Does It Matter Whether the Richard Kirkland Story is True?

Angel of Marye’s Heights by Mort Kunstler

Note: For additional commentary, check out Tim Abbott’s post on Kirkland at Walking the Berkshires.

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

11 comments… add one
  • Andrea Dec 24, 2009 @ 18:41

    On the one hand, probably not. It's a warm-fuzzy-feelgood and Mort by-God Kunstler painted it and that's good enough for me! It says something about how we *want* humanity to be even in the midst of war and suffering.

    On the other hand, well, yes. We need to know if it is, in fact just one more myth of the Lost Cause: Noble Confederate Selflessly Aids Damn Yankees. And also, apparently, Kunstler's Kirkland found time to bathe before aiding them. I can't believe I clicked over to a bigger version of it to confirm that.

  • Tim Abbott Dec 24, 2009 @ 14:12

    Interesting that the previous comment was along these same lines. I sense a meme…

  • Tim Abbott Dec 24, 2009 @ 14:11

    This makes me wonder whether there been a scholarly treatment of the various accounts of Masons giving aid and comfort to enemy members of their fraternity stricken on the field? Armistead, etc.? That is another pervasive theme in the brother vs. brother story line. Maybe I will take a blog level stab at it…

    • Kevin Levin Dec 24, 2009 @ 14:14

      That would indeed make for an interesting post. I just don't know much of anything about this to comment on it. Enjoy the holidays, Tim.

    • Ken Noe Dec 24, 2009 @ 15:04

      Michael Halleran's book on this topic is due out in the spring. The blurb in the Alabama catalog specifically mentions Armistead. (hat tip to Drew Wagenhoffer):

      • Kevin Levin Dec 24, 2009 @ 15:11

        Thanks for the reference, Ken. I shared a taxi at the Southern with a Rep. from UA Press. I need to see about getting a review copy of this.

        Happy Holidays to you and Nancy.

        • Ken Noe Dec 24, 2009 @ 16:06

          Same to you and Michaela.

          By the way, to answer your original question, I'm hardly an expert, and reliance on an 1880 account will always worry me, but the Schaffner and Wycoff posts dialectically have established to my satisfaction anyway that the core of the story probably is true. Somebody went over the wall once [“the Georgian”], it probably was indeed Kirkland [because 24th GA vets or other Carolinians would have claimed the honor otherwise, as vets were wont to do by the 1880s], and then in the decades that followed Kershaw typically added details he thought he remembered as he moved himself to the center of the story. The long truce portion of the tale isn't so problematic to me–adrenalin notoriously warps one's sense of the passage of time, and measurements of time are notoriously the least reliable portion of battle accounts. Like Mac Wycoff, I wouldn't expect to find anything in the OR either–in 1862, especially after the sack of Fredericksburg, rescuing Yankees was hardly praiseworthy.

          To me, the more interesting story from Marye's Heights anyway has always been the notion that Tom Cobb's own men fragged him, the father of the Confederate constitution.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 24, 2009 @ 16:19

            Thanks for the comment, Ken. It's also clear to me that somebody went over that wall, but I am not ready to say that it was Kirkland. I am hoping that Mac follows up his initial comment. It would be interesting to know whether Kershaw's is the earliest account. What concerns me is that most of the post-1880 accounts seem to follow Kershaw's analysis much too closely to count as independent corroboration.

            Anyway, I am much more interested in why we find this story so compelling. I may try to write up a short article on all of this at some point.

    • Dan Weinfeld Dec 24, 2009 @ 19:01

      I can cite one of example of this battlefield Masonic “consideration” happening, and at Fredericksburg, no less. I've extensively researched the short life of Charles M. Hamilton, a Florida “carpetbagger” Congressman during Reconstruction, for an article that appeared in the Florida Historical Quarterly a few years ago. Hamilton, a soldier in Co. A of the 5th PA Reserves, was shot in the leg at Fredericksburg when charging the Confederate lines. According to an 1868 campaign biographical sketch in a Florida newspaper, “The moment after he fell he was about to be bayoneted, but discovering a Masonic badge upon one of the enemy, he gave the “sign” and was saved.” [Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, March 10, 1868] Hamilton was then taken prisoner and sent to Libby Prison. Hamilton was a very forthright and honest individual, almost guileless. I can't imagine the motivation for him, or the author of the article, inventing the Masonic incident 5+ years later.

  • chrismeekins Dec 24, 2009 @ 13:36

    How does this stack up against Armistead's Freemason exchange? Is the latter better documented? Just wondering….

    • Kevin Levin Dec 24, 2009 @ 13:43

      Can't say since I don't know much about Armistead's Freemason Exchange. I'm beginning to think that this has much in common with Bill Marvel's analysis of the famous salute that supposedly took place at Appomattox. Enjoy the holidays.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *