The Angel of Marye’s Heights.

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War Horse

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Some here may not be aware of the heroic actions of Sgt Richard Rowland Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, following the cease-fire of Alexander’s guns on Maryes Heights at the battle of Fredericksburg. I thought I’d take a moment to share this truly unique story.

As the smoke cleared on that cold December day the carnage of what had just transpired began to reveal its awful truth. The ground leading up to Marye’s Heights was littered with dead and wounded Union soldiers. The cries of the wounded men laying in that cold wet environment was horrific, the kind of horror that nightmares are made from.

The sites and sounds became to much for one Confederate soldier to take. Sgt Richard Rowland Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers. Kirkland became so distraught at the suffering of the poor Union soldiers that he requested permission from his superior officer to lend aide to the suffering men. His first request was denied. As time went on the sites and the sounds of the suffering men became to much to bare. Kirkland made his request once more. This time his CO granted his request with one exception. Kirkland would be denied his request to carry a white flag onto the battlefield. A denial that all but assured his death if he attempted this insane humanitarian effort. The denial of carrying the white flag did not deter Kirkland from attempting to lend aid to those in need. Kirkland gathered as many canteens as he could carry and set out on his mission of mercy.

To all the Confederates surprise Kirkland was not fired upon. The Union soldiers simply watched in amazement. Kirkland went right to work giving water and words of encouragement to the wounded enemy soldiers. This went on for at least an hour and a half and several trips over the stone wall to be resupplied. All that witnessed these events became truly inspired and the story of The Angel of Marye’s Heights would forever be told by soldiers in the field.

I wish I could tell you the story has a happy ending but it does not. 2nd Lt Richard Rowland Kirkland was killed in action 10 months later on September 20, 1863 at the battle of Chickamauga.
I hope you enjoyed this true and heart warming story.
 
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I hope you enjoyed this true and heart warming story.
Indeed heart warming and I'm convinced that it comes from stories like this one that the Civil War still fascinates more people than other conflicts of that era. It's the "brother against brother" aspect, but also the hope that humanity still is not completely lost, even in all the carnage.
I would go as far as to say that stories like this one helped pave the way to the forging of your great nation. Would you agree @War Horse ?

And besides this, what @Eleanor Rose said: it's good to have you back among us. You have been sorely missed!!
 
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War Horse

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There are people who will argue whether this ever took place or not, but I for one hope that it did. Even at the worse of times there are always people who will be at their best.
There are people who will argue whether this ever took place or not.

Interestingly if you google The Angel of Marye’s Heights you’ll see a book has been written on the subject as well as a 30 minute documentary was filmed. That being said along with monuments commemorating the event. It seems people have gone to a lot of trouble telling the story for it to be false. Although it wouldn’t be the first time I was taken in by such a tale :smile:
 
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Ole Miss

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I find it interesting that in the War of Rebellion Series 1, Volume 21 none of the local commanders at that site of the battle fail to mention anything about a soldier between the lines assiting the woundeed. I would think his actions would have generated a comment or two.
Regards
David
 

War Horse

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I find it interesting that in the War of Rebellion Series 1, Volume 21 none of the local commanders at that site of the battle fail to mention anything about a soldier between the lines assiting the woundeed. I would think his actions would have generated a comment or two.
Regards
David
There’s a lot of truth there. I’ve read a lot on Fredericksburg and have stumbled across this story for the first time today.
 
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War Horse

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I never knew this was in doubt before. I want this story to be true! Do you know when this story first got started? Are there any diaries that mention this even if the OR doesn't?
I’m sorry, I can’t answer that. Hopefully someone will come along and enlighten us.
 
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It sure is @FarawayFriend. I shutter to think about what would have happened to our country had the south won the war.
Well, there would have been three nations instead of two (USA and Canada) on north American soil.
But in good Longstreet tradition I would say the sword has decided otherwise ... so the gap between North and South had to be bridged and stories like this one emphasized the aspect that in spite of all hostilities there was still a lot of humanity - it illustrates the hope that the great wound would heal after all.
I’m sorry, I can’t answer that. Hopefully someone will come along and enlighten us.
I didn't know about the origin or when it was first mentioned, but the fact that a memorial stands on the grounds of a US Military Park should be enough to trust it is true!

Google brought this:

"The exact deed for which Kirkland received this accolade was first and most extensively described by J. B. Kershaw, commander of the brigade in which Kirkland served, in a letter to the Charleston News and Courier dated January 2, 1880."

Source

The article discusses the pros and cons of the above story being true or not. It seems it is based on the account of that one man only. But I'm with @NH Civil War Gal , I want that story to be true and so I personally don't doubt it.
 
