Union walked into Aiken fight

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Union Gen. William T. Sherman had many targets to burn in his march to Columbia, but Aiken wasn't one of them.

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Every year, Civil War re-enactors dramatize the Battle of Aiken between Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Every year, Civil War re-enactors dramatize the Battle of Aiken between Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.

The tiny town near the Savannah River was too inconsequential for Sherman to trifle with, even for a general who embraced the destructive philosophy of "total war."

It was not too small for Gen. Judson "Kill-Cavalry" Kilpatrick. The brash, bold, caustic cavalry leader was in a months-long grudge match with his Confederate counterpart, Augusta native Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler.

The pair had chased each other across Georgia in the wake of Sherman's army, their units scrapping at every chance.

Both had bested each other in one skirmish or another before Aiken, although only Wheeler could boast that he had literally caught his adversary with his drawers down.

That happened outside Waynesboro, where Kilpatrick had set up for the night with a mistress.

When Wheeler's soldiers opened fire, "clad in a skullcap, drawers, undershirt, and slippers," Kilpatrick sprung out of the house and jumped bareback onto a sorrel horse.

He barely escaped the hail of bullets and left behind his uniform, gilded sword, his best horse and two ivory-handled revolvers.

Kilpatrick left out the bit about retreating in his underwear in his report to Sherman. Instead, he claimed that after "fighting ... through the rebel lines" he gave Wheeler's troops "a severe repulse."

As the two headed north into South Carolina, Kilpatrick learned from some prisoners that Wheeler's command was scattered. It seemed a ripe opportunity for Kilpatrick to pillage Aiken.

"I will render Wheeler powerless to ... annoy your flank or wagons again during the campaign," Kilpatrick pledged to Sherman.

Sherman wasn't interested and refused to send any infantry for a skirmish.

"I don't care about Aiken, unless you can take it by a dash," was his response.

That was enough for Kilpatrick, who made plans to ransack the town on Feb. 11. Before they arrived, they stopped at a farmhouse, where the housewife disclosed that Wheeler and the new chief of the Army of Tennessee had been by earlier that day.

Kilpatrick ignored the warning and pressed on into town. Near the outskirts of Aiken, they spotted an enemy detachment and gave chase into the town -- just as Wheeler had planned.

Rebel infantry and cavalry had Kilpatrick's troops surrounded on three sides. As soon as they passed into Aiken, the remainder of the cavalry closed the rear so that the Union troops took fire from four sides.

"There was a clash of horses, flashing of sabers, a few minutes of blind confusion," one Union soldier would later write.

Kilpatrick ordered a retreat and galloped out of town with three enemy soldiers trying to pull him from the saddle. He left behind two-dozen casualties.

The general was in such a panic that he immediately ordered his men to break camp once he was safe behind his line. When he realized that the pursuing enemy only numbered roughly 50, he ordered a charge that sent the Rebels back into Aiken.

Wheeler explained his lack of a pursuit of Kilpatrick to Gen. Beauregard: "Here our ammunition gave out and we had to halt and reload, having no sabers."

Kilpatrick later characterized the fight for Sherman as a "reconnaissance" at which he was "furiously attacked by Wheeler's entire command."

They responded by "fighting gallantly, disputing every foot," according to Kilpatrick.

Wheeler's victory saved not just Aiken, but "served to relieve the anxiety of Augusta's residents (including Wheeler's father and maiden sister), raised the spirits of Confederate units elsewhere in the state, and won Wheeler and his men the thanks of (South Carolina) Governor A.G. McGrath [sic]."

Records go online

WASHINGTON --- The National Archives and Ancestry.com published newly digitized Civil War records online for the first time Wednesday, allowing users to trace family links to the war between North and South.

Nearly 275,000 newly published pages are among the most heavily used documents for research in the National Archives' Civil War holdings, curators said. The pages contain about 3 million names of those who enlisted for a draft from 1863 to 1865, although only about 40,000 were drafted to fight. Archivists estimate 17 million Americans have an ancestor who fought in the war.

The digitization project is part of a five-year deal with Ancestry.com worth millions of dollars. The public will have free access beginning today for a week before a subscription is required to access the records.

Ancestry offers a 14-day free trial before requiring a paid subscription of $12.95 to $19.95 per month. The company has about 1.4 million subscribers who can search about 2 billion names.

-- Associated Press

Sources for this story:

"Kill-Cavalry" Sherman's Merchant of Terror by Samuel J. Martin

From Shiloh to San Juan, the Life of "Fightin' Joe" Wheeler by John P. Dyer

A Soldier to the Last by Edward G. Longacre

Comments (20) Add comment
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wildman
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wildman 04/07/11 - 06:17 am
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Great work, I have enjoyed

Great work, I have enjoyed these articles. Thanks!!!

Mr. Thackeray
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Mr. Thackeray 04/07/11 - 07:49 am
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"even for a general who

"even for a general who embraced the destructive philosophy of "total war"

Martin, you have no idea what you are talking about! You are a victim of modern Rebel propaganda! Check the causality figures, Lee was a butcher compared to Sherman. Despite local lore, Sherman did not destroy everything in his path but rather the only property destroyed was that of plantation owners (a VERY small number owned plantations) and only if the Union forces were opposed.

