Saturday, May 27, 2017

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Col. Rhett's Capture and His Infamous Boots

Col. Alfred Rhett, CSAOne of the interesting incidents of the Battle of Averasboro actually occured prior to the first day's fighting. Confederate Colonel Alfred Moore Rhett was in command of a South Carolina brigade. His command of the brigade also came by interesting circumstances. Rhett, a 1851 graduate of Harvard, was well known for his duels or Affairs of Honor, as they were sometimes called. His last duel, with his own commander, eventually gained him command of the brigade and a promotion to Colonel.

At Averasboro, thirty-five-year-old Colonel Rhett had the reputation of being a harsh disciplinarian and was highly disliked by his men. He was ordered to deploy his brigade, consisting of the First S.C. Infantry, First S.C. Artillery, and another small battalion approximately four hundred yards north of the John Smith House. This line of entrenchments would thereafter be known as the Confederate First Line at Averaboro.

As his men worked away in the rain that March day, Colonel Rhett and another man rode out from their lines toward the Yankee lines,Genl. J Kilpatrick, USA believing they were in no immediate danger. Union Captain Theo Northrop also rode out with companion scouts from their lines to scout the Confederate postions. Amazingly, they were able to infiltrate the Confederate pickets and see the front line clearly as well as several Confederate officers of high rank. One of the scouts wanted to shoot an officer, but Captain Northrop stopped him, thinking that the shot could result in their own capture. As they turned to return to their own lines, they saw two Confederate riders approaching them. One of the riders was Colonel Rhett.

First Line (Rhett) MarkerRhett asked the Yankees about the location of Confederate Generals Hampton and Taliaferro, completely unsuspecting that he was talking to Union scouts. Captain Northrop directed him in the general direction of the Confederate lines, but as Rhett rode by, told Rhett he would have to come with him. Rhett, still not realizing he was being captured, retorted, "Do you know who you're talking to? I am Colonel Rhett."

Rhett then realized that he was in trouble and reached for his pistol, only to get a Federal carbine pressed against his head. Wisely, he surrendered.

Rhett Interpretive MarkerWhen Rhett was presented to Federal General Kilpatrick, he complained that he had been tricked into capture. He and Kilpatrick exchanged angry words, and he was sent on to meet General Sherman. However, Sherman treated Rhett better since they were acquaintances from before the war. Rhett and Sherman, along with General Slocum and a Major Davis who both knew Rhett from Charleston, SC, had a nice dinner together.  That night Slocum allowed Rhett to stay in his tent.

All along the way, the Federals eyed Rhett's nice boots, described by Sherman as being "high jackboots beautifully stitched." Rhett's whole uniform and boots were unusually well done and kept above the norm for this stage in the war. Later, Rhett was returned to the care of Kilpatrick, who having no respect for the Charlestonian, turned him over to his men who made him surrender his boots in exchange for some lesser, muddy footware. Rhett would later say that one of his consolations about the incident was that no one in Sherman's army would be able to wear them. You see, Rhett had very small feet!