FAITH UNDER FIRE: Discipleship during the Civil War (Continued)
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The last guy I'm going to speak about this morning is a bit of a local hero. I would be remiss if I didn't do something on Fredericksburg. We do live in the 'Crossroads of the Civil War' here and we are a 10 minute drive from one of the most inspirational events ever to take place during the war. I am of course speaking about Sgt. Richard Rowland Kirkland who is also known as the "Angel of Marye's Heights." Now to fully appreciate this man's story, you first have to understand the desperateness and savagery that took place in downtown Fredericksburg.

After crossing the Rappahannock River and taking possession of the small town of Fredericksburg in December of 1862, the Federal Army of the Potomac set its sights on taking the surrounding high ground where the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had withdrawn. General Robert E. Lee, being the tactical genius that he was, anticipated this and intentionally backed up through the city and fortified his army behind cover and on high ground. It was simple battlefield science, but it was absolutely brilliant at the time. Topography wins battles. Gettysburg was won by the North because of the high ground and Fredericksburg was exactly the same. The philosophy: "Dig in and let those fools come to you."

The most impenetrable of these positions was a long stone wall at the base of a sloping hill known as "Marye's Heights." After several unsuccessful charges, the fighting ceased for the day, leaving the field littered with thousands of bloody Union bodies. Father Corby's boys of the Irish Brigade were among them.

Simply put, the Rebel army slaughtered the Yankees. One of the artillery officers stated that a "chicken couldn't live on that field," and I believe it was Lee's 'Old War Horse,' General Longstreet who said "give me plenty of ammo and I'll kill them all."

Wave - after wave - after wave of bluecoats marched across an open field to their deaths. It was senseless, and stupid, and an absolute trainwreck for Union General Ambrose Burnsides. It ultimately cost him his job. The guy had been successful down along the North Carolina Coast, but as soon as he was handed the keys to the whole Union army it was a disaster waiting to happen. Fredericksburg became that disaster. To this very day, it has tarnished the legacy of Burnsides much like 'Pickett's Charge' has altered our memory of poor George Pickett.

Now imagine the stones that it took to make that charge. You're talking about men with a sense of duty that we can't even fathom. They knew it was suicide, and they still did it. If you stop for a minute and think about it, that's what every battle in this war came down to: two groups of guys, lining up in a field and tearing each other to pieces. Last one standing won the day. Imagine four years of that. Four years of killing everyone in front of you. That's the Civil War folks.

Throughout the night, screams and cries of the wounded penetrated the peaceful silence of the cease-fire. One soldier, Richard Rowland Kirkland, an infantry sergeant with the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, struggled to rest amidst the horrid sounds of suffering that echoed across the battlefield.

One Confederate soldier stationed at the stonewall later wrote that, "Weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, the cries of the dying soldiers filling the air -lying crippled on a hillside so many miles from home-breaking the hearts of soldiers on both sides of the battlefield." Imagine hearing that for hours upon hours. By the next morning, he could take it no longer and requested permission to aid the enemy. Originally he was denied, but he kept pressing it again and again.

With total disregard for his life, Kirkland grabbed several canteens and leaped over the fortification. Going back and forth over the wall for an hour and a half, Kirkland only returned to the safety of his own lines after he had done all he could do. Union sharpshooters sited Kirkland, but realized what he was doing and lowered their guns. Periodically cheers went out from both sides.

Most of the guys that he tended to probably died. There was no medical aid in this no-man's land between the two armies. But what is so magnificent about this is the fact that is stopped the war. It suspended all actions and both sides stopped to allow Kirkland to conduct this mission of mercy. All of the politics and military conflict was suspended so that this scruffy rebel could give comfort to the dying.

One man stopped the war. One man.

This was before the Geneva Convention and a Rules of Engagement standard. It was simply a guy with compassion in his heart and a willingness to help his fellow man. No matter who that was. Now honestly, I'm not exactly sure of how religious Kirkland was. I haven't gone back and investigated it, but whatever his piety was, on that day he was certainly a Christian. These guys were trying to kill him and his comrades just a few hours before. I don't think that I would have jumped over that wall to help the enemy. And that's not very Christian is it?

Because that is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about. It's what separates true believers and true religions from the false ones. I mean how many Atheist or Muslim, or Scientologist organizations operate missions and orphanages in some of the worst and most violent and impoverished parts of the world while giving aid to those in need? Not many I assume. I'm not aware of any "Atheist Foundation" going down to rebuild homes in New Orleans after Katrina. Their doctrine is about serving themselves, while ours is about serving others.

You know the saying, "We are to become smaller and He is to become bigger."

Kirkland rose above everyone and everything on that day. He rose above the war effort, the politics that caused it, and the social differences that fueled it. He risked his life to serve others. He left the safety and security of that stone wall to walk among the dead and dying. That is real mercy and a sign of discipleship that everyone who witnessed took with them.

Unfortunately Kirkland did not survive the war. However in 1965, a monument was sculpted by the famous artist Felix DeWeldon and unveiled in front of the stone wall on the Fredericksburg Battlefield where Kirkland performed his humanitarian act.

The inscription on the statue reads: "At the risk of his life, this American soldier of sublime compassion brought water to his wounded foes at Fredericksburg. The fighting men on both sides of the line called him the Angel of Marye's Heights."

If you've never been down to the stone wall or the Kirkland monument I highly recommend it. Its located down at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor's Center.


Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (Psalm 23:6)

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

O' my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. (Daniel 9:18)

In closing, I want to read a wonderful and thought provoking prayer to you. It is believed to have been found on the body of a dead Confederate soldier, but I don't know of any other specifics that prove it. Regardless of the source, the wisdom in these words personifies what being a disciple means to me. It reads:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for - but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among men, most richly blessed. (Amen)

Thank you very much. That's all I have today.
Are there any questions?


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