New evidence related to Richard Kirkland–a guest post from Mac Wyckoff

From Mac Wyckoff:

[Note:  Several years ago, we hosted a couple of guest posts from Mac Wyckoff about Richard Kirkland.  You can find the first of those posts here, with links to the others therein.  Mac is a former historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, and is the author of several books related to the service of Kershaw’s brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia.  Here, on the 154th anniversary of Kirkland’s deed, Mac shares some recently discovered evidence that bears on the Kirkland story.]DSC00481.JPGHistorians constantly face the issue of what is factual. Unable to question and cross examine participants and witnesses, we have to make decisions on the volume of specific information and whether that testimony is credible. In the case of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights,” several soldiers wrote about someone giving humanitarian aid to suffering Union soldiers in front of the stonewall at Fredericksburg. General Joseph Kershaw and others supplied the name of this hero, Richard Kirkland, 2nd South Carolina.

Interestingly, each of the stories left wiggle room for questioning details of the testimony. A recently discovered article in The Bamberg Herald, a South Carolina newspaper, includes the story of a soldier who assisted Kirkland in giving water. The story is told by Confederate veteran J.B. Hunter, a childhood friend of Isaac Washington Rentz, of the 2nd South Carolina.

Hunter summarizes the basic story and then adds additional details. After Kirkland received permission to carry water to wounded Union soldiers and went to administer the liquid, Hunter states, “Just then, Isaac Rentz, seeing it, filled several canteens and carried water to Kirkland and they gave water to every crying man and was not hurt.”

Hunter’s account contains two things that a lawyer in cross examination would question. Hunter admits that he does not recall which battle it was. He describes a big battle that “may have been Gettysburg.” However, the 2nd South Carolina retreated several hundred yards from the Union wounded at Gettysburg so it could not be that battle. Fredericksburg matches the details of his account.

A second point is that although Hunter and Rentz were close friends, they did not serve in the same unit. Hunter was in the 1st South Carolina (Hagood’s), Jenkins Brigade which during the fighting on the 13th held a position several hundred yards south of the stone wall, but after dawn on the 14th reinforced Kershaw’s South Carolinians behind the stone wall. Hunter, therefore, may have been an eyewitness to the Kirkland/Rentz incident and as life long friends, it is conceivable that Rentz and Hunter discussed the incident. Interestingly, Hunter’s brigade commander, James Hagood, is among the soldiers to tell the Kirkland story and his account closely matches Hunter’s except for the addition of Rentz’s role.

We will never know precisely all the details of what happened on that December day in Fredericksburg. Although the accounts each leave some details open to question, it is the number of accounts as well as the lack of any evidence to the contrary, that leads me to conclude that someone (most likely Kirkland and Rentz), gave humanitarian assistance to wounded Union soldiers at Fredericksburg.

12 thoughts on “New evidence related to Richard Kirkland–a guest post from Mac Wyckoff

  1. Missing is the date of the Bamberg Herald article. A quick Google says it started publication in 1892, which is post Kershaw’s 1880 article.

  2. Is Mac Wyckoff related to Mr. Wyckoff, superintendent of gold mines along Rapidan River in Orange county, shown on many circa 1860-64 Orange county and Battle of the Wilderness maps, and friend of Gen. Meade?

  3. Pingback: More Corroboration for the Richard Kirkland Story | Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

  4. If you want an interesting read, check out my book on Kirkland. The Angel of Marye’s Heights by Anthony Ziebol. It’s a novel but involves 15 years of research into Kirkland and the 2nd SC. Mac Wyckoff (very much a mentor on this project) enjoyed it.

  5. Pingback: The True Story Behind the Angel of Marye’s Heights – KTroutHistory

  6. ​I have trouble with my eyes and cannot read lengthy articles on line. When I go from your posts to a link that you list, it will not print out. I think I have asked before about this.

    Why won’t you allow these articles to print out?

    Jeannine Trybus Grand Rapids, MI.


    “The answers to the future can be found in the past” — Thomas Jefferson

    On Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 3:47 PM, Mysteries & Conundrums wrote:

    > Historian posted: “From Mac Wyckoff: [Note: Several years ago, we hosted > a couple of guest posts from Mac Wyckoff about Richard Kirkland. You can > find the first of those posts here, with links to the others therein. Mac > is a former historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsy” >

    • Jeannine: I am afraid we have no control over that–in fact, I didn’t realize there was a problem. The virtues and limits of the WordPress platform are established by WordPress, not us. I am sorry you having a difficult time with the system.

  7. “the lack of any evidence to the contrary” – an amazing act of denial on par with Nelson at Copenhagen. And by the way, the only article from the Bamberg Herald regarding the Kirkland story appears to date from 1908 – if there is no evidence to the contrary might one speculate in turn that the only evidence to support the story is the one item from years after the claimed event and yet endlessly repeated and echoed?

    • From John H. Robert: I will let Mac chime in as he sees fit. But, regarding evidence that relates to the Kirkland story, the first two posts from 2010 (cited in my intro to Mac’s latest post) go through the existing evidence pretty thoroughly. No doubt the historical evidence is imperfect. Whether you are convinced by it or not is entirely up to you.

  8. The article iappeared in The Bamberg Herald on January 30, 1919 at the time of Rentz’s death. Hunter wrote the article as part of a tribute to his friend upon Rentz’s death. Therefore it is irrelavant that the article occured after Kershaw’s 1880 account of the Kirkland incident.
    I am not related (at least not closely) to a Wyckoff who ran a gold mine in Orange County.

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