AIKEN - Pow! Pow! Pow! The gunfire came without warning.
Despite looking tough with Confederate bandanas stretched across their foreheads, four pupils from Martinez Elementary School jumped at the sound.
"We all got scared," said fifth-grader Steven Carlson. "We jumped and ducked. We thought they were shooting at us."
It seemed like a real battlefield Friday at Carolina Star Estate as the Battle of Aiken Committee held the Seventh Annual Living History School Field Trip. Dozens of schools from throughout South Carolina and Georgia bused in thousands of pupils to the daylong event as classes explored authentic period campsites, learned how to fire muskets and viewed exhibits on the role of African-Americans and women in the war.
Martinez teacher Ann Thaxton said the event was a great way for herpupils to see the things they have only read about.
"We have a big Civil War unit that we do. So this goes right along with it," she said. "Anything that makes it real to them is going to stand out instead of them just sitting and reading in class."
By midmorning, Martinez pupils Richard Archer, Jonathan Fraley and Patrick Hunter had learned about horses and old-fashioned guns. But they weren't finished. "I want to go look at the towers and the tents over there, see how they slept and how they cooked," Richard said.
Friday's event set the stage for this weekend's battle re-creation, which begins today with camp tours and presentations from 9 a.m. to noon. Spectators may tour the soldiers' camps and visit period sutlers, period merchants and camp followers, who hawk period uniforms, weapons and food.
More than 1,000 re-enactors are expected to take part in today's events.
The battle will begin at 2 p.m. and will be followed by a field hospital presentation. Evening activities begin with a night fire of artillery at 8, followed by an oyster roast and concert.
The battlefield will open Sunday at 9 a.m. There will be a soldiers' church service at 9:30 and a new battle scenario at 2 p.m. The event ends with a grand pass and review.
This year marks the 136th anniversary of Gen. William T. Sherman's march, when the South was devastated by the largest military invasion in the history of North America. The re-enactment is expected to draw more than 10,000 spectators and is recognized as one of the largest living history programs in the Southeast.
The event is held, rain or shine, at The Carolina Star off U.S. Highway 78, 10 miles east of Aiken. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $5 for pupils ages 6 to 18. Children 5 or younger are admitted free.
Battle of Aiken: The Seventh Annual Battle of Aiken, sponsored by the Barnard E. Bee Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, will take place at 9 a.m. today and Sunday. The event, commemorating the 136th anniversary of the historic skirmish, features authentic historical re-enactments, music and an oyster roast, will take place at the Carolina Star, 10 miles east of Aiken, off Highway 78.
$7 in advance and $10 at the gate for adults, $3 in advance and $5 at the gate for students (6-18). Admission is free for children 5 or younger. Advance tickets are available at the Aiken Chamber of Commerce, Bobby's Bar-B-Que, and Oreck Vacuums in Augusta.
For more information
Call (803) 642-2500 or (803) 641-1111 or visit www.battleofaiken.org.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.