Glenn Beck Tells the Story of Richard Kirkland

On this cold evening (at least here in Boston) I invite you to snuggle up to the soothing voice of Glenn Beck as he shares the story of Richard Kirkland and his act of kindness during the battle of Fredericksburg.

[Uploaded to YouTube on November 28, 2013]

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

22 comments… add one
  • Dinah H. Kirkland Jan 8, 2015 @ 20:57

    Kevin: First of all, I would never disrespect your ancestor, if you had someone in your family who had done something extraordinary, even if it could not be proven. There are many stories from times of war that cannot be proven. We must agree to disagree. I need no justifications. Would it have helped if he was a Yank?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2015 @ 2:00

      I don’t see how questioning whether an even took place constitutes “disrespect” to one’s ancestor. That’s one of the things historians do. No, it wouldn’t help if he was a Yank – whatever that means. We will have to agree to disagree.

  • Dinah H. Kirkland Jan 7, 2015 @ 15:35

    Thank you for posting this. Richard Rowland Kirkland was born in Flat Rock, South Carolina, August 1843 20 min. drive from my house. He is buried in the Old Quaker Cemetery here in Camden, South Carolina. Those who are related to him know these events are true and that he indeed lived and don’t concern themselves about proving it. He is a family member and we spend our time honoring him and all our men in gray.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 7, 2015 @ 15:37

      Thanks for the comment.

      Those who are related to him know these events are true and that he indeed lived and don’t concern themselves about proving it.

      That’s fine as long as you don’t expect others to see this as a justification to believe the claims made by descendants of Kirkland.

  • Brad Dec 1, 2013 @ 14:00

    Even if we conclude that the Kirkland story did not take place, there were undoubtedly stories of compassion during the War and if that is the case, is it necessary to have the division we’ve seen on this issue, unless someone’s ox is being gored.

  • Dave K Dec 1, 2013 @ 6:48

    Glenn Beck’s telling of the Kirkland story seems to be a classic case of taking a suspect original story and cloying up that suspect story so much that it becomes nauseating. Beck comes across to me at most as a poor fiction writer wannabe, but it’s undeniable that he’s been financially successful at the effort. (I agree with Sam Vanderburg’s earlier comment that mythical stories, such as what the original story of Kirkland’s acts of mercy seems to be, often serve a positive purpose, but Beck’s rendition does not advance that purpose.)

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 6:53

      I don’t know whether the Kirkland story is true or not. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much to me one way or the other. That said, I find our attachment to the story to be quite fascinating.

      • Dave K Dec 1, 2013 @ 7:35

        Attachment to the story is fine. People like a good story, true or not, or somewhere in-between. The posted video invites reactions to the storytelling (and maybe, in turn, to the storyteller).

  • Brad Dec 1, 2013 @ 5:48

    I listened to the story as he tells it in his unctuous tone but because of who he is I discount anything he says.

    However, I had not been a follower of Civil War Memory in 2009 so I found the post fascinating. It gives credence to the old saw that how we remember an event may be as important as the event itself.

  • Sam Vanderburg Nov 30, 2013 @ 21:20

    I suppose I do not get the gist of refusing to click on a link to a good story. It would make me think that people’s personal bias would interfere with judgment. That the story is true or false will perhaps never be known. Obviously, the young private did exist. Glenn Beck can orate a story about as good as any. One may or may not agree with him, but that is not a reason to enjoy a good story. I will indeed have to add this one to my small repertoire.

    from the windy state of Texas,
    Sam Vanderburg

    • Matt McKeon Dec 1, 2013 @ 7:47

      I refuse to click in anything with Glenn Beck, because in my closely reasoned, evidence based judgement, he’s a snake oil saleman. I’m afraid if my brain is violated by the sound of Glenn Beck’s historics, I may get stupider. He’s had that effect on people.

      Guys acting compassionately across the lines in the Civil War, I’ve totally believe that to be possible, and that evidence of it exists.

  • Christine M. Smith Nov 30, 2013 @ 19:47

    So many mistakes, so little time, it’s beyond comprehension.

  • Bob Huddleston Nov 30, 2013 @ 18:17

    Sgt. Richard Kirkland was a very real person, a member of Co. E, Second South Carolina Infantry.

    Freeman used the account by Kershaw which originally appeared in the _Charleston News and Courier_, January 2d, 1880, and was reprinted in the SHSP, VIII: 4, pp. 186ff. Freeman’s other account is an article in _Confederate Veteran_ but Freeman does not give the author or the title.

    Against Kershaw’s memories of fifteen years later must be set the following:

    1. There is no mention of the alleged deed in any of the after action reports of Kershaw’s Brigade, from the report of the colonel of the Second South Carolina right on up the chain of command, including Kershaw himself.

    2. No one has ever found a letter written after the battle by a Confederate, of the Second South Carolina or any other outfit, recounting the story.

    3. No South Carolina newspaper of 1862-63 has been found which tells the story.

    4. An October 16, 1863 South Carolina newspaper obituary on Richard Kirkland, found on line at does not mention any activities by Kirkland at Fredericksburg – or anywhere else.

    5. Dickert’s _History of Kershaw’s Brigade …_ (1899) does not mention the alleged incident (see especially chapters XIV and XV). Dickert was a member of the Third South Carolina and his history is well written and considered one of the better “regimentals” of the Civil War, North or South, by historians ranging from Freeman to Allan Nevins and David Eicher. Indeed, Dickert, who wrote after Kershaw, does include a similar story about a Georgian going over the wall to help wounded Yankees on December 13. Why would Dickert include something about a Georgian and not mention a South Carolinian?

