Students ‘soak up history’ at 25th Battle of Aiken School Day

February 23, 2019

As a state representative, Bill Taylor has experienced many firsts but probably not one involving gunpowder, fire, a deafening boom and a cloud of smoke – lots and lots of smoke – until Friday morning.

Col. Vernon Terry, a reenactor at the Battle of Aiken, invited Taylor, R-Aiken, to fire one of the cannons during School Day.

“What an experience,” Taylor said after pulling the cord, which takes 25 pounds of force to pull.

School Day allows students from Aiken and surrounding counties on both sides of the Savannah River to experience the Civil War as a Confederate or Union solider might have during the Battle of Aiken in February 1865.

“I’m most impressed with this particular day because of the emphasis on education,” Taylor said. “Look at these kids around us. They are really soaking up history. We don’t tell history well enough in our schools. This is a real opportunity for them to feel it firsthand.”

It’s hard not to feel the ground shake when a cannon booms just a few feet away, and that vibration brings American history alive the way a textbook alone can’t, said Pete Peters with the Battle of Aiken.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to get history out of a textbook, but children can come here and have a hands-on experience,” Peters said. “They can smell the gunpowder. They can see the horses.”

Since the Battle of Aiken began 25 years ago, more than 64,000 students have experienced living history at School Day, Peters said.

Some of the students who came to the Battle of Aiken on a field trip more than 20 years ago now bring their own children to the annual reenactment, Peters said.

“It keeps history alive and helps preserve Aiken’s cultural history and heritage,” he said.

Helen Mims has brought her eighth-grade students from King Academy in Batesburg to School Day for four years.

“It’s just a great, great chance for the kids who have studied all this to be able to touch and feel and see it all,” said Mims, who teaches American, South Carolina and world history. “And they’re excited to come every year. This is a terrific program.”

Zach Matthews, who teaches high school history and is the head football and baseball coach at King Academy, agreed.

“I always tell Miss Mims this is the best field trip our school goes on,” he said. “It’s just so informative and so real-life for these kids to see how it really was.”

Want to go?

WHAT: Battle of Aiken

WHERE: Battle of Aiken event site, 1210 Powell Pond Road

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 8:30 a.m. both days. Battle re-enactments will be at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

COST: Admission is free for children 5 and younger; $5 for ages 5-12; $10 for ages 13-18; and $15 for adults

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.battleofaiken.org.