Richard Rowland Kirkland is a name that should be cherished by every American. On December 13, 1862 he was a sergeant in Company G, 2nd South Carolina. The day was ending and his regiment was stationed at the stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights overlooking Fredericksburg. His unit had helped smash Union attack after Union attack, and now he looked over fields strewn with wounded and dead Union soldiers. He could hear the wounded Union soldiers crying out desperately for water.
Unable to bear the cries any longer, he approached Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw and informed him of what he wanted to do. Kershaw gave him his permission, but told him he was unable to authorize a flag of truce. Kirkland said that was fine and he would simply have to take his chances. Gathering up all the canteens and blankets he could carry, Kirkland slipped over the wall, realizing that without a flag of truce it was quite possible he would be fired upon by Union troops.
Kirkland began to give drinks to Union wounded and blankets to protect them from the cold. Union troops, recognizing what he was doing, did not fire at him. For hours Kirkland went back and forth tending to the enemy wounded. He did not stop until he had assisted all Union wounded in the Confederate portion of the battlefield. The last Union soldier he assisted he gave his own overcoat. He was repeatedly cheered by both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Sergeant Kirkland did not survive the war. He died at the battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, just barely 20. His last words were, “Tell my Pa I died right.” May we all live and die as right as Richard Rowland Kirkland.