While watching a documentary on the Civil War a few days ago, there was mention of an act during that bloody conflict that shows us that no matter how cruel and inhumane war is, there can also be amazing acts of sympathy and love for one’s fellow man.
The small town of Fredericksburg, Virginia was witness to terrible suffering during the war when Union and Confederate troops clashed there not once but twice. Much of the town was destroyed on December 11-15, 1862, when Union troops of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General Ambrose Burnside, attacked the town in an attempt to drive out Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
To achieve their goal, the northern troops first had to cross the Rappahannock River. One obstacle that lay in their way was Marye’s Heights, a ridge just west of the town that was fortified by enemy soldiers and artillery.
Wave after wave of blue-coated soldiers charged up the hill and were mowed down by enemy fire. One person who saw the battlefield shortly after the fighting ended described it as nothing less than butchery as thousands of Union troops were slaughtered as they tried to take the hill.
As night fell, the sound of wounded and dying men crying out in agony could be heard through the darkness, setting nerves on edge on both sides of the battle lines. It became too much for Confederate Sergeant Richard R. Kirkland from Kershaw County, South Carolina. Gathering up canteens from the men around him, he filled with them with water and left the safety of the stone wall he and his men had been sheltered behind during the fighting. Dozens of Union rifles were pointed at him, enraged bluecoats thinking he was scavenging what he could from the dead and dying. But then they realized something else was going on. Something incredible.
Risking his life, the brave young sergeant went from one wounded enemy soldier to another, giving them sips of water and whatever comfort he could. Sergeant Kirkland made repeated trips out onto the battlefield to aid men that had been trying to kill him just hours before, while soldiers from both sides looked on in awe. Amazed at his courage and compassion, the shooting stopped to allow him to complete his mission of mercy. When he finally finished and crossed back over the Confederate line, soldiers and officers on both sides cheered him.
By the time General Burnside realized that continued attacks were futile and withdrew his troops, the Union soldiers had suffered 12,653 casualties killed and wounded, while Confederate losses were 5,377.
A second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863. Even today, several homes and businesses in the town show the effects of the fighting, and more than one still has cannon balls embedded in its walls.
Today a memorial on the old battlefield honors Sergeant Kirkland, the Angel of Marye’s Heights, for his outstanding acts of courage and compassion.
In a perfect world, one might think that the valiant young rebel soldier survived the war and went home to enjoy a good life. But in a perfect world we wouldn’t have wars, would we? Less than a year later, Sergeant Kirkland was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. He was just one month past his 20th birthday when a Yankee musket ball tore through his chest. It was reported that his last words to his comrades were, “I’m done for. Save yourselves and tell my Pa I died right.” His remains were brought home to Kershaw County, and he was buried in the Old Quaker Cemetery in Camden.
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Thought For The Day – My neighbors complained about me moaning too loud while having sex in the morning. If they only knew that I’m just trying to put my socks on.