Tecumseh Sherman, resting his troops in Savannah,
declared, “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.”
cavalry commander, Union Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson
Kilpatrick, reportedly spent $5,000 in Savannah for
matches for his troopers. Kilpatrick, better known as
“Kill Cav” for his rashness in battle that got his own
men killed, was obnoxious, boastful, and a notorious
womanizer. At Savannah, he told his corps, “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!”’ His men would soon
leave a scorched swath across South Carolina, burning
homes, farms, mills, forests, and even churches.
By Feb. 1,
1865, the invasion of Carolina had begun. Half of
Sherman’s command under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, who
had been sent to Beaufort by ship from Savannah, Ga.,
began marching toward Charleston, S.C. The other wing of
Sherman’s army under Gen. Henry Slocum moved up the
Georgia side of the Savannah River crossing into
Carolina at Sister’s Ferry and was moving toward
Augusta, Ga., where the Confederacy’s gunpowder mills
were located. Kilpatrick’s cavalry was with this wing.
Sherman’s goal was to keep the Confederates guessing
whether Augusta or Charleston would be attacked, while
his real objective was to march between these two cities
and take Columbia, S.C.
By Feb. 5,
Kilpatrick had already reached Barnwell, S.C. After
looting and burning the town, Kilpatrick sarcastically
renamed it “Burn-well” in a memo to Sherman. In two
days, Kilpatrick reached the small railroad town of
Blackville. The railroad that ran through Blackville
connected Augusta to Charleston. For four years this
railroad, which ran through Aiken, had transported
Confederate troops from various states to numerous
battlefields. James Longstreet’s corps had passed on
this rout to Chickamauga in 1863. Kilpatrick destroyed
the track and several cars left at the Blackville
station. He then sent the following message the next
morning to Sherman:
Headquarters Cavalry Command Blackville, Feb. 8, 1865
will encamp to night at Williston and destroy some
track; February 9 (will be) at or before Windsor, and
the following day make demonstrations toward Augusta.
Will, if prudent, destroy Government property at Aiken,
and as much railroad as possible and return to Windsor.
I will be prudent, bold, but not rash.
Kilpatrick, Brevet, Major-General
sending that message, Kilpatrick crossed into what is
now Aiken County, near White Pond, and engaged with Col.
Charles C. Crew’s regiment of Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler's
cavalry. The Battle of Aiken had begun.
years of the war, Confederate forces were depleted. The
Army of Tennessee was broken in a defeat at Nashville.
To defend against Sherman, Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard had
various forces, some consisting of militia units
composed of young men and old men, and others of units
whose ranks had been greatly depleted by the war. Lt.
Gen. William J. Hardee, Commander of the Departments of
South Carolina and Georgia, was falling back from
Savannah toward Charleston. Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler's
Cavalry Corps was almost in daily contact with Sherman
trying to delay the Union progress as much as possible.
In Augusta, Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill was placed in command
of area forces on Jan. 19, 1865.
was vital to the Confederacy. Huge manufacturing
facilities produced virtually all of the gunpowder used
by the Confederate forces. In addition, the Graniteville
mill was producing 4,000,000 yards of cotton cloth a
year. To protect the area, Hill had the Georgia Militia,
commanded by Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, and Hardee's
old Corps of the Army of Tennessee, commanded by Maj.
Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham. Hill moved these units,
which consisted of 3,060 men, to form a defensive line
along Big Horse Creek. Cheatham ordered Gen. James Argle
Smith, commanding Cleburn's Division, to defend
Graniteville. Between this defensive line and
Kilpatrick's advancing Union cavalry, operated Wheeler's
cavalry corps and the Aiken Home Guard.
followed up with Cheatham in correspondence that
reflects the extent of preparations being made in
defense of the area:
Feb. 10, 1865
preservation of the factory at Graniteville is of great
importance to the Confederacy as well as to the security
of your line. Do you think it prudent to send five
hundred men so far out? If the operator at Aiken has
brought off his instruments, you might put up a station
at Big Horse Creek.
had approximately 4,500 cavalrymen in the Aiken area:
Gen. Allen's Division, consisting of Anderson's,
Hagan's, and Crew's brigades, and Gen. Hume's Division
consisting of Dibrell's, Ashby's, and Harrison's
brigades. The men, most of whom had fought four years
far away from home, were from Tennessee, Texas,
Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia.
Kilpatrick's men moved toward Aiken, residents of the
county realized their worst fears were coming true.
