Many times have I stood on the Sunken Road in Fredericksburg and told the story of Sgt. Richard Kirkland, an infantryman with the 2nd South Carolina who ventured out into no-man’s land on December 14, 1862, to take water to wounded Union soldiers. Kirkland’s deeds earned him the nickname “The Angel of Marye’s Heights,” and his story has become widely shared because of the humanity it exemplifies in a time of horror (see Kathleen Logothetis’s excellent post on Kirkland for more on the story). A monument to Kirkland now stands as one of the Fredericksburg battlefield’s most prominent features.
In 2001, a similar statue of Kirkland was unveiled in front of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. Like the Fredericksburg statue, the Harrisburg statue captures Kirkland in the act of administering succor to a wounded foe—a perfect symbol of humanity and reconciliation appropriate for something that bills itself as the “national” museum. The Harrisburg statue, however, sits on the ground, not on a pedestal as at Fredericksburg, and its human scale gives visitors a more intimate experience.
It also offers a strange challenge, too. Standing there next to the statue—essentially standing over Kirkland’s shoulder as he offers aid—it turns visitors into observers. We observe as Kirkland acts. It begs the question, How might we help those in need?