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The morning of December 14, 1862 greeted soldiers from both sides with horrific sights and sounds. The night before, about 8,000 Union soldiers under the command of General Burnside (whose facial hair inspired the term "sideburns") were shot in front of the stone wall at Marye's Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia and a carpet of blue-the wounded and suffering-covered the battleground from one of the bloodiest Union defeats of the war.
Soldiers from both sides were tortured by the suffering cries, yet neither side moved to help for fear of resurrecting the massacre of the night before. Finally, Confederate Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland from the 2nd South Carolina Infantry could take it no longer. He requested permission to help, marshaled up some canteens of water, took a deep breath and exposed himself to Federal troops.
The Northerners held their fire long enough to see Kirkland kneel before the first soldier, gently raise his head and give him water. As he continued through the maze of wounded, cheers arose in Federal lines. Kirkland worked single-handedly for an hour and a half while both sides watched in awe as the Angel of Marye's Heights risked his life to save his enemy.