The Georgians of the time preferred to see Sherman's army approach rather than their own in the shape of Wheeler's Cavalry!!!

I guess next you'll be telling us that if Sherman had come to Augusta they forces here would have kicked his butt!

PLEASE, read the primary sources not some local yokels work.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 04/07/11 - 08:17 am
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Great story. Thanks.

Great story. Thanks.

TheWorldisRound
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TheWorldisRound 04/07/11 - 10:24 am
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It's MaSters week. Let show

It's MaSters week. Let show the world that we are still fighting the Civil war. LOL SILLY.

REDRIDER
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REDRIDER 04/07/11 - 10:55 am
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Mr. Thackeray Sherman and his

Mr. Thackeray
Sherman and his men tore up the floor out of a Church to make make-shift bridges to get his cannons and wagons across the Salkehatchie swamps near Ulmer S.C. I have no mercy for someone to desecrate a House of God. If the Rebels could have held him in that swamp another day for another Rebel regiment to arrive. Sherman would have never made it out of the Salkehatchie Swamp.
But he made it. Thats History

onlysane1left
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onlysane1left 04/07/11 - 12:02 pm
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Wow, people are still talking

Wow, people are still talking like the war is still being waged today. Insanity, it is finest!

Mr. Thackeray
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Mr. Thackeray 04/07/11 - 12:15 pm
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Well Redrider, guess you will

Well Redrider, guess you will have no mercy for the Rebels as well as they destroyed numerous churches.

run4yrlif
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run4yrlif 04/07/11 - 01:09 pm
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Dear Augusta Chronicle, Your

Dear Augusta Chronicle,

Your series this week on the gallant efforts of the confederate soldiers in the War of Northern Aggression has truly warmed my heart. This morning, as I was sitting over the hole in my outhouse and sipping my coffee brewed over open flame in my hearth, I reflected upon the terror those union bastards must have felt in their heart when ambushed by our boys in Aiken.
I tell you, it brought a tear to my eye knowing those carpetbaggers in town for the tournament were reading the same words I was. Of course, history is written by the victors. But for them to finally read what *really* happened, and to know that they now know that it is, indeed, still 1865 here in the South—well, I bet they're rethinking ever sending troops down here in the first place. Because, unlike Japan who moved on since the Republic bombed them back to the stone age, some houses and crops set afire here have completely prevented us Southerners from moving on.

If only we had an ultra-low wage workforce to help us rebuild, maybe we could put this nastiness behind us.

So, Chronicle, thanks for keeping the dream alive.

Sincerely,

Jim Christian
Augusta

Emerydan
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Emerydan 04/07/11 - 02:14 pm
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Yankees in Augusta? However

Yankees in Augusta? However did they get in?

run4yrlif
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run4yrlif 04/07/11 - 02:16 pm
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Unsecure borders.

Unsecure borders.

Emerydan
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Emerydan 04/07/11 - 02:17 pm
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Thank you Augusta Chronicle,

Thank you Augusta Chronicle, for reminding all of our visitors that we are still living in the 1860s down here

seabeau
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seabeau 04/07/11 - 02:47 pm
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Remember!! The victors write

Remember!! The victors write the history books!! Not the Just!!!

Dixie Cross Defender
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Dixie Cross Defender 04/07/11 - 03:31 pm
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seabeau you are absolutely

seabeau you are absolutely right on the money with that statement!

REDRIDER
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REDRIDER 04/07/11 - 04:01 pm
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Very Interesting.

Very Interesting.

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 04/07/11 - 05:28 pm
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Jim, This story happens to be

Jim,

This story happens to be fact, and a very interesting story at that. Wheeler and Kilpatrick knew each other, well HATED each other is more like it, every since they were at West Point together,

Kilpatrick stole Wheelers girlfriend. True story.

Kilpatrick and Wheeler's facing each other from the Battle of Atlanta till the end of the war is true life drama.

No need to be nasty about it, it is just fact. I would think folks like facts.

Brad

John Locke
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John Locke 04/07/11 - 10:22 pm
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Hear, Hear, Mr. Thackery,

Hear, Hear, Mr. Thackery, Hear hear. Well said. but folks have to learn to read first. If not they believe anything anyone tells them. Keep them uneducated, then they are dependent on the "truth" as handed down by generations of ingoramuses. Sherman was the greatest military commander of his time and he knew who the leaders of the CSA were and why they lead their fellow southerners into a bloodbath. Obviously the cream of southern men died, and look who survived. that's been the problem for 150 years.

run4yrlif
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run4yrlif 04/08/11 - 01:03 pm
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I'm not questioning the

I'm not questioning the accuracy of the story, Brad, just the timing. It ran under the guise of the 150th anniversary of the start of the civil war, and that's fine. But that anniversary doesn't occur until *next* week. So why run the series *this* week, unless to show off to our out-of-town visitors that, indeed, the South has not forgotten?

Sean Moores
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Sean Moores 05/17/11 - 04:38 pm
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zsaxt642, It looks like Kyle

zsaxt642, It looks like Kyle is quoting from his source material. I will send him an email to verify. We may just have to add [sic] after the quote.
thanks

zsaxt642
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zsaxt642 02/21/12 - 12:20 pm
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Oh, good. Quite possibly a

Oh, good. Quite possibly a quote [sic] is all that's needed.

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