The Early Years

by Glen C. Cangelosi, M.D.
Copyrighted 2004

  Persifor Smith

Walton then initiated the use of the organization's present insignia and motto. Walton took the irate tiger head insignia from an infantry unit that had served under him in the Washington Regiment in 1846 but later disbanded, and placed it within a circular cannoneer's belt over crossed cannons. He added the motto "Try Us" beneath.

By the year 1858 the armory building was taking shape. Its exterior facade was finished, complete with a medallion of George Washington's profile, crossed cannon, and a stock of round iron cannon balls. Here the unit grew to a full company, splendidly uniformed and equipped at member expense. It drilled in infantry as well as artillery tactics. The arsenal housed both rifles and cannon, but continued to act as a site for many social events.

J. F. Whittington wrote in a November 5, 1858 newspaper, "Colonel Walton, our present esteemed commander, a thorough soldier, perfect disciplinarian, and a man of unrivaled energy, has shown himself to possess every quality necessary to the office to which he was called. By his exertion, the Washington Artillery has been awakened from the lethargic slumber, which of late bound it supinely, and from a small and meager company its members have increased as to entitle it to the exalted dignity of being the model corps of our state. It is to him, as I have before stated, the company is in a large degree indebted for its new arsenal, for with him originated the design and none labored so faithfully as he to have the work accomplished. He has installed into our corps a military spirit, which is very necessary to maintain a military company, and without which it would soon become dismembered. The Washington Artillery [now possesses] our most prominent young men- merchants and those versed in many of the departments of science- and who are closely identified with our city."

The "social air" of the city changed in the early days of 1861. A great state of excitement arose over a possible conflict between the northern and southern states because of their contrasting views on political and social issues. On February 22, 1861, George Washington's birthday, the ladies of New Orleans presented the Battalion Washington Artillery with a magnificent silk flag. By May 13th the command had increased to four full batteries called "companies" and was comprised of over 300 men. Uniforms and equipment for all four batteries were bought by members or donated by friends and businesses in New Orleans.

WA logo

WA badge

The WA Girod St. Armory as it appeared in 1860

Ambrotype of an
Antebellum Washington Artillerist

WA silk flag

On April 12, 1861 Southern secessionists, commanded by Louisiana-born Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, fired upon Union forces holding Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina's harbor. At 4:30 AM on the 12th the War Between the States began.

Back in New Orleans the four companies of the Washington Artillery, dressed in their shiny new militia uniforms of blue and with a fine band marched into Lafayette Square on May 26, 1861 where they were mustered into Confederate service for the "duration of the war." Two companies were equipped as artillery and two as infantry. From there they marched to Christ Episcopal Church on Canal Street where its rector, Dr. Leacock, proclaimed to them, "Our hearts will follow you, and our prayers will ascend for your safety and return."

The battalion marched out of town to the cheers and tears of thousands of spectators whose numbers extended a half a mile beyond the city into a surrounding swamp. The viewing crowd included such honorary members as Brig. Gen. E. L. Tracy, the unit's original captain twenty-five years earlier. The battalion's members boarded the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad for Virginia. They arrived there on June 4th.

Wartime aerial view of Lafayette Square in New Orleans

cdv of  Thomas H. Fuqua of  2nd Co., WA, as he and other Washington artillerists appeared as they marched off to war in 1861.

 Before he left the city, Major Walton ordered Captain W. Irving Hodgson to remain in the Crescent City to recruit additional reserve companies and to forward supplies to Virginia. Hodgson immediately went to work. He placed an advertisement in the local True Delta newspaper, and the response to it was overwhelming. Applicants abounded. Soon there were enough men and supplies to muster two additional companies (a 5th & 6th). However, a state of military affairs in February of 1862 warranted the consolidation of the two companies and rush the large single one into service. (This 5th company boasted an amazing original roster of 388 members, surpassing the ranks of the first two companies combined.) However, this newly formed company did not proceed to Virginia, but was diverted to the western theater to aid Beauregard, who had taken command there.
When the 5th Company Washington Artillery left the city in 1862, reserve members of the 6th Company were left in New Orleans. However, this reserve unit only had 102 men, mostly honorary members in nature who were either unfit for duty or opposed leaving their businesses for war. The reserve 6th Company had limited armament of its own; all arsenal supplies had been sent with the 5th Company. Members of this sixth company may have helped serve on the city's riverside artillery defenses near Chalmette, Louisiana as Farragut approached the city in 1862. However, the eminent fall of New Orleans forced its members to put their four brass cannons on one of the last trains leaving the city and then proceed to Camp Moore. Upon their arrival to Camp Moore, its members, comprised of older men, some who had even served in the Mexican War, became fearful of military life and potentially prolonged fighting. They proceeded to turn over their guns to other units and disband into obscurity.

The Washington Artillery would earn the recognition as one of the premier volunteer artillery units in the Confederate army, taking part in most of the pivotal military events of the war. In doing so it also created close ties with Generals Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and James Longstreet. In fact, the battalion in Virginia was often referred to as "Longstreet's Battery."   

Image of the 5th Co., WA at Camp Lewis in
New Orleans (present day site of Audubon Park)
taken prior to their departure.

Enrollment form for
H.J. Phelps of 6th Co., WA.

Confederate General
James Longstreet


The next four years would expose this famous unit to history-making men and events and propel its reputation into almost biblical proportions. The Washington Artillery would go on to prove its abilities in both the eastern and western theaters of the war. The list of Battle Honors entitled to the Washington Artillery during the Civil War include:


Companies 1-4                                        5th Company                                  6th Company

First Manassas                                        Shiloh                                  

Peninsula                                                Mississippi 1862                   

Virginia 1862                                            Kentucky 1862

Second Manassas                                    Murfreesboro

Antietam                                                  Mississippi 1863

Fredericksburg                                          Chickamauga

Chancellorsville                                          Chattanooga

Gettysburg                                                 Atlanta

North Carolina 1864                                    Franklin

Virginia 1864                                              Tennessee 1864

Cold Harbor                                                Nashville

Petersburg                                                 Alabama 1865*



*These 25 Civil War battle honors or “streamers” include the states and years of skirmishes or smaller battles not among the twenty-one major Civil War battles designated by the National Guard Bureau. The unit was actually engaged in sixty battles from 1861-1865.