The Angel of Marye’s Heights

The Angel of Marye’s Heights


Matthew 14:14 (ESV)

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.


Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


Psalm 103:13 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.


On December 14, 1862 at the battle of Fredericksburg, following a night of the confederate slaughter of Union soldiers, a young Confederate soldier demonstrated a risky act of compassion. No longer able to withstand the wrenching moans of the wounded and dying Union soldiers, nineteen year old Confederate Sergeant named Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina approached Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw, CSA, for permission to go to their aid. Initially hesitant, the General finally consented. General Kershaw, however, refused to allow him to take the white flag that would ensure his safety. Despite the danger, Kirkland sprang forward over the stone wall with canteens full and ventured out between the hostile lines.


At first, the Federals fired on the young man but ceased as they soon discovered his merciful intent. Then cheers rang out from both sides as the man to become known as the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” offered water to one adversary after another. After helping those that he could, he crossed back to safety, and resumed his duties as a Confederate soldier defending his lines.


I understand that those who are wounded in battle will feel great thirst because of blood loss. Jesus experienced it on the cross when He cried out, “I thirst!” in John 19:28. I think it is safe to say that in many ways we are wounded people. The battles of life on all levels wound and scar us. So, we thirst, too.


John recorded Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4. Notice verse ten (ESV):

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”


Then notice verses thirteen and fourteen:

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”


Compassion is generally risky. When Jesus came into the world to “save sinners” he risked everything. He certainly risked his life but he also risked rejection and every kind of hostility. Yet, he willingly entered “enemy territory” to bring living water to wounded, broken people. BTW, the drinking Jesus referred to with the Samaritan woman is a continual drinking. It is not just a one-time event.


Confederate Sergeant, Richard Kirkland, not only shows selfless compassion, he also expresses a great example of loving our enemies. We are told to love our neighbors Leviticus 19:18. Sometimes this seems like a normal thing to do in life. Other times it is difficult. But look what Jesus said in Matthew 5:4348 (ESV):

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Wow! It seems that Jesus always pushes us out of our comfort zones. It’s one thing to love ourselves, our families, even our neighbors, but loving our enemies is beyond comfortable. Ask Sergeant Kirkland (I wonder if he was a Bible student?). You see, Kirkland could have been killed by the Yankee rifles. He could also have been deemed a traitor by his own troops for giving aid to the enemy. Instead, he was a hero to both sides. His compassion did not stop with his friends and fellow Confederates, it extended to his enemies in blue.


What are we willing to risk to share the same compassion? It seems Americans are more divided than ever. We are divided over football teams, political parties, ideologies, and Vaccine Mandates. I have experienced anger and displeasure from people who hold different opinions than I do on topics that I hold dear. When this happens, the challenge is to love any way. That is what God does and that is the standard God holds up to us.


If we would practice what Jesus preached how much better off would we be? If Satan can divide us, he can conquer us. If he conquers us he can rule us with tyranny. But, if we stand united, at least in respect towards one another as fellow creatures of God and fellow Americans, we can fend off the divisive attacks of the evil one.


It will take a heart of compassion. Will we risk it? Sergeant Kirkland did. Of course, Jesus did. Will we?


There is a monument to Sergeant Kirkland in Virginia which reads:

At the risk of his own life, this American soldier of sublime compassion brought water to his wounded foes at Fredericksburg. The fighting men on both sides of the line called him the “Angel of Marye’s Heights.”


Jesus doesn’t have a monument in stone, He has a kingdom of people. He also has a memorial in the Last Supper. Bread represents His body. Wine represents His blood. We remember his gift of compassion in people and by the Supper.


How will we be remembered? Our challenge is to . . . .


Keep The Light of Compassion Burning!