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The Civil War Letters of James Randall, Oakland NY

 Among the many treasurers in our town historian's holdings are transcripts of letters from a James Randall to his family in Oakland, N.Y. The letters document the life of a New York Volunteer ­ his fears, friends, and his longing for home. James B. Randall was the son of Charles H. Randall and Catherine A. (Lockwood) Randall of Nunda, N.Y.

The letters were found in Corporal Randall's Civil War pension file by a researcher hired by R. Ferris Randall, kin of James. They were placed in the file after being sent to the pension claims office by James's father Charles, to help prove that James was his son and that the family relied on his support. The pension application was successful.

The letters were initially transcribed by Mr. Randall and then organized and made accessible via the Internet by the Nunda Area Veterans Project team. They were further researched and edited by Steven M. Wiezbicki, who is writing a history of the 169th N.Y.V. Steven is the great-great grandson of 1st Sergeant Patrick J. Aylmer, Co. G.

The Nunda Area Veteran's Project would like to thank Nunda's Town Historian Mrs. Griffing, Ferris Randall, and Steven Wiezbocki for their help with the Randall letters.

These are the letters from 1863. Click on these links for 1862 and 1864.




 New York State records say that James B. Randall, age19 years, enlisted, September 2, 1862, at Whitehall, to serve three years; mustered in as Sergeant, Co. F. 169th New York Volunteer Infantry, October 6, 1862; returned to Corporal,August 18, 1863; wounded in Action, June 1, 1864, at Cold Harbor, Va., died of wounds, June 4, 1864. This is the same James B. Randall, who was the son of Charles H. Randall and Catherine A. (Lockwood) Randall of Nunda, New York.

The official roster of the 169th N.Y.S.V. Infantry Regiment lists the following record for Corporal Randall:

RANDALL, JAMES B. ­ Age, 19 years. Enlisted, September 2, 1862, at Whitehall, to serve three years; mustered in as sergeant, Co. F, October 6, 1862; returned to corporal, August 18, 1863; wounded in action, June 1, 1864, at Cold Harbor, Va.; died of his wounds, June 4, 1864; also borne as Randell.

Source: Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1905, Brandow Printing Co., State Legislative Printer, Albany, 1906.


Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
January 27, 1863

Dear Sister,

I received yours of the 22d in due season and take the privilege of answering it so soon. I wrote to you on Sunday last, which you have got by this time I suppose, but I must write again in order to pay you for your kindness to me in sending me your photograph, which is a very perfect one of you. I think that you are not a starving up north yet, but I think you would do better if [you] had Uncle Sam's food for a short time to subsist on.

You ask how much snow we have down here now, and we have none at present, for it rains very hard tonight and has all day. We went out today to move the picket lines about one mile and came in about used up on account of the rain, which makes it very unpleasant for to stay in camp, but it is all for the [Negro], and we must stand it, as we have sworn to.

Tell David that he is a doing well, but he can do better next time he "digs".

You ask how many men we have in the 169th. One month [ago] next Saturday, when we went over to a general inspection, we could muster only 400 men. We have less now, for they are deserting every day.

You ask me why I send my letter to Nunda. I do so for I think you will get them quicker. But I will do as you tell me to and all right for "Hosea".

We expect to get our pay soon and I shall go to the city and get some things for you and the rest of the children. My respects to all friends, for I must close. My love to all of the family and yourself.

Yours with a brother's love,

J. B. Randall

P.S. Send another pen ­ you see this goes well.


Camp Crescent, Washington, D.C.
February 25, 1863

Dear Father,

I received yours of the 19th in due season; I got it on Sunday last. My health is good at present but I am not quite as fleshy now as I was, but in good condition yet. We have a pretty hard time here now, for the reason that we have not moved into the barracks yet. Consequently, we have many cases of the fever caused by exposure. We have ten sick men in our company. 211 have got the fever, and some very sick. One of our men, a likely young man (16), was taken sick the day after we moved, and the next morning he was taken to the hospital and died there this same day. He was a boy that could be depended upon in any places. I cannot but think of the expressions he made, as I with the assistance of another sergeant were helping him into the ambulance. He requested us to once more let him walk on Maryland's soil, for it would be the last time.

You spoke of the box ­ I have not got it yet, but will tonight. The boots I can sell or keep; but I think it best that I should keep them, for boots are very costly here. I have a good pair now, but it is a hard place for them here in the mud.

