By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Kershaw had been promoted to a brigadier general in McLaw's Division of Longstreet's Corps. His regiments (including Kirkland's 2nd) fought in the woods and fields of the George Rose farm as well as the infamous Wheatfield. It is said that Kirkland performed with great courage and distinguished himself in battle. He was enthusiastically promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Many of Richard's companions were not as fortunate as he. Here we have a familiar image that was taken by photographer Timothy O'Sullivan on a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield on July 5-6, 1863. He captured dead South Carolinians from General Kershaw's Brigade, who were killed in fighting near this spot on July 2.

The Confederate casualties were photographed exactly where they were laid to rest on the George Rose Farm. The comrades of these men only had time to dig the graves and carve initials on simple wooden headboards before they were ordered to leave the scene. Richard evaded wounding. His luck however was about to run out.


Kirkland's final fight would come during the bloody battle at Chickamauga. Here he would fall, yet be remembered in the same heroic fashion as he was after Fredericksburg. One eyewitness, who has been contested, but not disproven was a gentleman by the name of W.D. Trantham, who is said to have entered the army at the age of 13 and served with Kirkland.

As he was apparently present at the Lieutenant's fatal wounding he presented a tribute to his fallen comrade. It is especially noteworthy as it specifically recalls the incident at Marye's Heights. It stated:

"The circumstances of his death were most heroic. He fought literally until the last gasp, and even in the very presence and moment of death showed that the sublime self-sacrifice and regard for others which he exhibited at Fredericksburg, was a settled principle of his nature. His command was hurled like a thunderbolt against the enemy who held a position that was nigh-impregnable. The line suffered a temporary check. Kirkland with two of his comrades, Ario Niles and James W. Arrants, were in the front of the line and reached an exposed knoll before they discovered that they were alone. They of course retired; but in doing so Kirkland, against the warning of his companions, persisted in turning and firing upon the advancing enemy. While thus engaged he was shot in the breast. Niles and Arrants ran to him and sought to bear him from the field. With blood spurting from wound and mouth he gasped: 'No, I am done for. You can do me no good. Save yourselves and tell my pa that I died right.' In a few minutes the line returned to the charge and drove the enemy from the field. Richard Kirkland's pure soul was with God."

Once again, we have a magnificent tale that is certainly rooted in fact, but written in a way that you can't help but be inspired when reading. Now Richard was only one of the tragic losses in this particular battle. I believe that half of the brigade was either wounded or killed there.

Kirkland's body was removed from the field, sent back to his family in Kershaw County, and he was buried in a secluded spot on the White Oak Plantation. His grave marker was simple and had the initials R.R.K. carved into it. Fortunately his moment of courage and compassion at Fredericksburg was recorded for posterity and recognized by a handful of officers and enlisted men.

Following his death, many recalled the impact that this South Carolinian farm boy had on their lives during one of the darkest periods in American history. One of Richard's friends wrote:

"I knew this brave boy; he was my friend and chum; we shared each other's blankets. He was a noble boy...He fought through all the Virginia battles in Longstreet's Corps, and was killed on the bloody field of Chickamauga...He did his duty and always answered the roll call. No nobler soul ever winged its flight from the field of battle...than that of Richard Kirkland...Sleep on, dear friend. Your old comrades will soon join you in your home of rest."

His Obituary that ran on October 16, 1863 also included a multitude of accolades such as:

"Many gallant heroes have fallen, but not a more generous or gallant spirit has been sacrificed on our country's alter since the beginning of the war, than that of the one for whom this is intended as a feeble tribute. He was one of those who, knowing his duty was willing to discharge it, be the consequences what they might. He shunned no hardships, he shrunk from no danger. His was a steady course, making the path of duty the road which he was won't to travel…" And "…Young and gallant soldier rest in peace; fate has decreed that you should not reap the reward of all your toils; but your name stands recorded upon the long list of victories already sacrificed upon the altar of your country's liberty."