Friday, December 14, 2012

Aftermath of the Battle of Fredericksburg

The day after his disastrous defeat in the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Burnside wanted to renew the assault, leading the attack personally at the head of his old corps. His subordinates, however, were able to talk him out of it.

The day after the battle, the troops remained in position, the dead and wounded still lying where they had fallen. All across the field, the Federal troops were crying for water. Finally Sergeant Richard Kirkland could stand it no longer and went to see Joseph Kershaw, commanding Cobb's brigade. Kershaw wrote:
"All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water, and I can stand it no longer. I come to ask permission to go and give them water" [Kirkland said.] The General regarded him for a moment ... and said "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?" "Yes, sir," he said, "I know that; but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." ... [T]he General said, 'Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go.' ... With profound anxiety he was watched as he stepped over the wall on his errand of mercy -- Christ-- like mercy. Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer. By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides, and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of "Water, water; for God's sake, water!" More piteous still the mute appeal of some who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here, too, is life and suffering. For an hour and a half did this ministering angel pursue his labor of mercy, nor ceased to go and return until he relieved all the wounded on that part of the field. He returned to his post wholly unhurt. Who shall say how sweet his rest that winter's night beneath the cold stars!
A truce was finally called for Burnside to remove his wounded and care for them.


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