Out of the land of the lost and back to the land of the living, we'll head down the Whiskey Rd. (so-named for its storied history as a main drag for bootleggers) and then out to the edge of Aiken, currently the site of much road contruction. But first let's make a slight detour to Hitchcock Woods, a 2000-acre forest and municipal park that will be preserved in perpetuity thanks to Thomas Hitchcock and his daughter, Helen, who donated the first 1,200 acres in 1939. The residents of Aiken, including countless horses, thank them. I've heard it said that Hitchcock Woods is the largest municipal park in the country, but this isn't true. Hitchcock Woods is the largest FORESTED municipal park in the country. Incidentally, the largest municipal park in the country (and world!) is South Mountain Park in Phoenix, at a whopping 17,000 acres. I've found it a good place to experiment with sunstroke.
One day we took a trek through the woods, stopping by the site of an old mansion. Unfortunately, all that was left were some stairs and a brick retaining wall. Now, I've posted some photos of questionable quality, but I'll spare you these. Then we stepped down into a creek and started walking. It hadn't rained in awhile, so we were pretty certain a flash flood wouldn't come through. I wouldn't be typing this if it had. The name of the creek escapes me, but I recall it being really obvious. It might have been Sandy Creek, actually. Does it look like something Hitchcock would shoot? Hey, I tried! Civil War-era ammunition, bayonets, and muskets are still being found, buried in the sand for nearly 150 years. Now, that's a perfect segway to...
...the Battle of Aiken. Every year in late February folks from all over turn out to re-enact the Battle of Aiken. Yeah, if I posted more often I could've given you enough notice to get your flights booked and get down there. As it is, it was last weekend. People camp out all weekend and dress up in Civil War-era costumes. It's really a big deal. You want to know why it's a big deal? Okay, I'll tell ya. As for the photos in this post, they're all from this little spot on the outskirts of town. We had initially gone to check out the Dinner Bell, an apparently abandoned restaurant. However, when we got there we not only weren't sure that it was abandoned, but, in a move certain to give the Health Department fits, it looked like it might've been in operation. There were two cars outside (granted, one had a flat tire) and the door was open. We considered going over to see what was up, but decided against it. And, anyway, this Travel Trailers outlet and a video game store were right across the street.
“When I go through South Carolina, it will be one of the most horrible things in the history of the world. The devil himself couldn’t restrain my men in that state.” That's William Tecumseh Sherman, while he and his troops caught their breath in Savannah, GA. Sherman's cavalry commander, Union Brigadier Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (AKA Kill Cav), was of the same mind: “In after years, when travelers passing through South Carolina shall see chimney stacks without houses, and the country desolate, and shall ask who did this? Some Yankee will answer: Kilpatrick’s Cavalry!” The guy reportedly spent $5,000 just outfitting his troops with matches before they left Savannah. Here's a look at the HVAC set-up in the travel trailer, in case you were interested.
Union troops began invading SC on February 1, 1865, with one wing of Sherman's Army, including Kilpatrick, following the Savannah River, seemingly headed toward Augusta and the Confederate Powder Works, which was producing most of the Confederacy's gunpowder. The other wing of the army was heading toward Charleston. Thus, the Confederacy was not sure if Augusta or Charleston would be hit next. In fact, Sherman's real plan was to attack Columbia. Four days later Kilpatrick was in Barnwell, just outside Aiken. In a letter to Sherman reporting on the state of things, Kill Cav referred to the town as "Burn-well." Next he turned his attention to the railroad. Please, not the Hamburg-Charleston! The railroad had been transporting Confederate troops during the war and Kilpatrick went to nearby Blackville and began tearing up track and lighting more stuff on fire. Here's the inside of Travel Trailers HQ. I guess no one wanted the furniture.
On February 8, Kilpatrick wrote to Sherman that he was heading into Aiken. "I will be prudent, bold, but not rash." Kill Cav then crossed into Aiken County and began fighting Col. Charles C. Crew’s regiment of Major General Joe Wheeler's Cavalry, thus commencing the Battle of Aiken. At this point, near the end of the war, the Confederacy was in bad shape. Many outfits were comprised of young boys and old men.
