Richard Kirkland, The Angel of Marye's Heights
By MAC WYCKOFF
How many of you would try to save a friend knowing it might result in
your own death?
Probably some of you would.
How many of you would try to save the life of an enemy knowing it might
result in your own death?
Probably very few, if any, of you would take that risk.
Yet, that is exactly what Richard
Rowland Kirkland did during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Both who
he is and what he did are worth learning about.
Born in August 1843, he was the fifth son of Mary and John Kirkland.
They lived in the rural community of Flat Rock in the Kershaw District,
A friend described him as a slender, but well-proportioned muscular
man at 5‚8", who weighed about 150 pounds. His photograph reveals
a handsome young man with a mustache.
A good marksman, Kirkland excelled in riding a horse. His war letters
reflect a religious young man of moderate education typical of the thousands
of young men who went to war in 1861.
Despite his youth, Kirkland was eager to fight for his country. He enlisted
before his older brothers and friends in Company E, 2nd South Carolina.
After a year of service as a private, he switched to Company G to be with
his friends and was soon promoted to sergeant.
By December of 1862, Kirkland had become a combat veteran, having seen
action at 1st Manassas, Savage Station, Maryland Heights and Antietam.
He had also witnessed the death of several of his best friends.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, Kirkland‚s unit
formed behind the Stone Wall at the base of Marye‚s Heights and helped
slaughter the Union attackers. After a day of severe fighting, the scene
shifted from severe fighting to tremendous suffering.
After dark on the 13th, doctors and soldiers began caring for the injured.
The walking wounded made their way to the rear while those with disabling
wounds remained on the field.
Daylight on the 14th revealed a ghastly scene to the Confederates behind
the Stone Wall. About 8,000 Union soldiers had been shot in front of the
wall and many of them remained where they had fallen. As hours went by
without food, water or medical treatment, their suffering increased.
Nearby soldiers from both sides listened to the painful cries and pleas
for help. While the suffering emotionally moved many, none dared face
almost certain death to provide help.
At some point in the day, Kirkland could no longer bear listening to
the pleas, so he walked over to the home of Martha Stevens. He went upstairs
and told General Joseph Kershaw, his brigade commander, that he would
like to try and help the wounded Union soldiers.
The surprised general at first refused the request, but he later relented.
Kirkland gathered all the canteens he could carry and filled them at
the near by water well. Then, at extreme risk to himself, he ventured
out to help the Federal soldiers. He carried water and warm clothing to
the suffering Federal soldiers.
Kershaw anxiously watched Kirkland for 1 ł hours on his „errand of mercy,
Kirkland went on to fight at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. On Sept.
20, 1863, during the Battle of Chickamauga, Kirkland and two buddies got
out in front as they charged up Snodgrass Hill.
Realizing their predicament, they turned to rejoin their unit. Kirkland
lingered for a fatal moment to fire one more shot and was mortally wounded.
His final words were, "Tell my pa, I died right."
His body was returned home for burial. Years later, a friend visited
his grave and described the location as "one of the most sequestered,
unfrequented, and inaccessible spots I ever saw."
In 1909, his remains were moved to Quaker Cemetery in Camden just a
few paces from the grave of Gen. Kershaw.
In 1965, the magnificent statue sculpted by the famous artist Felix
DeWeldon was unveiled in front of the Stone Wall in Fredericksburg where
he had performed his humanitarian acts.
At a time we sorely need heroes, this young Southern boy set an admirable
example of concern for his fellow human beings and extreme courage.