December 14, 1862: The Angel of Marye’s Heights

Friday, December 14, AD 2012

But he, desirous of justifying himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

Luke 10:29

Richard Rowland Kirkland is a name that should be cherished by every American.  On December 14, 1862 he was a sergeant in Company G, 2nd South Carolina.  It was approaching noon and his unit was stationed at the stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights overlooking Fredericksburg.  His unit had helped smash Union attack after Union attack the day before, and now he looked over fields strewn with wounded and dead Union soldiers.  He could hear the wounded Union soldiers crying out desperately for water.

Unable to bear the cries any longer, he approached Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw and informed him of what he wanted to do.  Kershaw gave him his permission, but told him he was unable to authorize a flag of truce.  Kirkland said that was fine and he would simply have to take his chances.  Gathering up all the canteens and blankets he could carry, Kirkland slipped over the wall, realizing that without a flag of truce it was quite possible he would be fired upon by Union troops.

Kirkland began to give drinks to Union wounded and blankets to protect them from the cold.  Union troops, recognizing what he was doing, did not fire at him.  For an hour and a half Kirkland went back and forth tending to the enemy wounded.  He did not stop until he had assisted all Union wounded in the Confederate portion of the battlefield.  The last Union soldier he assisted he gave his own overcoat.  He was repeatedly cheered by both Union and Confederate soldiers.

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6 Responses to December 14, 1862: The Angel of Marye’s Heights

  • Aside from the example of humankindness, there are three things here that could do wonders for so many in 2012 .

    1. Parents and children knowing, living, and dying by right and wrong found in common through keeping God in mind and heart.
    ‘ … just barely 20. His last words were, “Tell my Pa I died right.” May we all live and die as right as Richard Rowland Kirkland. ‘

    2. A phrase for journalists of no longer beloved media: Deeds recorded in the rigid simplicity of actual truth.

    ‘ Here is General Kershaw’s account:
    Camden, South Carolina, January 29, 1880
    To the Editor of The News and Courier

    Your Columbia correspondent referred to the incident narrated here, telling the story as ’twas told to him, and inviting corrections. As such a deed should be recorded in the rigid simplicity of actual truth I take the liberty of sending you for publication an accurate account of a transaction every feature of which is indellibly impressed upon my memory. ‘

    3. The 2012 existence of so many young men without a father’s care or even the comfort of a glimmer of knowledge of their heavenly Father.
    ‘ Richard Kirkland was the son of John Kirkland, an estimable citizen of Kershaw County, a plain substantial farmer of the olden time ‘

  • I can barely contain my tears. I hope that in this same situation that I would perform as he did.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:13:

    “And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”

  • Pingback: St. John of the Cross | Big Pulpit
  • What a magnificent and appealing story of the above and beyond duty actions of Sgt. Kirkland. Thank you for tugging the heart stings a bit.

The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

Thursday, December 13, AD 2012

“Your soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to  their deaths. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish brigade  was beyond description. We forgot they were fighting us and cheer after cheer  at their fearlessness went up all along our lines!”

Confederate Major General George Pickett in a letter to his fiance

A moving video of the Irish Brigade at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, based on the movie Gods and Generals.  It was criminal military malpractice for Burnside, perhaps the most incompetent general in the war, to assault the fortified Confederate positions, but his idiocy does not derogate in the slightest from the extreme heroism of the Union troops who suffered massive casualties while attempting to do the impossible.

The Irish Brigade was one of the units called upon that day to do the impossible.  One of the regiments in the Brigade was the  69th New York, the Fighting 69th as they would be designated by Robert E. Lee for their gallant charge at this battle, a unit faithful readers of this blog are quite familiar with.   This day their chaplain personally blessed each man in the regiment.  They called him Father Thomas Willett.  That was as close as they could get to pronouncing his actual name.

Thomas Ouellet, a French Canadian Jesuit, fit perfectly among a regiment of tough Irishmen.  Normally mild mannered and kind, he could react sternly to sin or to any injustice done to “his boys”.  Abbe Ouellet had been with the regiment from its formation at the beginning of the war.  During the battles of the Seven Days of the Peninsular Campaign earlier in 1862, he had barely slept as he tirelessly tended the wounded and gave the Last Rites to the dying.  After the battle of Malvern’s Hill, he traversed the battlefield all night with a lantern after the Union army had withdrawn, seeking wounded to help and dying to save.  He was captured by Confederates, who, learning he was a priest, treated him with kindness and swiftly released him.

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9 Responses to The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

  • Thanks Donald. I’ll place the fallen in my prayers today.

  • Hey Donald, you seem well read on the subject of the Civil War- would you mind recommending any good books on the subject for a newcomer?
    I’ve read Battle Cry of Freedom and I’m currently enjoying Volume 1 of Foote’s magnum opus – I do think he is biased, though. I think he goes out of his way to avoid the subject of slavery, but I haven’t read it all yet, so maybe it’ll improve.

  • Not sure if you have posted this before, Donald but “Honest Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade” is one of my favorite ballads from the Civil War:

  • Joseph G. Bilby in the introduction to ‘ Remember Fontenoy!’ wrote concerning the Irish Brigade:

    “It was, many said, the best brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Some said it was the best brigade in the whole Union army and perhaps the best infantry brigade on either side in the American Civil War. Others, with the perspective of history, have come to believe it may have been the best infantry brigade that ever was.”

    Requiescant in Pace.

  • “Not sure if you have posted this before, Donald”

    Horton has sung another song about the Irish Brigade, the title of which eludes me at the moment, which I also enjoy.

  • “Hey Donald, you seem well read on the subject of the Civil War- would you mind recommending any good books on the subject for a newcomer?”

    1. Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy.
    2. Bruce Catton’s This Hallowed Ground, his one volume history of the war.
    3. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, a four volume series of magazine articles written in the 1880’s, most of them by generals from the Civil War.
    4. Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume bio of Lee.
    5. That Devil Forrest, a bio of the wizard of the saddle written by one of his men who went on to be a surgeon in New York City.
    6. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, without a doubt the best memoir written by an American general.
    7. Shelby Foote’s novel Shiloh which gave me a much better understanding of the battle.
    8. Carl Sandburgh’s Lincoln The War Years. Sandburgh was a better poet than historian, and some of his research is shaky, but this is a classic that should be read by all students of the War.
    9. The Twentieth Maine, probably the best history ever written of a Civil War regiment.
    10. John Brown’s Body, the epic poem of the Civil War, written by Stephen Vincent Benet.

  • Cheers Donald, that’s brilliant.

  • oh my heart breaks for our earnest stalwart Irish people… Always in our prayers, Himself and I pray for our families “forward and back in time”. Surely God must hold His Irish in His heart. God bless these brave people now and forever.

  • Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War is without equal…especially if you are looking for a more balanced perspective from the southern side and for a more complete account of the war in the West.