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John Hartwell

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In one of Walt Whitman's notebooks, from early in 1863, while working in Washington hospitals, he notes:

"Here is a case of a soldier I found among the crowded cots in the Patent Office. He likes to have some one to talk to, and we will listen to him. He got badly hit in his leg and side at Fredericksburgh that eventful Saturday, 13th of December. He lay the succeeding two days and nights helpless on the field, between the city and those grim terraces of batteries; his company and regiment had been compell'd to leave him to his fate. To make matters worse, it happen'd he lay with his head slightly down hill, and could not help himself. At the end of some fifty hours he was brought off, with other wounded, under a flag of truce........I ask him how the rebels treated him as he lay during those two days and nights within reach of them -- whether they came to him -- whether they abused him? He answers that several of the rebels, soldiers and others, came to him, at one time and another.

"A couple of them, who were together, spoke roughly and sarcastically, but nothing worse. One middle-aged man, however, who seem'd to be moving around the field, among the dead and wounded, for benevolent purposes, came to him in a way he will never forget; treated our soldier kindly, bound up his wounds, cheer'd him, gave him a couple of biscuits, and a drink of whiskey and water; ask'd him if he could eat some beef. This good Secesh, however, did not change our soldier's position, for it might have caused the blood to burst from the wounds, clotted and stagnated. Our soldier is from Pennsylvania; has had a pretty severe time; the wounds proved to be bad ones. But he retains a good heart, and is at present on the gain......... (It is not uncommon for the men to remain on the field this way, one, two, or even four or five days.)"
 
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lelliott19

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There are people who will argue whether this ever took place or not...
Indeed, there's been some scholarship dedicated to that question.

There's this article by Michael Schaffner at Kevin Levin's blog

And this series by Mac Wyckoff at the Mysteries and Conundrums blog

Schaffner states, "The exact deed for which Kirkland received this accolade was first and most extensively described by J. B. Kershaw, commander of the brigade in which Kirkland served, in a letter to the Charleston News and Courier dated January 2, 1880." He relies mostly on Kershaw's use of flowery language to suggest that perhaps the Kirkland story is a fictionalized exaggeration or generalization. But Kershaw's 1880 letter wasn't the first account to provide a detailed description of the incident.

Mac Wyckoff points to Walt Whitman's memorandum of January 21, 1863 [see @John Hartwell 's post #17 above] and Colonel James R. Hagood's (1st SC) unpublished memoirs, written prior to Joseph B. Kershaw's 1880 description, as reliable pre-Kershaw accounts of the Kirkland incident. However, neither of those sources identifies Kirkland by name. <I don't know exactly when Hagood's memoirs were written but it was before 1870.> At Fredericksburg, Hagood's 1st SC was in Jenkins' brigade, Pickett's Division.

I've often wondered why neither historian analyzed the William Preston Hix account that pre-dates Kershaw's description by six years; ID's Kirkland by name; and details the incident. I only ran across it a couple of years ago so maybe they weren't aware of it? Anyway, Hix had been discharged earlier in 1862. So while he was probably not a direct witness to the incident, his older brother and one of his younger brothers probably were witnesses and both survived the war. Another younger brother was killed at Fredericksburg. All four brothers served in Company A of the 3rd SC which was part of Kershaw's brigade. Ill post up the account a little later.
 
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War Horse

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Indeed, there's been some scholarship dedicated to that question.

There's this article by Michael Schaffner at Kevin Levin's blog

And this series by Mac Wyckoff at the Mysteries and Conundrums blog

Schaffner states, "The exact deed for which Kirkland received this accolade was first and most extensively described by J. B. Kershaw, commander of the brigade in which Kirkland served, in a letter to the Charleston News and Courier dated January 2, 1880." He relies mostly on Kershaw's use of flowery language to suggest that perhaps the Kirkland story is a fictionalized exaggeration or generalization. But Kershaw's 1880 letter wasn't the first account to provide a detailed description of the incident.

On the other hand, Mac Wyckoff points to Walt Whitman's memorandum of January 21, 1863 [see @John Hartwell 's post #17 above] and Colonel James R. Hagood's (1st SC) unpublished memoirs, written prior to Joseph B. Kershaw's 1880 description, as reliable accounts of the Kirkland incident. However, neither of those sources identifies Kirkland by name. <I don't know exactly when Hagood's memoirs were written but presume they were post-war. Does anyone know?> At Fredericksburg, Hagood's 1st SC was in Jenkins' brigade, Pickett's Division.

I've often wondered why neither historian analyzed the account that pre-dates Kershaw's description by a decade, ID's Kirkland by name, and details the incident. The veteran who provided that version had been discharged earlier in 1862. So while he was probably not a direct witness to the incident, his older brother and one of his younger brothers were witnesses and both survived the war. Another younger brother was killed at Fredericksburg. All four brothers served in Company A of the 3rd SC which was part of Kershaw's brigade. Ill post up the account later.
Thank you so much for your hard work and excellent researching skills @lelliott19 this is great. We’re becoming myth busters. :smile:
 
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