The Angel of Fredericksburg
Gen. J. B. Kershaw, of South Carolina, published some years ago a deeply interesting narrative concerning "Richard Kirkland, the humane hero of Fredericksburg," a sergeant in the Second South Carolina regiment. After the bloody repulse of the Federals at Fredericksburg, near the foot of Marye's hill, they left their many killed and wounded lying between the lines, and the piteous cries of the brave men on account of pain and thirst appealed to the sympathies of the soldiers of both armies. Kirkland went to General Kershaw, who was then in command of the Confederates at that point, and said with deep emotion: "General, I can't stand this." "What is the matter, Sergeant?" asked the general. He replied: "All day I have heard those poor people crying for water and I can stand it no longer. I come to ask permission to go and give them water." The general regarded him for a moment with feelings of profound admiration, and said: "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall? .... Yes," he said, "I know that I may, but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." After a pause the general said: "Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run such a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go." With light heart and buoyant step the humane hero, armed with all of the canteens he could carry filled with water, crossed the wall, went unharmed through the shower of bullets which at first greeted him, and reached and relieved the nearest sufferer, pouring down his parched throat the life-giving fluid, putting him in a more comfortable position, and leaving him a canteen filled with water. His purpose now being apparent, the Federals ceased to fire on him, and for an hour and a half, amid the plaudits of both armies, this angel of mercy went on his mission from man to man of the wounded enemy--his comrades gladly filling his canteens for him and being prevented from joining him in his labor of love only by the orders against their crossing the line--until all on that part of the field were relieved. It needs only to be added--since "the bravest are the tenderest and the loving are the daring"--that Sergeant Kirkland so greatly distinguished himself at Gettysburg that he was promoted for "conspicuous gallantry," and that he fell on the victorious field of Chickamauga, bravely doing his duty. But he will be known in the annals of the war as "The humane hero of Fredericksburg," and as he had but a short time before found "Christ in the camp," I doubt not that he wears now a bright crown bestowed by Him who promises that a cup of cold water given in the right spirit shall not lose its reward.
Source: "Confederate Military History," Volume 12
Richard Kirkland, The Humane Hero of Fredericksburg General Kershaw tells the story of this young hero at Fredericksburg
This page last updated 11/25/06
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