Battle of Aiken begins today
By ROB NOVIT – Senior writer
The Battle of Aiken re-enactment formally starts today and continues Sunday with cool temperatures and clear skies in the forecast.
That’s a huge relief for volunteers with the Barnard E. Bee Camp, who canceled the School Days event Friday after the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch around 9 a.m.
Rain started around 10 a.m., but all of the children and chaperones who had already arrived at the Confederate Camp off Powell Pond Road had departed by then.
The weather turned worse around 12:30 p.m., with wind coupled with a downpour led to sporadic damage in many parts of Aiken County. Many participants were still on site at that time.
"We had no significant damage, and everybody is safe and sound," said camp commander Wayne Jones. "We just hunkered down and got through it. Everything looks good to go for (Saturday)."
Gates open at 8:30 a.m. today and on Sunday. Events during the day include Confederate camp tours, lectures and programs, battle amputation scenarios and cannon fire demonstrations. The battle will begin at 2:30 p.m., and spectators are encouraged to bring towels or blankets to sit on. Cameras are welcome.
Ticket prices are $5 for those ages 6 to 12 and $10 for those 13 and older. Children 5 years of age and younger will be admitted free. Parking is free and is on a first-come, first-served basis.
Battle of Aiken officials monitor a police scanner at all times, Jones said, just for situations like this. As soon as they learned of the tornado watch, they didn’t hesitate to cancel the School Days event. The program usually draws 3,000 to 4,000 children, teachers and parents.
"It’s unfortunate for the young people," said Jones, who admitted he felt like crying himself. "But we have a severe weather plan with EMS and first responders on site. This is the best thing we can do for the safety of the public and those in the program."
Re-enactors Ron and Cathy Frazier and their children, Ron II and Amanda, had arrived with several horses from Amosville, Va., on Friday about 3:30 a.m. They took the bad news about School Days philosophically.
"It’s just bad luck, and we’ve run into foul weather before," Ron Frazier said.
The family is with the small 7th Virginia Company A – a unit that was at Appomattox in 1865 with Gen. Robert E. Lee but never officially surrendered. They’ve been involved with many re-enactments over the past 11 years. The Fraziers don’t usually travel so far away but had heard good things about the Battle of Aiken. Amanda Frazier, 15, was just 4 when they got started.
"I stopped for a while but got back into it about seven years ago," she said. "I started riding in re-enactments two years ago, and it’s really exciting."
Roger Wheeler of Columbia serves as the executive officer of the Naval Sea Cadets chapter in Columbia – a program similar to ROTC for young people up to 18. He’s also a descendant of Gen. Joe Wheeler, who at the Battle of Aiken led his Confederate troops against Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.
The younger Wheeler is expecting about 15 cadets today to join about 30 cadets from The Citadel, who are bringing an artillery battery of two guns.
A retired Marine, Wheeler got involved with the Sea Cadets in 2006. The Vietnam Wall had come to Columbia, and he needed more people for traffic control. A group of Sea Cadets volunteered, and, during a rainstorm one night, Wheeler went out to check on everybody. He found that State National Guard members had left, as had volunteers from a civic club.
"There were some little figures out there in the pouring rain, and it turned out to be the cadets," Wheeler said. "They had never left their post, and that’s what sold me on them."
During the event today and Sunday, the Blue and Gray will clash once again. New this year is the Great Revival with period chaplains. Services will be held today from 4 to 7 p.m. People are invited to attend and hear God’s word, according to the event flier.