James Courtney determinedly extinguished three fires
that Union cavalry had started to destroy his home. Each
time Courtney extinguished the fire, the cavalry would
restart it. After the third time, the cavalry shot him
in the leg to prevent him from saving his house.
Courtney sent a request for a Union surgeon to come and
stop the flow of blood, but the surgeon refused to come.
Courtney slowly bled to death while watching flames from
his home. (Family members eventually saved the home.)
Courtney, possibly, was the first casualty in Aiken
A lady in
Johnson's Station (Montmorenci) reported on the
destruction and pillage of personal property:
have been an hour after their arrival when Pauline came
rushing to me saying the Yankees had come ... our first
floor was specially filled with armed men. At first I
very politely unlocked several trunks assuring them that
they only contained ladies apparel ... 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 entreaties of our faithful
servants alone saved the house from conflagration ...
They began digging and found all the concealed
provisions but gave us a few hams and some rice. We have
lost all our silver, china, and glass. All our blankets,
quilts, shawls and all the pillowcases were used as bags
to remove provisions.
Kelly Toole, brothers at home because they were too
young to fight, had ropes placed around their necks and
were threatened with hanging if they didn't reveal where
their horses were hidden in the swamps. Their mother was
forced to prepare dinner for the officers, only to see
her dishes thrown against a tree when they were through
eating. Even after these insults, a fire was started
under the Toole house as they left, although Mrs. Toole
was able to extinguish the blaze.
As refuges fled through Aiken and into
Augusta, panic ensued. Would the towns be destroyed?
Gen. Hill wrote Wheeler on the 8th,
"It seems to me that a concentration of
your cavalry upon
Kilpatrick would crush him ... I hope that you will keep
us constantly apprised of movements."
After skirmishing with Kilpatrick at
White Pond and Johnson's Station (Montmorenci), Wheeler
consolidated his troops in Aiken where he devised a plan
to surprise and trap Kilpatrick. The Aiken Home Guards
scouted and advised Wheeler as to Kilpatrick's
carefully planned to trap Kilpatrick. Wheeler formed his
cavalry in the shape of a ‘V’, with the bottom of the
‘V’ pointed west toward Augusta. The railroad and Park
Avenue ran down the center of the ‘V’. A thin line of
skirmishers was deployed between the top tips of the
‘V’, which paralleled Williamsburg Street. On the
approach of Kilpatrick, the line would fall back toward
the west. It was hoped that Kilpatrick would be rash and
would charge after the retreating Confederates into the
‘V’. Wheeler would then collapse the tops of the ‘V’
around Kilpatrick, surrounding him.
civilians had warned Kilpatrick that Wheeler and
Cheatham were in Aiken, the cocksure officer leisurely
marched towards the town. On Feb. 11, the Union troops
marched up Park, Richland and Barnwell avenues.
Wheeler's advanced picket line on Williamsburg Street
fell back as planned towards York Street. Here, the plan
fell apart when an Alabama trooper fired his gun
prematurely, thus springing the trap too soon. Wheeler,
realizing that he must act quickly or lose the
initiative, ordered all units to attack. The key
engagement occurred on Richland Avenue in front of the
Baptist Church Amidst Rebel yells and shouted commands,
the two sides entangled in a hand-to-hand battle.
Scattered fights occurred in other parts of the town,
including a desperate fight around the Williams' house
off South Boundary. To add to the confusion, a Federal
battery of the 10th Wisconsin lobbed 59 shells into the
description of the battle is from John Reed from the
92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry:
within a half-mile of the town of Aiken, when we
discovered long lines of rebel cavalry. The column
halted ... Kilpatrick came dashing up to the head of the
column and desired to know the reason of the halt. Just
then a locomotive ran out in plain view near Aiken and
whistled and whistled. Kilpatrick brought up the
artillery and sent a few rifled shells toward the
locomotive and into the town. Kilpatrick also called on
the 92nd Illinois Silver Cornet Band to play Yankee
Doodle. The next thing in order was for the 92nd
Illinois to charge into the town ... Now we felt that we
were going into a trap, but Kilpatrick took the lead ...
