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The Civil War Solider Who Risked His Life to Give Water To His Enemies

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 19, 2023 3:00 am

The Civil War Solider Who Risked His Life to Give Water To His Enemies

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 19, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, listener Richard Hood takes us to the Battle of Fredericksburg and tells a story about compassion in the midst of America's deadliest war.

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Send them to They're some of our favorites. Indeed, up next is a listener's story from Valencia, California. This is a history story that has fascinated listener Richard Hood for a long time and he wanted to share it with us.

Take it away, Richard. You've probably heard that the darker the place, the brighter any light appears. Well, I'd like to share with you a story about a very dark place and a very bright light.

In fact, an angel of light known as the Angel of Mary's Heights. It all happened back in the month of December 62. And I'm talking about 1862, during our country's bloodiest war, the Civil War, officially known as the War Between the States, but more poignantly as the Brothers War. One reason why it was called the Brothers War is because the war actually did pit some, in some cases, brother against brother. You can imagine, you know, if you have an older brother and he's gone off to Afghanistan to fight, that's one thing.

What if he was going off to Afghanistan to fight you? That kind of changes the whole familial situation. And in the Civil War, the Brothers War, that not only happened on occasion, a father was sometimes pitted against son.

So complicated. So let me tell you more about this angel, though, because at the Battle of Fredericksburg, there was an important vantage point, a cliff top called Mary's Heights. The Southern Confederate Army was wisely using it as a cannon emplacement. Below this cliff was a protective wall, keeping the Northern Army from gaining that cliff top.

Hunkered down behind this wall, protecting the stronghold, was one of many soldiers, in this case, a Confederate sergeant who had, during America's bloodiest battle to come, Antietam, would later lose his life. But he will survive this day and a good thing for you, because otherwise you won't survive either. So are you ready to do a little pretending? Ready to travel back to your fateful day in time?

Okay, well, here we go then. So you're up before Reveille today. You've only had a thin dirty old blanket to cover your deer in the night and can't really sleep that well anyway.

But the bugle does sound. You hear Reveille, and so you get up, splash some water on your face to relieve yourself of the dust that covers everything and adds to the dry mouth of battle that's to come. You look down at your socks, filthy socks, barely holding together, and you put on your boots that have holes in them. But you're grateful because you actually have boots. You start to smell the coffee that someone has started, and that's going to be one of your sole pleasures today. And you're grateful for that, too. Little comforts are pretty big when that's all you've got. You're in the Army now, as they say, and you're an infantryman in the Army of the Potomac, the Northern Army of the Union.

Abraham Lincoln is your president, and you're facing off against the Confederate States of America, the Southern States, whose president is Jefferson Davis. I want you to take a moment and notice the coarseness of your blue uniform. You also want to put on that rucksack again today, and as you do so, you try and adjust your shoulder straps to find an area of your shoulders that hasn't been rubbed raw yet.

This is going to be adjusted throughout the day. You're going to be trading minor pains for greater pains, and you're also going to notice that pack smells strongly of salt. And you come to realize that's from your own sweat, and within an hour, your pack's going to be soaked again, just as will the back of your uniform. The enemy sergeant behind that wall that you're approaching, he was promoted on the battlefield, having survived the Battle of Chancellorsville, the fabled Gettysburg, and then Chickamauga, too.

And his luck better not run out today because it's tied directly to yours. You're up against a real hero, the last thing you're feeling like being, and a hero not due to what he's already done and survived, but what he will do. From the other side of that wall, he's hunkered down behind. From behind that wall separating today, not just the quick from the dead, but the quick from those not very quietly or quickly dying. So, on that cheery note, let's load up and start marching in the direction of that enemy wall. It's not until around noon that the first wave of your assaults begin in front of that wall, and no wave reaches as far as that wall. They continue, though, one after another, and they're also mowed down one after the other.

The reports are not favorable. Your comrades get as close as 75 feet away from that blasted wall, and that's it. It's going to be your turn any minute, but before you go, you get the chance to look around and see all the carnage that has gone on before you, and you see how it's likely to go for you.

You see the killing field between you and that wall, and you see a bottleneck at a ditch that has only three possible crossable bridges, and no matter which one you choose, it appears to be nothing but a slaughter pen. And you've been listening to Richard Hood, and by the way, he is a listener, as we said before, from Valencia, California, and a heck of a storyteller, putting us in the spot, in the time, in the context, which is so important as a storyteller, and how we should always look at history. No one knew what was going to happen in that war when it started. No one knew what was going to happen when they charged the next wall or the next hill, except from what happened in plain sight from the other guys who had just charged. And it's so true, this civil war, this war between the states did pit brother against brother, father against son.

The Revolutionary War did the same thing in large measure too. When we come back, we're going to continue this remarkable story, the story of the Angel of St. Mary's Heights, St. Mary's Heights, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to to learn more. So stream what you love and get endless entertainment with Roku. Happy hashtag streaming day. Want to get away but still listen to your favorite radio stations and podcasts?

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Let's pick up where we last left off. You're exhausted from marching and fighting and you're fighting off exhaustion. Now you have to fight with absolutely no adrenaline left.

It's almost gone and your mind is shifting gears down to its most basic and primal functions while the world around you appears more and more like some kind of outdoor insane asylum. Above the wall, up on Mary's Heights, the opposing Confederate cannons begin to let loose. So when you hear the order to charge, you're going to not only face a continuous sheet of flame from frontal small arms fire directed at you, but dismembering and deadly artillery fire raining from above as well.

