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What Makes a Hero?

Posted: January 2, 2015 1:14 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2014 1:00 a.m.

If your idea of a hero starts with a knight slaying a dragon, a roman gladiator fighting battles with a sword and suit of armor, or even a soldier fighting in a distant land, then maybe you have the wrong idea of what a hero may be. Is your hero brave and courageous, does he act on his own accord for his or her fellow human being, risking his or her life? Then possibly you may know and respect the meaning of a hero.

In Kershaw County in August 1843, a baby was born. As he grew up, his father made sure he was attuned in Christian values, family love and service to the family farm. He was shown such qualities as hunting, farming and in the 1850s, he learned how to use chains for surveying. 

Around him were four brothers and a sister, Caroline. His brothers were James Allen, Dan, Billy and Sam. John R. and Mary Vaughn Kirkland were their parents. These people made up the Kirkland family and the one hero is Richard Rowland Kirkland. His family came from Farquhar, Virginia and settled in the Catawba Waters Valley where streams flowed, falls were present, steep hills could be seen and giant boulders dotted the landscape. To the Kirkland pioneer, this resembled their beloved homeland in Scotland. This family also came with a mindset to do what they thought was right and absorb the consequences of their actions. 

Dan and Billy Kirkland enlisted in the Kirkwood Rangers 7th Calvalry with Billy serving as dispatch under General Lee and General Jackson. Having been elected by the family for overseer duty, James Allen Kirkland stayed during the war and took care of the plantation. Sam Kirkland became wounded and died May 20, 1866.

Richard Rowland Kirkland died on the battlefield September 20, 1863 in Chickamauga, Georgia. What he left from his brief career as a soldier can be told in one mighty episode that has echoed wartime spectacles and will forever be etched as a humanitarian act that should not be forgotten. Instead, it should measure what we have inside ourselves.

In 1862, Richard Kirkland became sergeant. The following article was found in the Camden Journal dated February 5, 1874. A little background is as follows.

The temperature in Fredericksburg, Va. was zero degrees on Dec. 14, 1862. General Cobb and General Kershaw’s troops were behind a stone wall on a sunken road. General Cobb fell mortally ill and later died in Martha Steven’s house, and then General Kershaw took over. H.P. Hix of Columbia was working on a life-size portrait of Richard Rowland Kirkland and the figures of the famous scene. As Hix was told, this is what he gathered from all the resources: After the gallant charge of the Irish Brigade upon the stone fence behind which a portion of General Kershaw’s division of South Carolina was posted, the ground was covered with dead and dying Unionists who, on the repulse and retreat, were left to suffer the untold agonies of a battlefield. It was declared the Irishmen made a heroic charge as it had been hopeless and fatal; and whom they had retreated, both armies kept up a murderous sharpshooting upon each other. So fatal was the cruel sport that the federal reports declare 150 Unionists fell in the rifle pits from the fire behind the stone wall. On the Confederate side, the moment a hand or head was raised above the wall, it was sure to be perforated with a Unionist’s bullet. Sergeant R.R. Kirkland, one of the sharpshooters stationed behind the brick wall, is the hero of the incident. He was killed in the battle the following year. He belonged to the Second South Carolina Infantry. The groans of the wounded Federalists lying just over the wall pierced the human heart, and his kindly human nature rebelled against the cruelty of their sufferings. They cried for water and there was no friendly hand to bring it. ‘Water! Water! For God’s sake, water!’ The cries continued hour after hour.

Richard Kirkland resolved to make an attempt to relieve the wants of the dying and with that moral and physical heroism, which surmounts all obstacles and dares death for the good of others.  Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland went to General Kershaw’s Headquarters and asked the privilege of jumping over the wall and carrying water to the lips of the wounded enemy. General Kershaw refused at first. He told Kirkland that sure death awaited the man who mounted the wall, for the fire was incessant and fatal. Richard Rowland Kirkland declared that he could not bear to hear the groans of anguish which greeted his ears and he would make the attempt to relieve them if the general would give his consent. The appeal was too strong to be ignored and resisted by Kershaw, so he reluctantly gave permission. 

The gallant sergeant departed on his mission, assuring his friends that he did not believe he would be killed. A bound and he was over the wall, but he did not even touch the turf before a volley of bullets fired from a hundred different points welcomed him on his mission of mercy. Untouched, he knelt down and put his canteen, like a blessed Samaritan, to the lips of a dying soldier and arranged his knapsack for a pillow. The federals thought he was rifling the dead but when they discovered his noble mission and the firing upon him slacked then ceased, his work went on as it had. 

No firing could be heard. From one to another, he passed his loving work and two great and hostile enemies forgot their animosities in wondering observation and admiration of the hero who braved almost certain death to do a kind act to suffering men.  One says that General Kershaw looked out and smiled as his fellow Camdenite performed this act and caused complete silence.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 at Hampton Park, a celebration of Richard Rowland Kirkland presented by the John D. Kennedy United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Joseph B. Kershaw Camp 82 of the Sons of Confederate took place. H.W. Funderbunk Jr. was the guest speaker. 

 

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