You, of course, are disappointed in my not sending some money home. The only reason is that I knew not how long it would be before we got any more, and if I was taken sick I wanted some by me, and besides, it is going to cost us more to live here than at Camp Abercrombie. But money is plenty, as you say, but all cannot get it since I have been here. I have seen a little of it.

The other day, I was on duty at the Treasury Department, and there I saw greenbacks enough to fill two such tents as I now occupy. This you may think [is] a big story, but is true. I have not done guard duty but two days since we have been in the city, and for four days in succession I have been in the Congress Chamber, and there heard our big men talk and debate upon different questions before the House. It is a pleasant way of spending a man's time, I think, but of all the sights for a country boy, the sight of the Capitol [Building] is best of all. I have not been to the Navy Yard yet, but will soon. There is a good deal to see there.

Last night, I went to the city to Grover's Theatre (17), and who should I see in a streetcar, but General McDowell (18) and his lady. He is a fine-looking man, but you cannot tell "how far a toad will jump by his looks".

We have had some very cold weather here. You have seen an account of it, perhaps, in the papers. Good sleighing here, but it will all go off today.

You speak of prejudicing me politically. This you have a right to do, but I can never go [help] the [Negro], unless they are transported back to Africa; then I will do all to enlighten them that is in my power, and do it willingly too. But I cannot think of getting discharged, even if I could, for not liking the Negro. For I cannot do better than I am by Uncle Abe, for he gives me 17 dollars, board and clothes per month, and I do nothing ­ "Why should I dismiss him?" [Let's reconsider] how much, too much, he pays me a month. First, it is worth seven dollars a week to feed me ­ that is 28 dollars per month, and about 12 dollars a month for clothes. Thus, you see that I am an expense of 40 dollars a month to him. And by looking it carefully over, you can see that I get in debt to him 23 dollars per month and he does not charge me for it, nor ask me for it, so I will stick to him, you may bet your life, and uphold him if he is wrong, shall I! But all this talk is useless and needless; that is, if I do my duty as a soldier.

We expect to stay our three years here in this city if we have the luck that we have had. Our colonel has got the position of provost marshal of the District of Columbia, and if so, we are alright. Our colonel is a man that works for our interest in every way and will do well by us, but he is a Free Mason ­ this helps him, does it not?

You were very kind in sending me your photograph. I think that it is a perfect one of you. I think it looks more like you than Mary's does like her. But David's is good too, you may bet.

Do you know James Perry (19) of Whitehall? He is in our company. He says he knew you when you were a boy and he says he can still discover in your photograph some of the old features.

I saw Mr. Prindle the other day. Mother knows who I mean; if you do not, he is in a company store, No. 281Pa. A2.

I must close for today and wait and see if I get the box tonight.

Good morning, Father,

I have not yet got the box here ­ it is the 26th and it has not yet come, but maybe here tonight. We have a heavy rain here today. It commenced at about 3 o'clock this morning. The snow is about all gone out now. What an awful place ­ we have got to stay in all [the] mud and rain, but we go into the barracks tomorrow. I hope so ­ we will have some good times.

I wish you would write to me and let me know if there is anyone in any of the hospitals in this city that I know. If so, find out what hospital they are in and inform me where they are, so I can go and see them.

Camp Crescent, [Washington, D.C.]
March 1, 1863

I have been awaiting a long time for the box to come so I could finish this letter, but I will not wait any longer, but will write as soon as I get it. No more now. My love to all.

From your affectionate son,

J. B. Randall


Suffolk, Va.
[April] 25, 186[3]

Dear Parents,

You of course are anxious to know where I am and what I have been doing since last I wrote to you. We left the city and came down to Fort Monroe, [Va.] and stopped there a few moments and then were ordered to this place. We arrived here in the night and I had the pleasure of meeting the boys of the 130th (20). They are all well.

This place is surrounded by the enemy on three sides and they threaten an attack every day, and for this reason I have not wrote before now. When we came here, I said I would not write until we had a fight, and yesterday we had one (21). We went out in the morning with 13 regiments and [a] heavy force of cavalry [and] artillery. We marched about six miles and formed a line of battle, and the 169th was in front and we had a hot time. We were under fire for two hours and then retreated in good order. Our loss was small, considering. Our colonel (22) lost his left hand; the major [Major Alonzo Alden] had his horse shot from under him; and two lieutenants were wounded with a piece of shell; one private (23) killed; and a large number wounded (24). The enemy were in the woods and had rifle pits at the edge of them. We first had to shell them and then we charged upon them and drove them back to their breastworks, and then they shelled us out.

Two Rebs deserted this morning and they say that they have a large force ready for us, but they are starving, they say.

