Thursday, August 9, 2007

"The Angel of Marye's Heights"

Nineteen year old Richard Rowland Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment must have stared in disbelief to se the enemy advancing. The young sergeant knew how strong the Confederate position was. This December 13, 1862, Longstreet’s Corps was firmly entrenched on Marye’s Heights, overlooking Fredericksburg, Virginia. Holding the high ground on Lee’s left, the Southerners were sheltered in a sunken road, protected by a stone wall, supported by strong artillery. It seemed incredible that the Yankee invaders would dare attack. But Ambrose Burnside was doing just that, hurling five divisions against the impregnable line. Wave after blue wave went forward, to be cut down before even reaching the wall.

At the end of the day, thousands of dead and wounded Union soldiers lay sprawled across the ground. All through that bitterly cold night, Sergeant Kirkland was tormented by the pitiful cries of the wounded. Moved with compassion, at daylight he loaded himself with canteens and slipped over the wall. Would a sniper’s bullet claim him? Kirkland went to the nearest sufferer and gave him a drink. Another he covered with his own coat. A cheer went up from the Federal lines. For an hour and a half not a shot was fired as “the Angel of Marye’s Heights” carried water to his fallen foes.

Less than a year later, Kirkland himself died defending his country at the battle of Chickamauga.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you …” - Jesus, in Matthew 5:44

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