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The Angel Of Marye's Heights


A remarkable tale of human compassion:

……The cries of one Union soldier were particularly piteous. After calling in vain for his friends to succor him, he cried out: "If my friends cannot give me water, will my enemies give me some?"

Richard Kirkland could not ignore such pleas. As a Christian, he may have remembered the Apostle Paul's injunction: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." Bounding up the stairs of the nearby Stephens house, Kirkland asked Gen. Kershaw for permission to take water to his wounded enemies. Kershaw tried to talk him out of it. "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?"

"Yes, sir," the young man replied, "I know that; but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." Kershaw could not refuse the noble request. Reluctantly, he gave Kirkland permission to go, trusting that God would protect him.

Kirkland hurried back down the stairs, but a moment later he returned. Kershaw assumed the well-intentioned sergeant had had second thoughts, but he was wrong: Kirkland simply wanted to perform his deed under a flag of truce. "General, can I show a white flag?" he inquired. Unfortunately, the general could not grant the request. The two sides were locked in combat; only the commanding general could negotiate a truce. Kirkland was undeterred. "All right," he replied, "I'll take the chances."

Borrowing canteens from several friends, Kirkland took a deep breath, jumped over the protective wall bordering the Sunken Road and dashed out onto the deadly plain. Bullets struck the mud around him, but he was not hit. Reaching the nearest soldier, Kirkland knelt down and, placing the man's head on his chest, poured the cooling liquid down the man's throat. He then took the soldier's knapsack and placed it under his head for a pillow, at the same time laying the man's overcoat across him for a blanket.

By now, the Union riflemen understood Kirkland's mission and had ceased firing at him. Some even cheered his bravery. For the next 90 minutes, Kirkland moved slowly about the field, giving aid to all he could reach. Who knows how many men benefited from his mercy?

As a result of his actions, Kirkland became known as "The Angel of Marye's Heights." He died just nine months later at the Battle of Chickamauga, but his deed at Fredericksburg was not forgotten. In 1965, local citizens led by Dr. Richard Nunn Lanier petitioned the state legislatures of Virginia and South Carolina to construct a monument to Kirkland's memory. Today it stands at the northeast corner of Mercer Street and Sunken Road, a rare testimony to man's humanity to man...…

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Staff member
He has become the subject of several artists too. I'll copy-n-paste some of their renditions later today.