A Friend in Need
"Gentlemen of the jury, Kirk is not a bad man. He takes his grog and will fight. Many have been sent away and carried off. He is as good as Bill Smallwood, the great drunkard. And, as sorry a fellow as Kirk is, ya'll know he has done some good things and Bill has never done anything good," so said James Kirkpatrick as he personally plead his case to the trial jury assembled to determine his guilt or innocence after he took a butcher knife and tried to cut Bill Smallwood's clean off.
James A. "Kirk" Kirkpatrick was a veteran of "The Oconee Grays," known as Co. K, 5th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A., during the late war, known to some around these parts as "The Late Great Unpleasantness." The deciders of his fate were made up primarily of men with whom he had fought the Yankees. So, when the alcoholic veteran asked permission to address his peers, they listened to see what ol' Kirk would tell them that would make them change the conclusions they had after the close of the evidence. Prosecutor Fleming Jordan had made out a prima facie case for Kirk's guilt. Everyone in the court room knew ol' Kirk had done it. After all, Kirk's lawyer M.N. Murphy put up no defense to the charges. With the court's permission, Kirk asked leave to make a statement in his own defense.
"Dick Hatfield, do you remember the night after the Battle of Baker's Creek? Kirk took your gun and stood at your post while you stood aside to eat corn. When you dropped the corn, a picket fired nearly hitting Kirk when it should have been you instead of Kirk. Remember when you were in a tight? Remember Kirk is in a tight. He wants you to stick, he does," Kirkpatrick added.
"Seaborn Fountain, you remember when you were marching to Corinth after Shiloh and you remember how hungry and foot sore we all were, asked Kirk. You told me you were starved and I gave you a chew of tobacco, my last piece, to chew on. Kirk had been saving it all day so that he could lay on his back and enjoy it. You looked around so pitiful and begged me for it so hard, you did, until I gave it you and went without myself. You said you'd remember me. You were in a fight and Kirk stuck. Now Kirk wants you to stick," Kirk concluded.
"Jim Jones, remember when we camped in the winter of '63? You went broke in a card game and you begged me for a stake and Kirk loaned you one. You remember you said that loan done more good than any favor you ever received and you'd always remember Kirk for it. Now Jim, you were in a tight then and broke and Kirk stuck. Remember Kirk is in tight and he wants you to stick sure," Kirkpatrick ended.
"Joe Johnson, remember the night when the army was driven from Missionary Ridge, you do and you had run out and lost your hat and was bareheaded and shivering from the cold. You came to Kirk and said you never wanted a drink so bad in your life. You told Kirk that you not only would pay him back, but you will stand by him to last. You said it Joe. Kirk handed his whole canteen and you came near to drinking the bulk of my quart. You did Joe. I didn't charge you nothing. Remember Kirk is in a tight now and he wants you to stick Joe," Kirk pleaded.
"Alfred Hall, you were always a good praying fellow and you and Kirk did not run together only when a fight was on. You remember the night after the battle of Resaca you came to Kirk afer our line had fallen back, and said, 'Kirk my brother is left behind, either wounded or killed.' You were wounded so that you could not go and you requested me to do you a favor, to go back and look after your brother. Then it was Kirk who told you he would do it. At the risk of his own life, Kirk went out and found him and he was mortally wounded, and took him on his shoulder and carried him for a mile or more, brought him into our lines, laid him down and saw him die. Now Alfred, you thanked Kirk then for his kindness and said you always remember him for it, and if you could ever do him a favor you would. Alfred, now Kirk's in a tight and he wants you to stick," Kirk begged.
"Bart Stevens, you remember the army fell back at Kennesaw Mountain across the Chattahoochee River. You was sick and begged Kirk to stay with you and take care of you, you did. Kirk did so and carried your gun and knapsack all night for you. The next morning you told the Captain what he had done for you and promised that you would always stick to Kirk, you did. Now Bart, the time is at hand to stick for Kirk and if you think well of what he has done for you, stick," commanded Kirk.
"Sam Hatfield, you remember the Battle of Atlanta. You got wounded, you did. We had to fall back and form a new line and you called to me, 'Kirk help me, don't leave me alone, the Yankees will get me.' I will do it. He took you on his back and carried you to a place of safety. You thanked him and said, 'If I can be of any service to you, call me.' Kirk doesn't remember whether he ever called on you before, but understand he is calling you now. He is in a tight and needs you to stick," Kirk shouted!
"Jesse Arrington you remember me on the return after the bloody battle of Nashville in 1865. It was sleeting and snowing and freezing and you were barefoot. You were. It was a terrible day, you and another soldier of some other command got in a scrap over a pair of shoes lying on the roadside. The other fellow was about to get the best of you when Kirk showed up. Jesse, Kirk reinforced you and you held on to the shoes. You sat down and put them on, and said 'Kirk, these shoes make my feet feel so much better and if it had not been for you that fellow would have defeated me and they would be on his feet. I assure you that I appreciate your assistance and whenever an opportunity is offered, I certainly will stand by you.' Now Jess, Kirk has never called on you before, and begorra, he wants you to stick," Kirk exclaimed!
James Kirkpatrick turned to the remaining four members of the Wilkinson County jury, the names of whom he did not remember, and said, "If I have not been of service to you, don't blame Kirk, for it was only the want of opportunity and your misfortune for not being with Kirk, for he certainly would have divided his last chew with you, and his only drink with you, had a chance came and a way to have done so. Kirk is nothing but a dirty drunk old Irishman who has lost all the caste blood and family gave him, but he carries a big heart and forgiving spirit. He loves mercy. It is only when he lost his head from drink that he is vicious and wants to fight. He is sorry that his neighbor was hurt, but it was not Kirk that hurt him, it was the grog he was carrying that he ran up against and got hurt. Now, if you gentlemen of the jury who know Kirk and for whom he has done something are willing to stick to him and relieve him and his good kin folks, and above all his bright little fellow from disgrace, then stand for Kirk and stick for him."
Kirkpatrick returned to his chair and sat down. Judge George T. Bartlett instructed the jury to retire to the jury room and deliberate the case of assault against Kirkpatrick. Within a few minutes, the jury returned and announced their verdict of "not guilty!"
For more history of East Central Georgia and Laurens County go to the digital edition of the Courier Herald or my blog at www.dublinlaurenscountygeorgia.blogspot.com.