Battle of Aiken living history event celebrating 25th anniversary this year
During the final stages of the Civil War in 1865, cavalries led by generals Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler of the South and Hugh Judson Kilpatrick of the North clashed in the Battle of Aiken.
Because of the Confederate victory that resulted, Aiken and the surrounding area escaped destruction by Union forces, which had severely damaged many other places below the Mason-Dixon Line.
This year, the living history event that commemorates the Battle of Aiken and is known by the same name is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The Battle of Aiken’s free School Day for area students will be held Friday.
Battle reenactments for the general public, along with a variety of demonstrations and presentations, are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
Gates will open at 8:30 a.m. all three days at Battle of Aiken Park, which is north of Aiken off of S.C. Highway 19.
The address is 1210 Powell Pond Road.
The cost of admission Saturday and Sunday will $5 for spectators 5-12 years of age, $10 for ages 13-18 and $15 for ages 19 and up.
There will be no charge for children under the age of 5.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Brig. Gen. Barnard E. Bee Camp No. 1575 has been the organizer of the Battle of the Aiken since its inception.
Sporting Days Farm near Windsor was the site of the first Battle of Aiken reenactment in 1995. Originally, it was meant to be a one-time event to observe the 130th anniversary of the local War Between the States skirmish.
Fred Cota came up with idea and served as the first Battle of Aiken chairman. Pete Peters, who had succeeded Cota as the Bee Camp’s commander in January 1995, and other Bee Camp members helped Cota put everything together.
“All of our eyes got real wide when we saw 40 buses filled with children pulling in for our first annual School Day,” Peters said. “Teacher and reenactor Glen Deadmont immediately wheeled around a cannon and fired the event’s first shot to the delight of the children.
“Since that day,” Peters continued, “64,000 students have attended what is possibly the state’s largest free school field trip day. The Battle of Aiken brings history alive. Students experience and learn history in a manner that can’t be done from books. They see soldiers in action, hear musket fire and feel the cannon’s thunder.
It’s rewarding now,” Peters added, “to meet young parents who attended when they were in school and now bring their own children to the battle.”
Peters remembers the rest of 1995 Battle of Aiken’s activities on subsequent days attracting big crowds.
“It was so successful,” Peters said, “that we decided to make the Battle of Aiken an annual event to help preserve the cultural resources of Aiken, to continue it as an educational opportunity for schoolchildren and to make it into a tourist-drawing event with an economic impact in Aiken County.”
In addition to Sporting Days Farm, the Bee Camp staged the Battle of Aiken at Woodward Farm and Carolina Star, a hunt and gun club, before purchasing land on Powell Pond Road in December 2003 and then moving the event to that permanent site.
Peters said during the Battle of Aiken’s first 24 years, living historians from 12 states and six countries have participated. In addition, spectators from all 50 states and at least eight countries have attended.
“The highest attendance that we’ve ever had was 12,000 when we had extremely good weather,” Peters said. “We’ve held the Battle of Aiken every year regardless of the weather conditions. One year, we even dodged a tornado.”
In 2003, the Battle of Aiken received the Charles A. Bundy Award during the S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel for its contributions to rural tourism.
The Battle of Aiken also is a winner of Sons of Confederate Veterans’ James B. Butler Award for most outstanding historical project.
For more information about the Battle of Aiken, visit battleofaiken.org.