Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Richard Rowland Kirkland: "The Angel of Marye's Heights"
This monument sculpted by Felix de Weldon, and erected in 1965 by the State of South Carolina, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Citizens of the United States, Collateral Descendants of Richard Kirkland and the Richard Rowland Kirkland Memorial Foundation lies near the stone wall in front of the sunken road on Marye's Heights on the battlefield at Fredericksburg, Va. The monument is dedicated to Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland, Company G, 2nd South Carolina Volunteers. Kirkland a South Carolinian, born in August 1843 had enlisted in Company E, 2nd South Carolina Volunteers in 1861. He saw action at 1st Bull Run, Savage Station, Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry) and Antietam before arriving at Fredericksburg with his regiment in December 1862.
On December 13, 1862 Confederate troops commanded by Major General James Longstreet positioned in the sunken road behind the rock wall fired upon assault after assault of Union soldiers marching across open ground in their front. The casualties were horrific. As day turned into night and dawn approached on December 14 the fields in front of the stone wall was littered with dead and dying union soldiers as well as their unhurt brethren who had spent the bone chilling night trapped on the battlefield. Pitiful cries for water rent the air, reaching the ears of the Union and Confederate soldiers glaring at each other from opposite sides of the battlefield. Nothing was being done by either side however to call for a truce or a halt to the hostilities to render assistance to the wounded.
At some point Sergeant Kirkland purportedly sought and received the permission of the commanding officer Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw to attempt to assist the wounded Union soldiers. He gathered up canteens from the Confederate lines, filled them with water , went over the stone wall and provided water, aide and encouragement to the Union soldiers lying on the field of battle. Although a truce was never declared neither side fired at the young soldier while he was conducting his mission of mercy. For this act of kindness and humanity Richard Rowland Kirkland is known as "The Angel of Marye's Heights.
Following the Battle of Fredericksburg, Kirkland served with the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and at Chickamauga where on September 20, 1863 he received a mortal wound. His remains were taken to South Carolina and buried in the Old Quaker Cemetery in Camden.
While this monument is dedicated to the heroic, humanitarian gesture of one man who fought in the fratricidal conflict that was the American Civil War it can also stand as a testament to the many acts of kindness on both sides toward their fellow Americans that go unnoticed to this day.