People started to flee Aiken, fearing the worst. One woman reported, "This band of 150 men ransacked every nook and corner, breaking open trunks and boxes, singing, whistling, swearing...one young villain came in, fastened the doors, demanded our watches, and, using the most profane language and terrible threats, ordered us to confess where our gold and silver was buried." The young Toole brothers had nooses put 'round their necks and were threatened with lynching if they didn't give up their horses. Mrs. Toole provided dinner for some Union troops, only to have the diners set her house on fire. (She was able to put it out.) Confederate troops went about finding a way to ambush Kilpatrick's forces, arrayed in a "V" formation as they moved forward. Major General Wheeler hoped Kilpatrick would go after retreating Confederates, allowing Wheeler's men to sneak up behind and attack the upper flanks of Kilpatrick's "V".
Kilpatrick had been warned by civilians of Wheeler's activities, but kept going. On Febraury 11, Kilpatrick's men were moving through the streets of Aiken. Confederate troops were ready to ambush, waiting for the signal to attack. It was at that point that a soldier from Alabama got a little nervous and fired his gun prematurely, alerting the Union soldiers to the Confederate's presence and wrecking the ambush. Wheeler gave the order to attack immediately and hand-to-hand fighting broke out amidst the streets and homes of Aiken. Meanwhile, a Federal battery of the 10th Wisconsin started shelling the town. Sounds like chaos, eh? John Reed, serving with the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry, made a few interesting observations, noting that "Kilpatrick...called on the 92nd Illinois Silver Cornet Band to play Yankee Doodle" and "The ladies of the town waved their handkerchiefs in welcome and smilingly invited the officers and men into their houses. But that kind of a welcome was unusual in South Carolina. It was an additional evidence of danger." Fighting was fierce as Union troops looked for a way through the Confederate's line as the Confederate's continued their attack. Here's a shot of Bubba's Video Games, just next door to Travel Trailer's.
Here's a Confederate account from Private D. B. Morgan of the 5th Georgia Cavalry: "Our regiment had just been issued sabers with wooden scabbards, which were awkwardly attached to our saddles. I was mounted on a very fine mule. We charged the enemy through scrub oak forest and open peach orchard, through the village, driving them back. It was an all-day fight. As we halted in one of the charges, my mule was shot from under me, the ball passing immediately under my left leg and entering the poor creature's heart. With an unearthly yell...she bounded into the air and in falling, caught me half dismounted, with my left leg under her body. The soft plowed ground on which I fell prevented its being broken." The Rev. John Henry Cornish of St. Thaddeus Church reported that, "The enemy was driven back to Pole Cat Pond. Five of our wounded were brought to my house where the surgeons attended to them. Two of the killed were taken to the church yard, where they were put in coffins and buried." Kilpatrick and his men were finally forced to retreat. It is alleged that during the retreat a Confederate calvaryman shot his pistol at Kilpatrick's chest point-blank, but it failed to go off. On February 12, Kilpatrick raised the white flag and each side went to deal with the dead and wounded. The next day Kill Cav's force was off to join Sherman in his attack on Columbia, with Wheeler, considered the hero of the Battle of Aiken, sweeping wide, trying to arrive at the capital city before Sherman. Wheeler was unsuccessful; Sherman entered Columbia on February 17, 1865 and took the city.
During the Civil War no one could agree on casualties. Kilpatrick claimed there were 251 killed or wounded Confederate soldiers, while Wheeler said their were 50. Wheeler, on the other hand, claimed 495 Union soldiers killed or wounded; Kilpatrick said there were less than 45! In any case, Wheeler's defeat of Kilpatrick is considered to have saved everything from the Hamburg-Charleston Railroad to the Powder Works to Augusta itself from certain destruction, later easing the pain of Reconstruction. And the Battle of Aiken is refought every year! If you want more info, go to the Battle of Aiken home page, which provided much of the detail for this post. Thanks Pete Peters!
Above is a Willie Nelson sticker from behind Bubba's Video Games. I saw Willie and Company do their thing at the Augusta-Richmond Civic Center about a year ago. Great show. Willie's guitar playing was stellar, incorporating some nice Spanish/flamenco touches. Incidentally, Willie is marketing his own biofuel (i.e. vegetable oil) for use in diesel engines. His own tour bus has used it for some time. Go Willie! This post was powered by Sister Rosetta Tharpe-The Original Soul Sister, a lovely 4 CD box set of her blues and gospel tunes. Dunno who Rosetta Tharpe was? Go here and watch the video. But don't stop until you've made it to the guitar break in the middle. Not THAT'S cool. Y'know, it's not all blues with me. I come from the land of former independent rock giants and r & b superstars. It was all I could do not to title this post "Aiken to Be." Next time it's off to Cumberland Island on the Florida border. See ya then.