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  1. #1
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    The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    Now that the Christmas season is upon us, I thought I'd share the following article about "The Angel of Maryes Heights." It previously appeared in the March-April 2008 edition of "Columbia's Torch," for which publication I thank Kevin O'Beirne and Ley Watson.

    I became interested in Sergeant Kirkland's story in connection with the 145th anniversary of Fredericksburg. The attached details what I found when I attempted to verify the story in contemporary accounts.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Michael A. Schaffner

  2. #2
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    In keeping with the Kirkland theme some of you may find this to be interesting too:

    http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2...2142009/514261
    Sincerely,
    Emmanuel Dabney
    Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
    http://www.agsas.org

    "God hasten the day when war shall cease, when slavery shall be blotted from the face of the earth, and when, instead of destruction and desolation, peace, prosperity, liberty, and virtue shall rule the earth!"--John C. Brock, Commissary Sergeant, 43d United States Colored Troops

  3. #3
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    Thanks very much for that link, Emmanuel. I haven't been to the memorial march at Fredericksburg in a couple of years -- it's difficult for me now to look at the Kirkland statue without thinking of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I'm glad that a professional historian has a roughly similar view. It certainly underscores the point that all war memorials are expressions of the time in which they're erected, and the point of view of the people putting them up. In many cases these have very little to do with the soldiers or battles memorialized, and the Kirkland statue is a good example.
    Michael A. Schaffner

  4. #4
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    This updates my examination of the Kirkland legend with information from discussions that have since taken place online.

    Shortly after I posted my Columbia's Torch article here, I agreed to its posting on the blog “Civil War Memory.” This in turn sparked a bit of a debate, with readers weighing in pro and con. It also attracted an attempt at rebuttal from Mac Wycoff, who for some 25 years served as the NPS historian at Fredericksburg and the principal keeper of the Kirkland flame. Some months later, in August of last year, Mr. Wycoff published a more extended presentation on a site run by John Hennessey, the current NPS historian at Fredericksburg. This in turn resulted in further discussion.

    For those interested in the details, I’ve attached the initial blogging below as “First Post and Responses,” and the second as “Wycoff on Kirkland.”

    Both attempts at rebuttal suffer from a paucity of first hand accounts. Mr. Wycoff acknowledged as much in his first post, stating, “While there is no contemporary evidence that Kirkland performed this act, there is not evidence that he did not." I differ on the second part of that, but tend to agree with Mr. Hennessey’s statement in the second discussion that “…it all comes down to Kershaw.” Indeed, Kershaw remains our only real source for the legend memorialized by the statue.

    Readers of the attached documents can judge for themselves how the legend fared. To me the most interesting information came from Mr. Wycoff’s posting of the original letter in the Kirkland legend – the letter that General Kershaw responded to with his own account. This too I’ve attached, as it has an interest in its own right.

    In this earlier version published by the Charleston News and Courier (there’s actually some discrepancy in dates – the “earlier” version has a date of January 23, 1880, while Kershaw’s response reads “January 2d”) the sergeant receives a serious wound before the Yankees cease fire, whereupon several other rebel soldiers take up canteens, resulting in a small flock of “angels” on Marye’s Heights. The subject of this version later dies in the Wilderness attempting to repeat his kindness. Unfortunately the real Kirkland fell at Chickamauga a half a year before the overland campaign, but the author does not claim to have witnessed either incident himself, only to have heard the story from an unnamed informant.

    Who wrote this earlier version? It carries the byline “C. McK.” Thanks to Robert Mosher we know that this was almost certainly Carlyle McKinley, Confederate veteran, poet, author, and correspondent for the News and Courier. McKinley would go on to write the book An Appeal to Pharoah (1889), which proposes a “radical solution” to the “Negro problem” via the mass deportation of black Americans to Africa.

    The News and Courier itself published, in addition to journalism, such works as the human-interest collection Our Women in the War (1885). This documents the heroism and strength of southern womanhood in language fully as colorful as that in either of the versions of the Kirkland story it published. But in the early 1880s an audience existed for such: reconstruction had ended in 1877 and Kershaw belonged to a group of politically strong conservatives known as “Bourbons” who, under the leadership of Wade Hampton, focused on “ousting the carpetbaggers and undoing as much of Reconstruction as they could” while intending “to re-create as much as possible the world of antebellum South Carolina, a world in which they and their kind held sway” (Walter B. Edgar, South Carolina: a History, p. 407).

    This led me to take another look at “Kershaw’s” letter. I put the General’s name in quotes because I now question whether he wrote the account. After all, he only signed his name to the introduction; the rest of the letter tells the story in the third person – it has no “I,” only “the General,” and the language bears far less resemblance to that of Kershaw’s original after action report or subsequent article in “Battles and Leaders” (neither of which mentions Kirkland) than it does to the more florid prose of a Carlyle McKinley.

    Apart from the question of authorship, certain conclusions do seem possible based on the information presented so far. The account of Sergeant Kirkland’s heroics, originally published in the News and Courier in 1880, makes no earlier appearance in history. It contradicts the official reports and other contemporary accounts of the battle of Fredericksburg. It first appears under the byline of a partisan of the “lost cause” in a newspaper promoting the same. Further, Kershaw, the alleged author, does not appear to have ever attempted to inject the tale into an official history of the war.

    The story did, nonetheless, serve a cause of more immediate interest to Kershaw and like-minded “Bourbons” at the time of publication. It limns the portrait of a noble representative of southern manhood who, in the aftermath of the Confederacy’s defeat, devastation, and “reconstruction,” rises from the ashes to bequeath “to the American youth — yea, to the world — an example which dignifies our common humanity.”