Gen. Atkins ordered the 9th Ohio into line of battle on
the right of the road, flanking the artillery, and the
9th Michigan Calvary into line of battle, flanking the
artillery on the left of the road, and holding the 10th
Ohio Cavalry in reserve. 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. In the farther edge of
the town, the enemy was in line of battle.
accidental shot per Reed, (the officers) quickly
formed the regiment to charge back again to the brigade,
the rebels having formed in line in our rear. Every man
in the regiment appeared to be conscious that the only
way to get out was to assault the rebel line and cut a
hole in it. We rode forward to the charge. The rebels
awaited our approach until within close range, when they
demanded a halt and surrender, and were answered by
every man in the regiment pumping into them the eight
Spenser bullets in his trusty repeating rifle. It was a
desperate charge, and the men fought face to face and
hand to hand. Now the brigade bugle sounded the charge
and with a yell the 9th Ohio and the 9th Michigan
charged into the town of Aiken recapturing a great many
of the boys that had been taken prisoners...We were five
miles from camp, where the balance of the division lay
behind their rail barricades (Montmorenci).
The rebels at Aiken, came thundering down upon our
four little regiments, and the five miles back to camp
was a battle field all the way...
B. Morgan of the 5th Georgia Cavalry gives a Confederate
account of the battle:
Wheeler was trying to entrap him and capture his whole
force ... This ruse, no doubt, would have worked well
but for the extra enthusiasm of an Alabama regiment
(who) ... opened fire and thus precipitated a general
engagement ... 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
John Henry Cornish of St. Thaddeus Church wrote:
Several shells came whizzing by us from a
battery on Railroad Avenue ... Two shells went through
the house at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Laurens
Street; one struck in the yard of the old parsonage ...
The enemy came nearly to the street passing the west end
of the Aiken Hotel...The bugles sounded a charge. It is
a marvelous what a different aspect was thrown over the
scene in an instant. The horses started and came tearing
down Richland Street, the men rising in their stirrups,
with their pistols in their hands, yelling and
screaming, each one looking as if he could devour a
dozen Yankees...The enemy was driven back. There was a
fight in Williams' old field. 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 (St. Thaddeus) church yard,
where they were put in coffins and buried.
had been routed back to his defensive position at
Montmorenci. A turn-of-the-century account of the battle
reports that a Confederate cavalryman rode up to the
general and snapped his pistol at his chest, but the gun
did not go off. The general then fled, losing his hat in
the rout. Reaching his defenses at Montmorenci,
Kilpatrick lined up behind barricades previously built.
The Union troops skirmished with Wheeler for the rest of
the day and the following day on Feb. 12. Kilpatrick
sent out a flag of truce that evening to exchange and
recover the dead and wounded. On Feb. 13, Kilpatrick
moved out to rejoin Sherman in the march toward
Columbia. Wheeler did the same, sweeping wide in an
attempt to get ahead of Sherman so as to help in the
defense of the capitol.
in their reports often overestimated their opponent’s
casualties and downsized their own. Kilpatrick states
that Wheeler lost 31 killed, 160 wounded and 60 taken
prisoners, for a total of 251 Confederate casualties.
Wheeler admitted losing only 50 killed and wounded.
Wheeler also claimed that the Confederates attack
resulted in 53 killed, 270 wounded and 172 captured, or
495 Union casualties in all. Kilpatrick admitted to
losing 25 killed and wounded and less than 20 captured.
total Federal casualties were between 45 and 495, while
the Confederates lost between 50 and 251. Several
unknown Union soldiers and one unknown Confederate lie
buried in the First Baptist Church graveyard. Two
Tennessee cavalrymen lie in the St. Thaddeus graveyard.
It is presumed that the rest of the Confederate dead
were shipped to their homes.
citizens of Aiken, the governor of South Carolina and
Gen. D. H. Hill hailed Wheeler as savior. If not
defended against, Kilpatrick would have undoubtedly
destroyed Aiken, and the Graniteville mills.
it is clear that Sherman did not care about Augusta,
Kilpatrick was rash and always looked for an opportunity
to advance his career. If not contested, Kilpatrick
would possibly have destroyed the railroad as far as
Hamburg. There, he possibly would have shelled the
Confederate Powderworks in Augusta from his side of the
river or even made a dash into the city if he found it
lightly defended. If bluffed, Confederates may have
destroyed Augusta to keep it from falling into Union
the end of the war in the midst of the Confederate
defeat, the Battle of Aiken makes few of the standard
histories of the war. The Confederate victory is,
however crucial to the local history of the region
because the victory prevented the destruction of the
local capital and economy, enabling the region to
withstand the Reconstruction period better than other
more devastated areas of the South.
Ironically, post war Aiken would quickly welcome
Northerners back as it became first a health resort,
then a grand winter sporting resort for the Northern