History – The War Between The States
The fact that Williston was a town on the South Carolina Railroad during the War Between the States made it play an important part in history.
A desperate effort was being made by the Confederate troops to keep this railroad open so that necessary troop depositions could be made. Sherman’s troops were just as determined to destroy the track, looting and burning entire towns along the Way.
On the 9th of February, 1865, a portion of Union General Slocum’s 14th and 20th Corps along with Kilpatrick’s cavalry left the vicinity of Blackville and followed the railroad toward Augusta. Confederate General Wheeler learned of these plans and began immediately to assemble his men to attack this Federal column. On the day that these Union troops reached Williston, General Wheeler moved on toward Aiken in an effort to save Augusta.
In Special Field Order No. 25 dated February 8th, 1865, the following orders were given:
III. The Seventeenth Corps will move to Blackville and continue the destruction of the railroad westward. The Fourteenth Corps will come up on the road about White Pond or Williston and as soon as the destruction of the road is complete, will cross the Edisto … and push out … ready to move … according to developments.
By Order of Major General W. T. Sherman
L. M. Dayton
Assistant Adjutant General
The following letter from General Kilpatrick to General Sherman is self-explanatory:
Headquarters Cavalry Command
Blackville, Feb. 8, 1865
Major-General Sherman: General: I will encamp to-night at Williston and destroy some track: … I will be prudent, bold, but not rash.
Kilpatrick further reported in a letter on February 8, 1865 that he had made an attack upon the First Alabama Confederate Cavalry holding the railroad to Augusta in the vicinity of Williston.
In still another letter:
General Kilpatrick Command Cavalry:
General: . . . Tomorrow the Right Wing moves on Orangeburg, and after breaking the railroad good, we will proceed as heretofore indicated. Davis should be in Williston tonight or early tomorrow; keep in communication with him and conform to his movements … When operating near General Davis’ Corps he will doubtless you have a brigade of infantry from time to time, but not as a permanent thing.
Yours truly, W. T. Sherman
It was on the night of February 8th, 1865, that the Federal troops were billeted at the Ashley/Willis house, then owned by Mr. Hollis Johnson.
At this point families along General Kilpatrick’s route were fleeing for their lives. What valuables they could not take they tried to hide or bury. The Yankees, sensing this, searched the entire area and found many items that had been buried. When they completed their looting they usually burned what was left. Livestock, carefully hidden in the swamps by the Southerners, was sought out by the Yankees. Only a few homes were left standing in Williston. The Present day Ashley/Willis home was spared. It has been said that thirty homes belonging to the Willis families were destroyed.
One Willis home was spared from the torch after Susan Willis, Wife of Civil War Captain Robert Moore Willis, and her new-born baby boy were carried from the house on a mattress and placed in a field. A young Union lieutenant saw what had happened and ordered the flames extinguished at once and the occupants were returned to the house. Susan thanked him and asked his name. “Lieutenant Walter Tate”, he replied. “Then that will be the name of this child”, Mrs. Willis answered. This family was probably the last to occupy “Wild Wood” as many left the country to move into “Town”.
At a much later date “WildWood” was also destroyed by fire.
The home of John Smith was also spared. It had been completed in 1860. It is located about three miles from Williston on the Dunbarton Road. It was purchased in 1900 by Mr. Thomas W. Scott. His son, Inman, was born in that house.