Civil War Christmas

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel–which means, “God with us.” –Matthew 1:23

A story has been told of a most beautiful and bold act of love that happened in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. It was 11 days before Christmas. Peace and goodwill were far from the thoughts of 200,000 Union and Confederate soldiers facing each other across the broad, blood-spattered arena of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 14, 1862.

The past few days had been gruesome, with more than 12,000 soldiers killed. 19-year-old Sergeant Richard Kirkland had seen enough. Kirkland went to see Confederate General Joseph Kershaw. “General,” he said, “I can’t stand this! All night long I hear those poor Union people calling for water and I can’t stand it any longer. I ask permission to go and give them water.”

Kershaw was stunned. They were the enemy. “Sergeant,” he replied, “you’ll get a bullet through your head the moment you step over the stone wall onto the plain.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Kirkland. “I know that, but if you will let me I’m willing to try.” The general responded, “The sentiment which prompts you is so noble that I will not refuse your request. God protect you. You may go.”

Quickly, this young 19-year-old soldier from South Carolina, hurdled the wall and immediately exposed himself to the fire of the Yankee sharpshooters. Kirkland walked calmly toward the Union lines until he reached the nearest wounded soldier. Kneeling, he took off his canteen and gently lifted the soldier’s head to give him a long, deep drink of refreshing cold water. He placed a knapsack under the head of his enemy and moved on to the next.

He repeated this process over and over again until well past dark. As one writer observed, “Troops on both sides who watch this unselfish act paid young Kirkland the supreme tribute–not a standing ovation, but a respectful awed silence.”

I love this story, because it cuts to the heart of Christmas and the Christian faith. What Richard Kirkland did on December 14, reflects the spirit of December 25 when we celebrate the birth of the One who could have remained within the safe confines of heaven, but chose to venture into hostile territory to give thirsty souls a drink of Living Water.

Let the earth keep silence. The Savior has come.

1. What are the implications in your life of Matthew 1:23, “God with us”?

2. As this man offered water to wounded enemies, how does Christ offer humankind Living Water according to John 4:10?

Isaiah 7:14; John 3:16; Romans 5:8

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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