Originally created 02/24/02

The South rises again

WINDSOR - Civil War re-enactments are a lot like professional wrestling.

It is planned in advance who will win and the merchandise - from T-shirts to bumper stickers - brings in the dollars.

"It's like the wrestling on television but a lot of adults think it's real," said Aiken resident Frank Stone Sr., one of the thousands of spectators who attended the 137th anniversary of the Battle of Aiken on Saturday.

The Confederates' defense of the road to Graniteville and the mills of Augusta is played out every year at the Carolina Star Gun Club off Cedar Branch Road, about 20 minutes south of Aiken.

Each re-enactment includes two skirmishes, with the second one beginning today about 2 p.m.

The battle was one of the last Confederate victories of the war.

But history doesn't always repeat itself.

"We might win both of them," Mr. Stone said as the crowd watched the prologue to the battle begin with Yankee soldiers robbing some fleeing Southern belles. "You never know what to expect when you're out here."

The Battle of Aiken is billed as the largest re-enactment in South Carolina. It is part of the annual re-enactment circuit that began last weekend in Olustee, Fla., and usually runs to November.

In two weeks, the Battle of Broxton Bridge re-enactment will begin in Ehrhardt, S.C.

Traveling on the circuit are the merchandise sellers, blacksmiths and other purveyors of the time.

Inside the white tents of the battle village are everything a soldier and a spectator need to relive the past.

There are playing cards with the faces of Robert E. Lee and his counterpart Ulysses S. Grant. Ear plugs are available to protect against the roaring cannon fire.

There is a compact disc with songs by re-enactors, one of which includes the ballad Ole Abe Lies Sick.

The most unusual merchandise might be the "poison ring," which has a secret compartment under the jewel to hold poison.

More actors want to don Confederate garb than Union, so this year organizers said all out-of-state re-enactors had to fight for the North.

Two spectators Saturday were soldiers from Fort Gordon on leave for the day. Pvts. Josh Havens and Elizabeth Long said while the re-enacting was extraordinary, today's soldiers carry heavier guns and bulkier packs.

Pvt. Long said as a Signal Corps member she could relate to the soldiers who held the charging army's flags, which were used for communication during the Civil War.

"They had a life expectancy of 15 seconds because the enemy would try to shoot them first because they thought if they killed them they would stop their communication," she said.

Spectators come from many states and often stay on the site in motor homes.

Raymond Hallman of West Columbia did that. Saturday was his first Battle of Aiken.

"I heard so much about it, watched so many movies, I was just coming to see what it is like."

"I heard so much about it, watched so many movies, I was just coming to see what it is like." - Raymond Hallman, spectator from West Columbia

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.

BATTLE TIMES: The Battle of Aiken continues today at 2 p.m. at the Carolina Star Gun Club in Windsor. Gates will open at 9 a.m., and admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for pupils ages 6 to 18.


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