    6. E. H. Sutton of the Twenty-fourth Georgia, writing in 1910, recalled “Once when the firing had pretty well ceased, we saw, as we thought, a woman come out on the field and among the dead and wounded and pass rapidly from one poor fellow to another, stopping a little with each one and bending down over them. Of course we did not fire … although we believed from the movement and appearance that it was a soldier who had come out in disguise to give water.” Obviously Sutton thought it was a Yankee soldier. And the image of Kirkland in drag would not look as well on a statue! :>)

    7. Fredericksburg National Military Park historian Noel G. Harrison, in his _Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, December 1862-April 1865_ (1995), vol. 2, recounts Kershaw’s SHSP story, without mentioning any account in CV. He attributes Sutton’s story to either Martha Stephens, whose house was nearby or thinks it might be Kirkland. As I mentioned above, it seems to me that Sutton was talking about someone who came from the Federal lines.

    8. Kirkland’s CMSR has no mention of any particular heroism by him at Fredericksburg or any where else for that matter. He appears to have been a good, dependable, solid soldier, no more, no less (He was killed in action at Chickamauga).

    9. The various Confederate “Rolls of Honor” do not give Kirkland any credit for anything he did in any of the battles of the War. This is of particular importance since Kershaw would have approved the Roll of Honor and surely would have included Kirkland’s name, if the sergeant had done any thing.

    10. There is no Union report of Kirkland: no reminiscence of one of those allegedly succored by him, no mention by anyone who witnessed his bravery, no Federal newspaper of the time, and no letters have ever turned up talking about an unknown Confederate soldier helping the Yankee wounded. Contrast that with the account by Thomas Galwey of the Eighth Ohio of a Confederate sniper near the Bliss Farm who took his life into his hands to help Yankee wounded. Snipers were generally shot on sight but the Eighth held its fire for the man.

    The Angel of Marye’s Heights must join other Civil War legends as simply that, a legend and not a true story.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 3:03

      You may already be familiar with this guest post:

      • Bob Huddleston Dec 1, 2013 @ 14:32

        Thanks for the link. I guess it was before I discovered your delightful blog. I enjoyed the comments as well! I am also glad that Shaffner came to the same conclusion I did. There are so many accurate stories during the Civil War that myths should not be repeated – and especially commemorated with large statues.
        “The first law for the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.” Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore, II.XV,62

    • Dudley Bokoski Dec 1, 2013 @ 6:30

      Why must this be “a legend and not a true story”? I can’t quarrel with anyone who chooses not to believe it, but it would be just as difficult to definitively say the story was false as to prove it was true.

      I don’t agree that because the account doesn’t show up in after action reports it can’t be true. O.R. reports are mostly accounts of where units moved and when and what they did there (during and not after the battle), with acknowledgements of a very few individual actions during combat. An incident after the battle would probably not have been mentioned, especially since some parts of the chain of command probably wouldn’t have been that impressed with soldiers hazarding themselves to provide aid to their enemies.

      A bigger question is why Kershaw would go to the trouble of making up a story which is so specific to one individual and could be known to be false, if it were, because so many of the members of the regiment were around to dispute the story. From the little I know of Kershaw it would seem out of character.

      There is no logical reason that more than one person (man/woman/Union/Confederate) could not have been seen doing what Kirkland did. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case. Maybe I have a better opinion of human nature than some, but there are too many accounts during the war of such acts of kindness for me to spend much time doubting any one of them.

      Kirkland’s story isn’t a Confederate story. It’s a human story of compassion. Why people have so much problem accepting it is a mystery.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 6:43

        Kirkland’s story isn’t a Confederate story. It’s a human story of compassion. Why people have so much problem accepting it is a mystery.

        We have many stories of compassion from the Civil War.

        • Dudley Bokoski Dec 1, 2013 @ 7:04

          I guess it is too much to hope, but maybe even if people quarrel with aspects of the Kirkland story it is a good opportunity to teach people about the humanity of the common soldier during the war. As you point out, this is far from the only such incident during a war.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 7:05

            Sure, but too much effort in that regard obscures other aspects of the conduct of the common soldier throughout the war.

            • Dudley Bokoski Dec 1, 2013 @ 10:35

              The problem comes in when we generalize one example into a blanket reality. A good example would be the photo of the old Union and Confederate veterans at Gettysburg. If all you were exposed to about post war attitudes was that one picture you wouldn’t have a good grasp on history. And if you painted with too broad a brush and focused on Kirkland without acknowledging the many times the two sides brutalized each other, sometimes outside the bounds of the rules of war, you’d be painting less than a full picture. I guess I’m just arguing that the Kirkland story is probably true and worth telling, and doing so doesn’t undermine our understanding of the war even if the story occasionally falls into the hands of someone like Glenn Beck. When it comes to speech in general and historical discussion in particular I think more is better even if some of it misses the mark.

  • Matt McKeon Nov 30, 2013 @ 17:04

    there isn’t enough vodka in the world to make me click on that clip.

    That said,
    In Guelzo’s “The Last Invasion” he does recount several instances of soldiers offering help to wounded enemy soldiers

  • Jobu Nov 30, 2013 @ 14:58

    Listening to Glenn Beck spin the (apocryphal) tale of Richard Kirkland reminds me of Mary McCarthy’s evaluation of Lillian Hellman: “Everything that woman writes is a lie, including “and” and “the”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.