A Child’s Richard Kirkland

Some of you are familiar with 10-year old Richard Warren’s earlier portrayal of Richard Kirkland that was filmed at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg last year.  He is slated to play a young Kirkland in the upcoming film that was mentioned in yesterday’s post.  There are no surprises in young Richard’s narration; than again we shouldn’t necessarily expect a certain level of sophistication at such a young age.  History is still very much concerned with stories that are highly moralistic. The problem is that our adult version of Kirkland’s actions at Fredericksburg fail to extend much beyond this account.

I do hope that Richard Warren continues to give voice to his passion for history and the Civil War.  He is quite good and quite the entertainer.

On a different, but related note, one of my readers mentioned the lack of wartime sources re: Kirkland’s actions.  As far as I know the earliest account was penned by General J.B. Kershaw and published in the South Carolina News and Courier in 1880 and later in the Southern Historical Society Papers.  I took a quick look at two recent studies of Fredericksburg by George Rable and Frank O’Reilly to see what they utilized in their brief references to Kirkland.  O’Reilly includes the following:

  • B.M. Ellison and B.F. Emanuel, The Humane Hero of Fredericksburg: The Story of Richard Kirkland, Lancaster: S.C.: Carolina Museum, 1962.
  • McBride, “Banner Battle of the War,” Atlanta Journal, May 4, 1901.
  • Fleming Reminiscences, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Park Collection [FSNMP].
  • Shand Reminiscences, University of South Carolina Collection.
  • Kershaw letter to the South Carolina News and Courier.
  • Mac Wyckoff, History of the Second South Carolina Infantry, Fredericksburg, Va.: Sgt. Kirkland’s Museum and Historical Society, 1994.
  • Unidentified Union Soldier, “Fredericksburg during the Civil War,” Schoff Collection.

and George Rable:

  • William D. Trantham, “Wonderful Story of Richard R. Kirkland,” Confederate Veteran 16 (March 1908): 105.
  • Kershaw letter to SC News and Courier.
  • Unidentified Author, “Fellow Feeling in the Army”.

Rable does make an attempt to give some context to Kirkland’s actions: “Such acts bespoke a common humanity that hatred and relentless fighting had not entirely suppressed.  They reaffirmed civilized values in the midst of a war that always threatened to destroy tender impulses.  All along Lee’s lines a Confederate soldier here and there would scramble onto the field to relieve the thirst of a wounded foe.” (p. 273)  Sources utilized:

  • Robert Franklin Fleming Jr., “Recollections,” 4 FSNMP.
  • Parramore et al., Before the Rebel Flag Fell: Five Viewpoints on the Civil War, Murfreesboro, N.C.: Johnson Publishing, 1965.
  • David Emmons Johnston, The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War, Portland, Ore.: Glass and Prudhomme, 1914.
  • Milo Grow to his wife, December 15, 1862, Grow Letters, FSNMP.

As if to bring us back down to the reality of this bloody fight, Rable notes that, “More common, however, was the Confederate behind the stone wall and along the heights who kept his opponents pinned down most of the day.” (p. 273)

I should point out that other than the Kershaw letter I have not read any of these sources.  Perhaps the few secondary sources cited include references to wartime accounts.  The more I think about it, however, the more I am convinced that something along what Rable suggests occurred.  There were a number of Confederates along the lines who brought water to Union soldiers in their immediate front.  Finally, and I am going out on a limb here, perhaps for veterans the war in 1862 proved to be more attractive when citing stories of compassion.  After all, the fighting in the Wilderness, and especially around Petersburg in 1864, left very little room for such actions of bravery and compassion.  Fredericksburg provides an ideal setting to emphasize Kirkland-style bravery.  It highlights the popular notion of Union generals recklessly throwing men into battle against an enemy who reflected the highest Christian virtues even after watching the enemy loot the town of Fredericksburg.

4 responses... add one

Here is a link to the forum posting with the article I mentioned:
http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showt

The author does indeed cite the 1880 Kershaw piece as the earliest version of the Kirkland legend. He also quotes a postbattle letter which mentions a Confederate soldier helping the wounded, but it's a Georgia soldier and he isn't named. I think you're right in suspecting that it wasn't an isolated incident and may have happened all along the battleline, but it's curious that so few would have mentioned such an extraordianary event at the time.

Thanks for the link, though you have to be a member to be able to access the document. I have no reason to believe that at some point Kirkland didn't jump the wall to aid Union soldiers. My guess is that something along the lines of what Rable suggests is right.

It seems to me that the 1880 Kershaw letter is just as much about him as it is about Kirkland. I want to know more about what motivated Kershaw to write that letter.

Kevin,

You won't believe this, but I am great friends with Richard Warren's step-sister (the step-sister's husband has been my best friend since high school), and I know Richard's parents. Small world!

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