The Angel of Marye’s Heights | The SC State House

This oil, The Angel of Marye’s Heights, depicts the heroism of Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland. Born in rural Flat Rock Township in Kershaw County, South Carolina, in August 1843, Kirkland was the fifth son of John and Mary Vaughn Kirkland. He enlisted in the 2nd South Carolina division when the War Between the States began and, by the end of 1862, had seen action in the battles of 1st Manassas, Savage Station, Maryland Heights, and Antietam.

On December 13, 1862, Union forces waged a series of attacks on the Confederate army at Fredericksburg, Virginia. With Union casualties numbering over 12,000, the dead and the wounded covered the ground in front of a stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights, where the Confederate forces were entrenched. Throughout the night and the next day, the wounded and dying soldiers cried out for water. Requesting and eventually receiving permission from his commanding officer, Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw, to carry water to the wounded Union soldiers, Kirkland filled all the canteens he could carry at a nearby well, then climbed over the wall to give aid to the wounded enemy. For over an hour and a half, Kirkland carried water, blankets, and warm clothing to the wounded and dying Union soldiers. General Kershaw described Kirkland’s actions as an “errand of Christ-like mercy.” For his heroism and compassion, Kirkland was dubbed "The Angel of Marye’s Heights."

Kirkland went on to fight at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Then, on June 20, 1863, as he charged up Snodgrass Hill during the Battle of Chickamauga, Kirkland was mortally wounded. Dying at the age of 20 years, his final words were, “Tell my pa I died right.” On August 7, 1977, the Confederate medal of honor was awarded to Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland by Governor James Edwards.