We burnt three large houses yesterday also ­ one of them was General Longstreet's headquarters. We had a hard day of it ­ it rained all day.

I am well today, with the exception of a little cold I have. But I am thankful to my maker that he spared my life as he has. We were all expecting to be killed in a moment, for we were in front of the battle, but the Rebs shot high. We expect a general engagement tomorrow; if so, I may never have a chance to again write to you.

And so now, [I] have my best regards for all of you, and I still remain, your affectionate son,

J. B. Randall

P.S. I send $20.00 to mother.


Suffolk, Va.
April 26, 1863

Dear Sister,

I received your kind letter of the 19th last night. It found me in good spirits, you must know, for we just come out of a good fight all sound the day before.

I am very sorry to hear that it is still very sickly in town, but it will not last long, I hope. As a general thing, it is healthy here among the troops at present. We had a very hard rain last week and the water was two inches deep in our tents in the morning. It is the strangest country I ever saw. It rains so hard that it is impossible for the ground to take it as fast as it comes.

You speak of me being second sergeant. When we left Troy I was, but it was for the time being, for the reason that we did not have a full company, and while we were on Staten Island, we had a lieutenant (25) and 30 men added to the company, and they got all they asked for, for we wanted a full company. But it is all for the Union.

O Mary, this is a splendid day as I ever saw! The peach trees are in blossom together with any quantity of wild flowers, and everything is quiet with the exception of the sharpshooters. They are continually firing at our men and camp.

I was over to the 130th (26) last night and saw Will Tooder [probably Sergeant William W. Tadder]. He looks well and also the rest of the boys.

You speak of the 33d (27). I presume that some of the boys will reenlist, but Hosea will not, I think. Anyway, he ought not to if he has not fired a gun yet in defense of his country. You must not say a word about [the fact that] James Haver (28) told me that Hosea never was in even a skirmish since he enlisted. It will do for his people to talk of their brave goal. I think that such stock ought to be caused to stay at home and take a hot bath once a day.

You spoke of going to the graveyard to sister Jessie's grave. As you visit that little round, drop a tear for me and pray to God that I may be buried by her side if I am not from you all now. I cannot make it seem any other way than that I shall see her when I return home to my Earthly home. If not, I pray to God that I may meet her in the Kingdom of our Father there to enjoy peace and happiness. I have not heard from Whitehall for a long time.

No more now. Write soon and give my love to all inquiring friends.

J. B. Randall

P.S. I sent $20 to mother yesterday.


Suffolk, Va.
April or May 8, 1863

I received yours of the 4th together with sister Mary's kind letter. It found me well but pretty tired, you may bet, for I just came in with a fatigue party. Perhaps you would like to know what I have been at in the rain all day. We went out with a party of 150 men from our regiment under Lieutenant Thompson (29) of our company, for the purpose of pulling down the strong breastworks that General Longstreet's army (30) had constructed for their defense. They had some splendid little forts that would bear upon this place and they would have used them, only for General Hooker (31) sending for him to come to Fredericksburg, [Va.] to try his strength. While out today, I had a spare hour at noon to see what I could find. We went a little ways and came to a Reb's house, where we found a fine lot of hens in a good condition for scalding, but we never stopped for that. They were soon in our haversacks and back we came to our work. We expect to have a good breakfast, for they are now over the campfire.

I was aware that you would be disappointed in the amount of money I sent home, but I cannot give any other excuse than that I spent a great deal in Washington. But I have got a little with me yet, besides $10.00 I lent, and I mean to keep some with me if I can, but the next payday you will get more, for I have no chance to spend it. I know that I do not think much of money, but I will outgrow that, I hope. No father, I do not think you wish to give me any unkind feeling nor begrudge me any comforts at this present time nor at any other time, but you may rest assured that I am for my country, heart and hand, and will not leave the flag until all is peace. I have one thing to say and that is that I love a soldier's life more and more as I get used to it, for I have got in [a] good company of men and am well-liked, as you have heard, and mean to do my duty, so that there will be no shame ever cast upon my name or relations.

We have good news from Hooker [?] tonight. He is still suffering but is looking [text obscured by a stamp from the pension claims office] McDoughie [?] is slightly wounded, but I hope the boys are alright yet.

The drums now beat for roll call and I can write no more tonight. Answer soon and send me the Nunda News, and give my love to all of my friends.

