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Fullbore Friday

Civil wars are always a nasty bit of work, and with a few exceptions here and there, on the whole the American Civil War was mostly fought on the battlefield without the civilian slaughter often seen. This and the wisdom of President Johnson's administration standing against the Radical Republicans, is largely responsible for us being able to stitch the Union back together.

In the slaughter we inflicted on ourselves in that stupid war born of political failure, there were great moments of humanity. One of the finer examples was that of Sgt. Richard Kirkland, Company G, Second South Carolina Infantry, Confederate States Army.

All through the night of Dec. 13, 1862, the ambulance corps of the Union’s Army of the Potomac labored to remove their wounded brethren from the killing grounds at Fredericksburg.
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Nevertheless, they were unable to reach the men who had advanced the farthest against the Confederate “sheet of flame” that came from behind the stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights. As dawn broke on the morning of the 14th, hundreds of these brave soldiers still lay where they had fallen, crying out for loved ones, for a mercy killing or just a drink of water.

Crouching on the other side of the wall, the Confederates who had inflicted such devastation on the unfortunate federals listened to their enemies’ piteous pleas.
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...the wounded men’s cries became too much for one rebel soldier to bear. Sgt. Richard Kirkland, Company G, Second South Carolina Infantry, left the lines and made his way to the nearby Stevens’ house where his brigade commander, Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, had his headquarters. According to Kershaw’s later account, the young Kirkland said he could no longer stand to hear “those poor people crying for water” and asked permission to go over the wall with filled canteens to relieve their suffering.

Kershaw granted the request, but would not allow Kirkland to show a white handkerchief while on his mission. No truce had been declared between the opposing armies, and Kershaw knew it was not within his authority to initiate one.

Kershaw’s account goes on to describe what happened when Kirkland entered the deadly ground between the lines:


Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat.

This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.

By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides, and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of ‘Water, for God’s sake, water!’ More piteous still, the mute appeal of some who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here, too, is life and suffering. For an hour and a half did this ministering angel pursue his labor of mercy, nor ceased to go and return until he had relieved all of the wounded on that part of the field. He returned wholly unhurt.


Kershaw’s recollections, titled “Richard Kirkland, the Humane Hero of Fredericksburg,” originally appeared in The Charleston News and Courier in January 1880 and was reprinted 12 days later in The New York Times. Of course, the post-modern era being what it is, people have tried to deconstruct this story ... but even the NTY has to say;

So, is the Richard Kirkland story true? Looking at the available evidence, it’s almost certain that a Confederate did risk his life to bring water to at least one wounded federal soldier, and if that “angel of mercy” must be identified, odds are probably better than even that it was indeed Kirkland. While Kershaw likely embellished his recollections of the incident for his letter to the News and Courier, it’s just as likely that he named Kirkland as “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” for no other reason than that he believed it himself.

Kirkland went on to fight at the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Chickamauga. At the last of these, he and two comrades advanced too far in front of their unit, and he was mortally wounded while trying to cover their retreat. Refusing his friends’ offers to assist him, he gasped: “I am done for. You can do me no good. Save yourselves and please tell my pa I died right.” Kirkland was barely 20 years old.

Like the one erected outside my ancestral church in Mississippi almost 150 years ago, this is another monument I hope the anti-intellectual Woke Historians Collective and their American Babiyan Taliban co-religionists never tear down.
A personal side-note about Sgt. Kirkland's death at the battle of Chickamauga. I thought the 2nd South Carolina Infantry rang a bell. 

At that battle, my family (multiple lines) fought in the 7th Mississippi in Anderson's Brigade of Hindman's Division. On the 18th they were on the far left of the Confederate line facing Wood's 1st Division of XXI Corp. By the 20th, Hindman's division was moved to the center left of the line alongside Longstreet's Corps.

Nine months after Fredericksburg, the 2nd South Carolina was still part part of Kershaw's Brigade of McLaws' Division of Longstreet's Corps. By the afternoon of the 20th, the 7th Mississippi and the 2nd South Carolina were fighting right next to each other as they pushed back the Indiana and Ohio forces of Brannan's Division of Thomas's XIV Corps.

Small war.