The Angel of Marye’s Heights: Confirmation of the story of Richard Kirkland

In the decades after the Civil War, a hopeful story spread abroad of a Confederate soldier who risked his life to bring water to suffering enemies on the battlefield of Fredericksburg, Va., on the night of 13 December 1862. The legend of the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” has generated skepticism over the years, in part because many researchers believed that the account of Richard Rowland Kirkland’s (Sgt, 2nd SC Infantry) act of mercy first appeared in 1880, many years after the event.

Statue of Richard Kirkland giving water to a wounded soldier
Felix de Weldon: Monument to Richard Kirkland, 1965, Fredericksburg, Va. Photo credit: Claire H. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

However, researcher Laura Elliott recently uncovered an earlier account of Kirkland’s heroism. This account, from 1874, was based on sources who would have witnessed Kirkland’s actions. Kirkland himself was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863.

Elliott published her analysis of this recently-discovered source in Blue and Gray Dispatch, 8 September 2020:

The Angel of Marye’s Heights

While I don’t doubt that many soldiers on both sides of the war willingly and even gleefully took the lives of others, stories like Kirkland’s suggest that expressions of compassion were possible as well.

A. Roy Bredenberg — 8 Sept. 2020

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