Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Cannon Named "Lady Baxter"

By Mark Hubbs

This month marks the 139th anniversary of the Brooks - Baxter War.  Don't feel alone if you have never heard of this event.  Except in Arkansas, it is all but forgotten.  Even there, it is seldom remembered except by ardent history buffs.

Lady Baxter at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock (photo by author)
Lady Baxter has always been my one of my favorite cannons.  She has not belched smoke and fire since 1874, and then it was not a shot fired in anger.  She has sat silent in front of the Old State House in Little Rock, Arkansas for over 139 years.

Lady Baxter began life as a Confederate copy of a United States Model 1841 "Shell Gun."  A shell gun is a Naval artillery piece that was designed to shoot explosive shells instead solid iron shot.  Essentially it is what the Army would have called a "Howitzer."

 Of course when she was cast in New Orleans in 1861, she was not known as Lady Baxter.  That would come many years later.  Most of the Lady's sisters never left the Leeds & Company foundry.  They burst during proof testing.  Only five or six of the sisters survived proofing and were soon put aboard three new Rebel ships the Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and the LivingstonAll three had been river steamers converted by the CS Navy into lightly armored gunboats.

The CSS Pontchartrain as she appeared in her previous life as the "SS Lizzie Simmons"
Lady Baxter served until late 1862 aboard the CSS Pontchartrain on the Mississippi, White and Arkansas Rivers.  Her sailing days were numbered however.  When Fort Hindman was built at Arkansas Post on the lower Arkansas River a severe shortage of heavy artillery resulted in the Pontchartrain's losing her two 8 inch shell guns and most of her crew.  They were taken off and placed in the battlements of the fort.

Learn more about the Battle of Arkansas Post here:

 In January 1863, a large naval and land force under the command of Maj. Gen John McClernand attacked Fort Hindman to neutralize one of the last Rebel strongholds that could threaten Federal use of the rivers during the upcoming Vicksburg Campaign.  It took two days of heavy shelling and an attack of over 25,000 infantry to silence the guns and force the surrender of the 5,000 man garrison. 
 Lady Baxter had finished her only big fight of the War.
The attack on Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post from a contemporary illustration
 The Union expeditionary force had no intention of occupying Arkansas Post.  They loaded their prisoners and what captured weapons that could be easily removed and departed back to the Mississippi River.  Lady Baxter and one of her sisters were left behind.  The muzzle face on the big gun was damaged and the trunnions were broken off, but it is not certain if this damage was inflicted by enemy fire during the battle, or if the retreating Federal soldiers intentionally damaged the gun before they departed.

 The Rebels never reoccupied Fort Hindman.  Instead, Lady Baxter and her sister were taken to Little Rock where makeshift repairs were made to put them back into combat shape.  They were soon remounted and guarding the Arkansas River at Little Rock.  There they sat until Little Rock fell in September,1863 when retreating Confederates spiked the guns and dumped them into the Arkansas River.  They lay there forgotten for eleven years.

 In 1874 fighting broke out in Little Rock and other parts of Arkansas over the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election.  The tension escalated for two years as the case see-sawed back and forth in the courts.  In April and May of 1874, Arkansas had it own little Civil War when factions of Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks raised militias to battle for the state house.  During the fighting troops loyal to Elisha Baxter remembered the old cannon dumped into the river eleven years earlier.  Soon they were retrieved and at least one was put back into fighting trim.  She was soon christened "Lady Baxter." 
Brooks troops assemble at the State House during the Brooks - Baxter War

 Lady Baxter lay in the bed of a large wagon, her muzzle pointed towards the Brooks barricades that had been set up on the streets of Little Rock.  Her new owners never fired a shell at her new enemies (and we don't know if the Baxter men even had any shells to fire!) but just the threat seemed to have an effect on the Brooks militia.  Only the intervention of President Ulysses S. Grant ended the conflict when he declared Elisha Baxter the rightful governor of Arkansas.  Grant threatened the intervention of United States troops to quell the violence of Brooks forces did not disband.  The decision came too late for the two hundred people who were killed in the fighting.  

After the War was over, and Elisha Baxter was victorious, a single blank round was fired from the old gun in celebration.  The concussion knocked out windows for blocks around.  So ended the military career of Lady Baxter.
Baxter troops boarding a steamboat before the Battle of New Gascony,
during the Brooks - Baxter War.  From a contemporary newspaper

 At sometime after the cessation of hostilities, she was mounted on a brick pedestal on the front lawn of the Old State House as a memorial to the Brooks - Baxter War of 1874. 

 She sits there still.
You can read more about the Brooks - Baxter War here:

Lady Baxter in a 1912 post card

Lady Baxter as she appears in 2013.  Photo by author

Close up of the repairs done by Confederate troops after the cannon was recovered from Fort Hindman. 
A forged iron band was added to replace the trunnions lost during the battle. Photo by author


  1. Love this story. The pictures are superb and the close-up of Lady Baxter is excellent. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Rita, I started my history career as a museum guide at the Old State House in 1975. I worked there for three years while I was attending college. That building and Lady Baxter are sill dear to me.

  2. Excellent article. All who study the history of Arkansas know of this weapon. It is positioned on the grounds of The Old State House so you can easily view it when driving past. This was a highly informative, easy to understand and well illustrated presentation. A 'Big-Pat-On-The-Back' to the author!

  3. Love this blog!!!! Just think, one of my favorite generals probably came into contact with this piece. James Deshler was an artillery guy in Virginia in early 62 before going to Arkansas Post and commanding a Texas brigade.