
     Grim and sturdy cannoneer—
Veteran gray, and slender stripling,

All shall ever be unforgotten by us. The names and gallant deeds of our fallen comrades shall live forever in our memories and upon the records of the battalion.

And now a few words to the present organization of the Washington [254] Artillery. You see around you men who have been in the fore-front of battle; you see the father of the command, Colonel Walton, who has devoted a life to the service and welfare of the Washington Artillery. To whose tact, coolness and decision, the battalion owes much. His superior qualities as a commanding officer, and as a diplomat, have done much both in war and in peace to keep the battalion intact, and to preserve our esprit de corps.

And with such men as Eschleman, Richardson, Hero, Bayne, Dupuy, Kursheedt, McElroy, O'Brien, Fuqua, De Russey, Holmes, Palfrey, Leverich, and our whole host of veterans, the command will not lack backers and advisors for the future. And in the words of Coleridge, when

These good knights are dust,
And their good swords are rust;
Their souls with God, we trust,

they will leave you a precious legacy, of which you should be proud. Preserve it carefully without blemish, for it is purified by the blood of brave men; and should your country need you in case of foreign war, stand manfully by your country's flag, and this your ancient device, ‘Try us.’

Show the world that the courage and honor of the Washington Artillery live forever. For until our eyes grow dim, this Tiger's Head will serve to strengthen in us our memories and associations of the past. And to our children it will speak most eloquently of the past battles of their sires, of our struggles, of our victories and our defeats, of our living and of our gallant dead. Our cross of honor it shall be unto the great ‘Resurrection Morn.’ And

When the long years have rolled slowly away
Even to the dawn of Earth's funeral day,
When at the Archangel's trumpet and tread
Rise up the faces and forms of the dead,
When the great world its last judgment awaits,
When the blue sky shall swing open its gates,
And one long column march silently through,
Past the Great Captain for final review;
Then for the blood that has flowed for the right,
Crowns shall spring upward, untarnished and bright:
Then the glad ear of the war-martyr's son
Proudly shall hear the glad tidings, ‘Well done!’

And with Schiller, we conclude:

Brothers, God grant, when this life is o'er,
In the life to come we may meet once more.

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