    The legend of Sergeant Kirkland remains as good a story as ever. But in the end it tells us considerably less about the actual battle of Fredericksburg than the cultural and political milieu in which it first appeared.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Michael A. Schaffner

  5. #5
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    Apr 2004
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    Michael, Do you have the attached files in Adobe? For some reason or another it won't open with Word. Thanks. ~Gary

  6. #6
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    I don't, but I'll enlist my wife's assistance. She's the expert on 21st century technology; I'm the 19th century office geek. Give me a day or two and I'll get it for you. Thanks for your patience.
    Michael A. Schaffner

  7. #7
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    Quote Originally Posted by Pvt Schnapps View Post
    This updates my examination of the Kirkland legend with information from discussions that have since taken place online.

    Shortly after I posted my Columbia's Torch article here, I agreed to its posting on the blog “Civil War Memory.” This in turn sparked a bit of a debate, with readers weighing in pro and con. It also attracted an attempt at rebuttal from Mac Wycoff, who for some 25 years served as the NPS historian at Fredericksburg and the principal keeper of the Kirkland flame. Some months later, in August of last year, Mr. Wycoff published a more extended presentation on a site run by John Hennessey, the current NPS historian at Fredericksburg. This in turn resulted in further discussion.

    For those interested in the details, I’ve attached the initial blogging below as “First Post and Responses,” and the second as “Wycoff on Kirkland.”

    Both attempts at rebuttal suffer from a paucity of first hand accounts. Mr. Wycoff acknowledged as much in his first post, stating, “While there is no contemporary evidence that Kirkland performed this act, there is not evidence that he did not." I differ on the second part of that, but tend to agree with Mr. Hennessey’s statement in the second discussion that “…it all comes down to Kershaw.” Indeed, Kershaw remains our only real source for the legend memorialized by the statue.

    Readers of the attached documents can judge for themselves how the legend fared. To me the most interesting information came from Mr. Wycoff’s posting of the original letter in the Kirkland legend – the letter that General Kershaw responded to with his own account. This too I’ve attached, as it has an interest in its own right.

    In this earlier version published by the Charleston News and Courier (there’s actually some discrepancy in dates – the “earlier” version has a date of January 23, 1880, while Kershaw’s response reads “January 2d”) the sergeant receives a serious wound before the Yankees cease fire, whereupon several other rebel soldiers take up canteens, resulting in a small flock of “angels” on Marye’s Heights. The subject of this version later dies in the Wilderness attempting to repeat his kindness. Unfortunately the real Kirkland fell at Chickamauga a half a year before the overland campaign, but the author does not claim to have witnessed either incident himself, only to have heard the story from an unnamed informant.

    Who wrote this earlier version? It carries the byline “C. McK.” Thanks to Robert Mosher we know that this was almost certainly Carlyle McKinley, Confederate veteran, poet, author, and correspondent for the News and Courier. McKinley would go on to write the book An Appeal to Pharoah (1889), which proposes a “radical solution” to the “Negro problem” via the mass deportation of black Americans to Africa.

    The News and Courier itself published, in addition to journalism, such works as the human-interest collection Our Women in the War (1885). This documents the heroism and strength of southern womanhood in language fully as colorful as that in either of the versions of the Kirkland story it published. But in the early 1880s an audience existed for such: reconstruction had ended in 1877 and Kershaw belonged to a group of politically strong conservatives known as “Bourbons” who, under the leadership of Wade Hampton, focused on “ousting the carpetbaggers and undoing as much of Reconstruction as they could” while intending “to re-create as much as possible the world of antebellum South Carolina, a world in which they and their kind held sway” (Walter B. Edgar, South Carolina: a History, p. 407).

    This led me to take another look at “Kershaw’s” letter. I put the General’s name in quotes because I now question whether he wrote the account. After all, he only signed his name to the introduction; the rest of the letter tells the story in the third person – it has no “I,” only “the General,” and the language bears far less resemblance to that of Kershaw’s original after action report or subsequent article in “Battles and Leaders” (neither of which mentions Kirkland) than it does to the more florid prose of a Carlyle McKinley.

    Apart from the question of authorship, certain conclusions do seem possible based on the information presented so far. The account of Sergeant Kirkland’s heroics, originally published in the News and Courier in 1880, makes no earlier appearance in history. It contradicts the official reports and other contemporary accounts of the battle of Fredericksburg. It first appears under the byline of a partisan of the “lost cause” in a newspaper promoting the same. Further, Kershaw, the alleged author, does not appear to have ever attempted to inject the tale into an official history of the war.

    The story did, nonetheless, serve a cause of more immediate interest to Kershaw and like-minded “Bourbons” at the time of publication. It limns the portrait of a noble representative of southern manhood who, in the aftermath of the Confederacy’s defeat, devastation, and “reconstruction,” rises from the ashes to bequeath “to the American youth — yea, to the world — an example which dignifies our common humanity.”

    The legend of Sergeant Kirkland remains as good a story as ever. But in the end it tells us considerably less about the actual battle of Fredericksburg than the cultural and political milieu in which it first appeared.
    As requested I've added pdf versions of the Word attachments.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Michael A. Schaffner

  8. #8
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    Re: The Legend of Sergeant Kirkland

    By way of a now-annual update, I’ve done some rewriting on the Kirkland paper. I’ve dropped the appendices (which contained only material easily available elsewhere) and added a couple of short new sections. One deals with the arguments still propounded in favor of the story. The second addresses the context of the initial appearance in 1880, the story’s later importance, and possible reasons for the myth’s continuing emotional appeal. Here’s hoping you enjoy, and happy New Year!
    Michael A. Schaffner

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