On December 14, 1862, following the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, a legend was born. The actual accounts of the actions of Confederate Sergeant Richard R. Kirkland are brief and vary but one thing remains incontrovertible, Richard Kirkland was the “Angel of Marye’s Heights”.
Richard Rawland Kirkland was born in August of 1849, in the farming community of Flat Rock, located in Kershaw County, South Carolina. As with many young men who resided in rural areas of the south, the chance to march off to war with the Confederate Army served several purposes; The chance to show patriotism for the southern cause and possibly the only chance they would ever have to leave the farm of their birth. Kirkland was one such young man. He mustered into Company E of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry at Camden, South Carolina, under the command of General Joseph B. Kershaw. The unit was quickly dispatched to Fort Moultrie, at the mouth of the Charleston harbor, where Confederates had taken a stance against the U.S. Government. In early July, 1861 the 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment began the march toward Virginia where Kirkland and his unit fought battles at Manassas, Savage Station, Maryland Heights and Antietam. Following the Battle of Antietam, Richard Kirkland was transferred to Company G of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry and promoted to sergeant.
The Battle of Fredericksburg pitted General Robert E. Lee’s, Army of Northern Virginia against Major General Ambrose Burnside’s, Army of the Potomac. Burnside had planned to build pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and attempt to take the Confederate capitol at Richmond. Lee took up a defensive position at Fredericksburg on December 11, 1864. Two days later, following heavy fighting within the town, the Union Army’s attention was turned toward a ridge on the west side of Fredericksburg known as Marye’s Heights. On the ridge nine thousand confederates under Brigadier General Thomas Cobb and Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw had taken a stand at a four foot high wall on top of the “Heights”. Union forces, under General Edwin V. Sumner, advanced on Marye’s Heights fourteen times, starting at around noon on December 13, and fourteen times they were repelled by the confederates on the Heights. When night fell on Marye’s Heights, approximately seven thousand union soldiers lay dying or dead. Casualties within the confederate line at the Heights numbered only twelve hundred.
As the sun rose over Marye’s Heights on the morning of the 14th the extent of the carnage was clearly visible. Wounded men lay in agony upon the field, in pools of blood surrounded by other fallen Union soldiers. Throughout the morning the moans and groans of the wounded became overwhelming to the Confederates, who had been ordered to hold the wall at the Heights. Sgt. Richard Kirkland, requested permission from his commanding officer, General Kershaw, to tend to the Union wounded, to which Kershaw approved. Kirkland gathered canteens from his fellow soldiers and leapt the stone wall onto the battlefield. For the next two hours the Confederate sergeant made his way from one wounded Union soldier to the next, tending their wounds and giving water to the destitute men. To the amazement of General Kershaw, Sergeant Kirkland was not fired upon by Union soldiers. Kershaw would later give his account of the event.
“Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.”
Sergeant Richard Kirkland would continue to fight for the Confederacy, showing gallantry at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He met his end at the Battle of Chickamauga while leading an infantry charge up “Snodgrass Hill” on September 20, 1863. It is not known how many lives were saved by Sergeant Kirkland on the battlefield at Marye’s Heights that day, however Kirkland’s actions remain legendary in Civil War history and he will forever be known as the “Angel of Marye’s Heights”.
In researching the story of Sergeant Richard Kirkland, StrangeHistory.org has uncovered a most unusual and coincidental set of historical facts.
Sergeant Richard R. Kirkland (1849-1863) was a non-commissioned officer of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry (1862-1863), a rebel army. He has two monuments dedicated to him, both of which are located in Fredericksburg, Va. He was stationed at Fort Moultrie, SC and died while advancing on an enemy held hill.
Sergeant William Johan Jasper (1750-1779) was a non-commissioned officer of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry (1776-1779), a rebel army. He has two monuments dedicated to him. One located in Savannah, GA, the other in Charleston, SC. He was stationed at Fort Moultrie, then called Fort Sullivan and died while advancing on an enemy held hill.