This morning I was interviewed by Mike Zitz of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star concerning the Saturday premiere of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” – a movie about Richard Kirkland. I made it clear that I could not comment on the movie beyond the few videos previews and other assorted postings that I’ve read on the movie website. We talked for about 30 minutes and I confined most of my thoughts to what this story tells us about how Americans have chosen to remember the Civil War. As far as I am concerned there isn’t much to talk about regarding the factual basis of the story since there are no wartime accounts. If I remember correctly, the earliest account is dated around 1880. I am going to hold off commenting further until the article is published on Thursday.
For now, consider this little video, which touches on some of the same themes in the Kirkland story. In 1913 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain received a letter from a veteran of the 15th Alabama concerning the fighting at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.
Here we have another story where in the heat of battle the compassion of a Confederate soldiers saved the life of his enemy. Of course, there is no way to confirm this story. In the end, however, the truth of the matter isn’t as interesting as what this tells us about how Americans chose to remember the war in 1913 – the same year as the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. Let’s not ask how the soldier in question knew that the man he was writing to in 1913 was the same individual that he remembered in 1863. I’m not even sure we can confirm that the author of the letter was, in fact, a veteran of the 15th Alabama. Like I said, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone decided to write to Chamberlain 50 years after the battle and acknowledge an act of compassion. What matters in reference to the Kirkland story is that someone decided to write a letter that highlighted the compassion of another soldier in the heat of battle.