From your son,

J. B. Randall


Suffolk, Va.
June 12, 1863

Dear Father,

I received yours of the 8th today and I take the opportunity to answer it this soon to let you know that your kind but short letter found me in good spirits. I have wrote several letters home in a week past and I hope soon to get another. From what is sister Mary a doing, I guess I will send her more stamps. She has not wrote to me for weeks. I hope Victoria is better by this time. You say your health is not good this season. I am sorry and will try to send home all the money I can. I made a mistake in sending you home my last money. I was a going to keep one of those bills for I did not know but I would need it. But you may send me three or four of it. It will be all I want now, for I do not want to run in debt at the sutler's.

It rains here now. The regiment is out with five days' rations. I expect to join them in a couple of days. They expect a fight this time. They have not gone to take up railroads this time. I have had some good things for a few days. Chester Bowen (32) got a box and he let me have a lot of things. This regiment left over 100 sick men in camp. We are having a hard time, but the 130th (33) are not sickly. They have got used to the water and climate.

I must close. Write soon.

[I] got a letter from James Haver (34) this week. I expect another soon. He has had a hard time I think. He promised to write me the particulars. Give him my respects.

My kind wishes to all. My love to brothers and sisters, to mother and also my love to you.

From your affectionate son,

J. B. Randall


[Note: Although the first page of the following letter to James's sister is missing, the mention of Vicksburg dates it to July of 1863. Corporal Randall mentioned that he "was down at the Navy Yard the other day," which would place him at Norfolk, Va., as the 169th was encamped nearby at Bower's Hill, Va., from mid-July until they departed from Fortress Monroe, Va., for Folly Island, S.C., on August 2, 1863.]

[Bower's Hill, Va.]
[Mid- to Late-July, 1863]

... You speak of [James] Haver (35) being at home, also of your party. I should like to have been there, as you must know. Will you promise to have a good party if I happen in some night? But you need not expect that yet. You will have to wait about two years more yet.

I received a letter from Haver last week. He said he would like to have me ask you why you did not write to him. I know not why you should not, for he is a good boy. I get a letter from him once a week and answer it the same day, so we are on good terms are we not? But I have forgotten John Hayes (36) entirely. I have not wrote to him since I have been here, neither have I wrote to Henry Taggart (37), but ought to. If the boys of the 33d (38) get home by July, they may think themselves well-off, for they have had a tough time of it and will see more fighting before they see home. If not, the war will stop.

We have the news here today that Vicksburg, [Miss.] is taken (39). [It] is so very good if they only follow the Rebels up until they are all at Richmond, there surround them, and shoot two thirds of them; then we will have peace, not before. Then it is that Mr. Hicks will have his big party and we will all have one.

Then you speak of our having good times here. Yes, we have a great chance to see a great many things here. I was down at the [Norfolk, Va.] Navy Yard the other day and came very near never getting ready to come home, on the account of the great numbers of vessels and guns of all size, from the smallest to the largest.

Mary, I really wish it was so that you could make a visit to Whitehall next fall. You would enjoy yourself well, I think, for there are many young people there; and besides, I think that you and grandmother would agree so well. I never enjoyed myself any better than while I was there last summer, but I know not why they do not write to me, any of them. They have not wrote me more than one month. I have always answered their letters. I wish you would inquire why they do not.

You ask if I have got the box. Yes, it came after awhile. Everything [was] alright, excepting the pickles. The bottle was broken and the vinegar ran into the cheese and spoiled that, but the butter was alright, and the rest of the things.

I hope you had a good visit up to Maggie Pott's, for I have got a gal down here that I go to see once in awhile and I hate to be disappointed, you know. She is not a "yellow gal", but white.

Tell mother I will pay for her teeth next pay day. No more now. My love to all.

From your affectionate brother,

James Randall


Portsmouth, Va.
August 1, 1863

Dear Sister,

I have a very unpleasant place to write, but I will do the best I can. Perhaps you would like to know where I am sitting. I am in the street of Portsmouth, opposite to a very large hospital. It is very hard work to put myself to work with a pen on account of the busy hum of the city, but I now have a chance to think for myself. The reason, a very solemn one here, is a soldier being carried to his last resting place by a few comrades. He may have a sister a mother or a father, all or one are anxious to hear from him, but he has passed through the trials of this world and is now in the place of eternal rest, may God bless his soul. But Mary, I hope you may never hear of my death while I am in the army, for I think the sorrow would be double.

I got your kind letter of the 20th (very unexpected) with much pleasure, for I wanted to hear from home again before I left for parts unknown, for we have been here for three days in the city, between the high brick walls, and nothing to cover up but a rubber blanket and the blue heavens, and a brick pavement to sleep on. You must judge how we must rest on the square "feathers". The report is that we are to leave at 6 P.M. on a large vessel for Charleston, [S.C.]. The rest of our brigade is to report to Washington, but do not take any stock in what I say about where we are going.

