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"The Angel of Marye's Heights" movie will be unveiled this Saturday at the downtown Fredericksburg library

 Mercy me: A scene from the film depicts Confederate Richard Kirkland helping relieve the suffering of wounded Yankee troops. The film will debut in Fredericksburg on Saturday.
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Date published: 7/22/2010


"The Angel of Marye's Heights: A Short Film of Courage and Compassion at the Battle of Fredericksburg" will debut Saturday at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

The film, directed by South Carolina filmmaker Clint Ross--and produced by Ross and Spotsylvania Civil War author Michael Aubrecht--tells the moving tale of a legendary act of compassion by 19-year-old Confederate soldier Richard Kirkland.

At Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, Kirkland and his comrades in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment assembled behind the stone wall below Marye's Heights and slaughtered Union troops approaching their position.

During a frigid night and morning, Union wounded lay dying, crying out for help as troops on both sides hunkered down, believing they could do nothing more than listen to the pitiful pleas for help.

The story goes that on the morning of the 14th, Kirkland could bear it no more and crossed the wall, under fire. He is said to have brought water and blankets to enemy troops.

Union soldiers stopped shooting as he carried out his mission of mercy for two hours.

Kirkland was killed less than a year later at the Battle of Chickamauga.

In 1965, a bronze-and-granite memorial to him--sculpted by Felix de Weldon, who also did the Iwo Jima Memorial--was unveiled off Sunken Road, where his act of mercy is said to have taken place.

Aubrecht said people find the story compelling due to "the mere bravery of the situation. It's a vivid tale of massacre interlaced with a compassionate and daring moment.

"There is something universal inside of us that celebrates and agrees with Kirkland's act."

He said that when he gives tours of the site, "As I begin speaking about Kirkland's act, there is a sense of calm that comes over most people. I believe this is because he reminds us that these men were not mindless killing machines--they were human, and in many ways just like us.

"Kirkland's moment of mercy makes the death and destruction a little more tolerable by introducing a conscience."

Some, though, wonder if Kirkland's act of compassion really happened.

"One thing historians agree on is that there simply are no wartime accounts of this," said Kevin Levin, a historian and author in Charlottesville. "The earliest account is an 1880 letter published in the Charleston Courier Carrier. As an historian, it's deeply troubling there are no wartime accounts.

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What: "The Angel of Marye's Heights: A Short Film of Courage and Compassion at the Battle of Fredericksburg." When: Open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 24. Doors open at 6 p.m.; film starts at 6:30 p.m. No one will be admitted during the 30-minute screening. Program includes remarks from the filmmakers, museum exhibits, preservationist booths, music, slide show, re-enactors and more. Where: Central Rappahannock Regional Library, 1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg. Hosted by the nonprofit National Civil War Life Foundation. Cost: Admission, refreshments and exhibits are free. Suggested donation of $5 to go toward the film's anticipated DVD production costs. Info: theangelmovie.com; civilwarlife.org