And later, one of the Confederate artillery men would remark that not even a chicken could live on that field. You're looking for some way to increase the odds of your survival and you can't think of a thing. And the insensible amount of death along with its apparent utter randomness sickens you. From what you can see, you should be one of this day's 12,600 casualties. And it doesn't look like you're going to be evacuated should you become wounded, which is likely, nor does it appear that you'll receive first aid.

But instead it does appear that you're going to lie there unattended, becoming just one more member of the choir of moans. You can ask veterans of any war and they'll tell you that of all the horrors of war, the psychologically worse may well be the tortured cries of their brothers in arms in insufferable agony when there's nothing they can do to come to their aid without exposing their position or putting others in danger or becoming just like them another screaming casualty. And whether it's medieval or modern weapons used to cause this carnage, you will always hear cries for one thing, for water. But this dehydration is caused from blood loss.

Now, as in any fight, your mouth is dry and at any moment it might become drier still from the loss of your blood. And then surprisingly to you, despite its overwhelming odds and predictability, that indeed happens. And with the realization of your fears having come upon you, pain and its companions of shock and immobility join forces against you. You're now one casualty among the day's 8,000 casualties. So you're asking yourself, what was so important about that wall?

Why couldn't your commander simply have gone around it? As you drift in and out of consciousness, whether half dreaming or awake, thoughts are distilled for you and reduced to one thing and one desire only for water. Finally, night comes on and though your groans and pleas are lost among the thousands of the others around you, you have never felt more alone. No one is coming.

No one will be coming in time. So weary from battle himself and desperate for rest, the Confederate sergeant has been kept from sleep all this same night thanks to yours and all the other pitiful, disturbing, and debilitating cries of those not quite yet dead. By morning he can't take it any longer. And so this enemy soldier asked permission to put you out of your misery and end both his sides and your own sufferings. He's just stared at. He's stared at as if he's lost his senses or has battle fatigue. Sniping at the wounded, it's just not done.

But he's no sniper. And what he's asking his commanders for is permission to go over that wall and meet you head on, to come not to silence you, but to bring you water. His commanders tell him of the bullets awaiting him on such a fool's errand, making him a casualty of, well, either enemy or mistaken friendly fire. And they tell him no. But he is totally aware and totally determined and persistent. Yes, most of the wounded are, like you, his enemy, or were.

Now you seem more like fellow mortals just bleeding out and drying up. He requests to carry a white handkerchief as a sign of ceasefire. And he keeps asking until he gets permission he seeks. But he is told that no handkerchief, no flag of truce will be allowed. He'll be on his own and he'll be all you've got.

Your last chance for tomorrow. Meet your sworn enemy, Richard Kirkland, Confederate Army Sergeant, age 20. The odds of help coming to you via Kirkland are less than the odds were of being wounded.

There are just too many wounded sprawled in front of that wall. And Kirkland has, well, he's alone and he has no plan, except for the filling of every canteen he can find. And it seems time itself holds its breath as over the wall he slips with you in that no man's land between earthly consciousness and eternity. Eventually, he does indeed stumble upon you, literally falls over you, and reaching down to support your head, he gives you all he can from the canteens left. He takes off his jacket and covers you with it. You try to raise your hand in an astonished thanks, but there's no need as he can read the gratitude in your eyes. Not a shot is heard in that hour and a half that Kirkland spends racing from soldier to soldier, as if in respectful awe of what is happening and what he's risking.

All that is heard are the plaintive cries for the water that is now at least a possibility. He attends to friend and foe alike, both sides Americans, both sides brothers of a sort once again, even if only brothers of the dust. Years later, some will claim it wasn't Kirkland, but someone else or many other someone else's. Others will claim that he was sniped at, even wounded, but you know better because you were there, although you'll wonder for the rest of your life why he did it. What was it that was worth more to him than his own physical life? How could he be so certain there was something even more important than his own fears?

What or who puts that instinct or knowledge into people that results in bringing the kingdom of heaven, not just onto earth, but overcoming a hell on earth? You won't hear Kirkland's name mentioned nowadays, but you see it doesn't matter he's not a household name because heroes don't do heroic things for the fame. Their selflessness can inspire us to other, if lesser, acts of love.

Love, we must remember, is an action. While Kirkland indeed survived this day, as a result you did as well, his eventual dying concern was still for others, particularly his father whom he wanted to know that his son had died right. Perhaps more important is living right day by day and to do that you and I must know what we are living for, why we were given life. This is everyone's foundation so that building up and out from that foundation brings meaning and purpose to our lives so that as much of our lives as possible bring relief and life to others. You know, you have to wonder why such stories of heroism create such a unique response in us. Psychologically, physiologically, spiritually, it seems to contradict a spirit-less, self-serving, survival of the fittest and purposeless worldview.

Perhaps The Brothers' War was but one act in a long play designed to help us recognize and appreciate the true cost of love, of redemption, and reconciliation. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production, Richard Hood's Story, The Angel of St. Mary's Heights Story, here on Our American Stories. Want to get away, but still listen to your favorite radio stations and podcasts? Then listen up. iHeartRadio is now the onboard music partner on select Southwest flights. That means you can jam out to your favorite local radio station, even if you're flying coast to coast. Check out expertly curated stations that are perfect for kids and adults, available on most domestic Southwest flights and perfect for a full non-stop or those pesky minutes between a movie ending and your plane touching down. So grab your headphones, raise your tray table, and relax with iHeartRadio and Southwest Airlines. Grab a shiny new pair of mouse ears for you and the kids because as a Walt Disney World authorized seller, Undercover Tourist lets you enjoy the most magical place on earth and save up to $82 per ticket.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-19 04:11:01 / 2023-05-19 04:18:41 / 8

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