We have been paid, as you will see by the letter I wrote to father yesterday. We expected to go then. I cannot say how much I will send home this time, nor when, for I think I will wait until we arrive at some other port. Perhaps I may be taken sick again and want some of it, so I will not have to send home after any.

I would like to have been home on the evening you got my letter to see Burr. How does he like old Oakland? I think I would like to see him once more.

I think the next flood you have in town will be for 40 days and nights. It seems that that is the only way that it can be kept from being a place of note.

Yes, I miss the 130th (40) very much now, but Sergeant Barker of Co. A (41) is in this city doing duty. He is detached. I was with him last night. No, I can live on marching, but may have to give up next time. If we go on to Charleston I will try to drive the Rebs from that cursed hole.


[Note: Below is a fragment of a letter that was written from Folly Island, S.C., where the 169th was encamped during the Siege of Charleston, from August 6, 1863 to February 23, 1864. The approximate date of the letter is estimated by virtue of the fact that the mentioned sword presentation ceremony took place on November 7, 1863.]

[Folly Island, S.C.]
[c. November 8-13, 1863]

... titles wherever they may meet. I think that it is a good plan to get more men into the field, for it has got to be stopped by fighting, and the sooner the better for all concerned. You think General Gillmore (42) is slow, but give him time and the city of Charleston, and all the surrounding country, will be in his possession ere the noted General Lee will know it.

The Rebs have James Island strongly fortified and it will have to be taken from them by inches, I think, and we are planting heavy guns on Long Island to shell James Island with. Fort Sumter has had to take another bombarding for a few days past; also the batteries on Sullivan's Island. Then we will have a good land force to act with the navy and the "Greek fire" which has caused the Reb generals so much trouble.

I suppose that you have the election returns by this time. How does the Empire State speak this fall?

I cannot say whether I will come home this winter or not. If I was to come, it might not pay, for it is a good ways to go. One of our men is a going this week. He is to be gone 30 days; then another is to go, but who, I cannot tell. But I would like to come home and be there through the holidays. I think I could enjoy myself very well. I think if I was to be at home, I would not have to pay five cents apiece for little hard apples. I have paid as much as 10 cents for one large apple. We can get sweet potatoes by paying 8 cents and northern potatoes by paying 6 cents per lb. We do not get any hardtack; lately we get soft bread. We have a large bakery on the island (43).

I must give you a little sketch of a good time we had in camp. On Saturday afternoon last, the regiment was drawn up in line of battle and General Vogdes (44) and staff, General Foster (45) and staff, and numerous other officers appeared in front with Colonel [Clarence] Buel, the latter bearing a splendid sword which was presented to our Lieut.-Colonel (46). It was from the citizens of Troy, in honor to him for his bravery on the battlefield of Shiloh in '61 (47), I think, where he was severely wounded by a minié ball while in the act of leading his company up to a charge. He was in front of them and cried to his men "to come on", which is engraved on the sword. Its value is $1,000. It is a nice thing and the right man has got it also.

No more now. My love to all.

From your son,

J. B Randall


Folly Island, S. C.
November 28, 1863

Dear Brother,

I received your letter of the 15th yesterday and was glad to hear from you and to see that you have improved in writing since you last wrote to me. I am in good health now and hope to continue, so I am glad also to hear that all are well at home. I sent a letter to Mary yesterday. You may get them both together, for the mail is very irregular and it makes it very bad for us to hear from one another often. But when I get a letter, I read it often, so remember to send me all the news you can.

You say you have been steering a boat. I think that you have got along well if you have got to be a steersman, but now if you have commenced school, I hope you will seize this helm and keep the ship in a direct course and come out in the spring a good penman and scholar. You will not regret it. But at the same time, you can have your pleasures and good times and not disturb your studies.

But stop ­ you say you have got to go to Buffalo and fight, but I think not; but if so, give one shot for me and I will do the same for you down in South Carolina. There is not much done here now except a continual fire at Fort Sumter.

The drums now beat for drill. No more now.

From your brother,

J. B. Randall

P.S. My pen is poor and I am tired, so excuse poor writing. Mary asked me if I could not get any stamps. No, I could not get them. Money would not buy them here one spell, but I sent some money to Barney Burroughs to get some and I have them now. We are to get paid tomorrow and I will send $15 dollars home.




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