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The Washington Artillery of New Orleans was, at the time of the Civil War, an organization with an already established proud history and tradition. The Washington Artillery had been around as a state militia unit since 1838 - twenty-three years old at the outbreak of the War Between The States.
During that time, the uniform of the Washington Artillery had undergone at least three significant changes in appearance. The first uniforms reflected a heritage from the militia and Regular Army units of the War of 1812 - shakos and long-tailed coats with brass epaulets, to mention just a few prominent features. Then came the Mexican War, and the replacement of the shako with the Mexican War fatigue hat, or "wheel hat". Between the end of the Mexican War and the advent of the Civil War, the United States Army sent some of its officers to collect information on the arms, ammunition, and clothing of the European armies, and the reports back to the united States resulted in some changes to the uniforms of many militia organizations, including the Washington Artillery.
The mid-1850s were years of reorganization for the Washington Artillery of New Orleans. Its numbers had dwindled to a dangerously low point, almost to the point of dissolution. Along came James Burge Walton, who would lead the Washington Artillery not only during the early years of the war, but out of its plunge into near oblivion and back into its proper place as the most elite of the elite Artillery units of the antebellum era.
James Burge Walton, formerly a highly placed politician within New Orleans' and southern Louisiana's branch of the American Party (also known as the "Know Nothing Party", which unsuccessfully supported former US President Millard Fillmore for President), left off his political disappointments and threw his efforts into rebuilding the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, famous then for its part in the Mexican War. As part of the revival effort, Walton added some new devices and ornaments to distinguish the Washington Artillery from all other Artillery units in more ways than their excellent performance in drill (which included both Infantry and Artillery).
Some of those distinctions included the famous Washington Artillery badges, with the "irate tiger" head which dangles beneath the badge; the letters "W" and "A", which adorn their kepis; the crossed cannons, worn on their kepis (and, in some cases, on the collars of their frock coats); the belt plates with the raised letters "W" and "A"; and many other distinctives.
When we've been able to make the chronological divisions in the evolution of the Washington Artillery uniform, we have done so. We have also taken the liberty of making such divisions where it made sense to us, based on direct or indirect evidence. Where we have erred, we ask forgiveness and correction.
1838 to 1845
1846 to 1853
1854 to 1861
1861 to 1865 - 1st to 4th Companies
1861 to 1865 - 5th Company
William Gilham's Manual - Table Of Contents
Songbook - Table Of Contents
Songs Special To The Washington Artillery
Poetry - Mother Lincoln's Melodies
A Civilian Contingent:
The Mayor / Town Council Concept