Noted author and historian, Michael Aubrecht, contacted me recently to let me know about a DVD that he and Clint Ross co-produced. “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” is a wonderful 30 minute documentary about Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland of the 2d South Carolina Infantry.
On December 13, 1862, Kirkland would find himself manning the stone wall at Marye’s Heights. He and his company would inevitably have witnessed the Federal crossing of the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 11 and 12. Knowing there position was strong, behind the stone wall, it can be assumed that they most likely believed that the Federal assault would end up falling somewhere else along their well entrenched defenses.
The Battle of Fredericksburg will be forever remembered as foolhardy – and without any benefit for General Ambrose Burnside’s fortunes. After numerous assaults against Longstreet’s well entrenched forces the Federal soldiers, which had not been annihilated, were stuck in a virtual “no man’s” land – unable to move forward and unable to retreat. As the shadows grew ever longer, the temperature plummeted with the unseasonably warm weather turning frigid. This caused the wounded soldiers more grief as they were not only in severe pain, but suffering from dehydration and a palpable thirst.
Inevitably there is a thin line in war – a gray area between killing your foe and having one’s sense of humanity trump the desire to see them suffer. General Robert E. Lee best summed it up when he told Longstreet, during their defense of Marye’s Heights, “It is well that war is so terrible – lest we should grow too fond of it.” Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland would demonstrate his humanity the day after the terrible assaults against his position. Having listened to the cries of the Federal soldiers throughout the night, he went to his brigade commander, Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw, that morning to obtain permission to provide aid to their wounded adversaries. Kershaw would not allow a flag of truce for young Kirkland to enter the “no-man’s” land. However, he allowed Kirkland to move between the lines at his own risk. Filling canteens, Kirkland entered the contested ground to offer aid. He would be fired on – but not hit. Before long both sides recognized his noble intentions and the firing ended. Cheering replaced the sound of musketry as Kirkland moved from one injured soldier to the next – gently lifting their head and providing some water – easing their pain. While the men would return to their suffering, many inevitably dying, Kirkland, like an “angel,” provided them a few moment of peaceful respite.
The story of Richard Rowland Kirkland is shrouded in mystery, and will never be fully known. For this exact reason it is still remains in our hearts as one of the most fascinating stories of humanity that occurred during the brutal fighting of the Civil War. Aubrecht and Ross’ documentary is overdue. Not only does it paint the story of Kirkland in vivid brush strokes, it puts the story into historical context with the help of several gifted historians: Donald Pfanz, Joseph A. Matheson, Jr. and John Cummings. Additionally, the producers have seamlessly integrated advanced technology to create stunning terrain maps that take the viewer back to Fredericksburg as it was in 1862. I have been to Fredericksburg many times over the years, and have studied the battle so I could understand what it must have been like for the Federal troops to charge across the open ground between Fredericksburg proper and Marye’s Heights. Even with the time I have invested to understand the battle, I have a new found appreciation for the soldiers that charged towards the sunken road. This is largely due to this documentary. I encourage all of my readers to purchase “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” It is a great value and has the potential to “hook” many future historians on the Civil War.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Michael Aubrecht about the “Angel Movie.” It was a very interesting conversation and provides a lot of “behind the scenes” information that I am sure you will find fascinating. Additionally, I have included the trailer so you can get a feel for the movie.
The Angel of Marye’s Heights Trailer:
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Mike’s Interview with Michael Aubrecht:
For more information on “The Angel of Marye’s Heights,” go to the official website by clicking HERE. The DVD will officially be released during the first week of January and will be available at the official website and at battlefield gift shops in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania.