Lady Baxter stands vigilant after 144 years at the Old State House

Old State House Museum - Monday, April 23, 2018

Our Old State House has its own piece of heavy artillery present on the front lawn, and it still stands guard after 144 years. Yes, it’s the indomitable “Lady Baxter,” and boy, what a life that this grand cannon has led!

Lady Baxter CannonShe began her life as the Confederate equivalent of a United States Model 1841 "Shell Gun,” which was a navy artillery piece designed to fire explosive shells, rather than the previously more common solid iron shot. It’s what the Army called a "Howitzer," which dated back to seventeenth-century Sweden. Cast in New Orleans in 1861, she was only one of few of that type to actually leave the foundry, as most of its peers burst during proof testing.

The survivors were placed aboard the new Confederate ship Pontchartrain, and saw action on the Mississippi, White and Arkansas Rivers until late 1862 The future Lady Baxter was transferred for use in shore duty at Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post, and again saw action during the January 1863 Union attack on the fort in advance of the attack on Vicksburg. After taking what was usable, the Union forces left the Lady Baxter behind. After being taken to Little Rock and repaired, the gun was placed back into service, only for retreating Confederates to spike it and other guns and abandon them on the Arkansas River.

After the war and a tumultuous Reconstruction, fighting broke out in Little Rock and other parts of the state in 1874 over the disputed gubernatorial race between Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks two years before. During the fighting of the “Brooks-Baxter War,” supporters of Governor Baxter located the old gun in the river, and managed to refurbish it for firing. Mounted on steel rails and the bed-plate of a steam engine, the Lady Baxter occupied its place in Baxter’s forces at the Odd Fellows Hall until President Grant declared Baxter the rightful Governor. Since that time, the only threat that the gun has faced has been a World War II scrap drive, but the stately artillery piece still to this day stands sentry duty outside this grand old house, the pride of her people’s first state capitol.