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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 1862. Click on these links for 1863 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 Van Vechten, [Staten Island, N.Y.]
October 14, [1862]

Dear Father,

I got a letter from mother just after I had mailed one for Mary, and after all was quiet in our camp, our captain (1) came in with a letter from Oakland, and a letter that I have long looked for, but it was a letter that caused me to drop many a tear as I read the news from home ­ some was good and some poor. I am glad to hear that all are well.

I wrote Mary stating that we are going to Washington, [D.C.], in the morning. This is certain, for we have got our rations and our canteens filled. I write you this to tell you that you need not write again until you hear from me again.

I am well; tell mother that I will inform her when I am sick, but I am tough for the present, and will try to take care of myself as well as I can. I am not exposed as much as some.

I expected to hear that poor James (my friend) had gone to his home. The poor boy's troubles are over in this world ­ he has gone where we must all go. I suppose that you have got several letters from me by this time, for I have wrote several.

Our trouble with our regiment is that the men have found out, or profess to know, that the colonel has sold us all; if so, he must look out for himself. We have not had our bounty yet and we are called "The Contrary Regiment".

Give my best respects to all and write often. I would like to here from [you] as often as you can write, for I came very near giving up until I got your letter to-night. To be from home so long without having my letter is what I am not used to, but it is not your fault, for you expected that I was gone from here. This was the talk the first day that we came here. I think now that we would do better to stay here and drill more, for we are not fit for the field yet. This, any man must know.

The whole camp is now in its joy. We have four young men that have just come from town pretty tight. They are good singers and we have a good time. No sleep to-night, for all are ready to start at 8 in the morning.

Our state bounty is all good. I did not enlist in time to get my government bounty in advance, but it will be good in time to come.

Give my love to all and do not write until you hear from me again. I will write as soon as I get to a camp and find time to write.

Your son,

J. Randall


[Note: Below is a fragment of a letter that was written while the 169th was bivouacked outside of Fort Ethan Allen, Va., from October 19-23, 1862. The regiment subsequently established Camp Abercrombie, located between the fort and Chain Bridge, Va.]


[Fort Ethan Allen, Va.]
[c. October 19-23, 1862]

... This fort has got a good commanding position for miles around. It has 32 guns and several more to mount. From this fort we can see five other forts, together with a great number of troops all ready to defend their positions against any force that they can bring against us. We are here for the purpose of being killed, we think, for on the grounds that our company is today there was a large regiment [that] moved from [here] yesterday for the ferry.

This is what they do with new troops down this way. Here we have had poor food, but this cannot be helped, for it is impossible for food to be kept here long for it is so warm in the day. But as soon as night comes, then we have to put on our overcoats to make us comfortable, which is almost impossible. Our tents are small but good.

This morning, we had to pitch our tents in line and then wash up so as to be clean as possible for inspection. Then I got a chance to go where I wanted to for a long time. I went in the direction of Fairfax Courthouse. I went about three miles from our fort, but found no one that I was acquainted with. There are no New York troops very near here as I can find. They are all New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island troops. They are all bully boys, you can make up your mind. But wherever we stopped, we heard the cheers of all. They would cheer every time we told them where we were from.

I forgot to mention one thing we saw in Baltimore. The night we were there, [there] was 192 prisoners arrived there. They were enough to sicken a person to look at them, they were clothed so poorly, and they were so dirty above all. I had to leave before I could see them all, on the account of their being so badly wounded. Some with wounds in legs, arms, bodies, and heads. It was a dreadful sight for me to see. I hope that I will never have to witness another such a sight again in my short life. They have been prisoners for weeks and they say they have been used well and hope soon to be exchanged. They said that they were glad to see us, for they would have more to kill of us Yankees. Wasn't this provoking? If they are not cripples, I could have seen them all shot in one moment.


Fort Ethan Allen, [Va.]
October 30, 1862

Dear Sister,

I received yours of the 26th tonight and was glad to hear that all are well at home. I am well and smart. [I] just came in from fatigue duty and am somewhat tired, but not so much but what I can write a letter every night if I can have one to answer. I wrote to father last night and spoke about David's writing to me, so I was glad to hear from him and to learn that he is well and tough as an ox. Tell him for me if he is tough that he had better stay at home and not think of coming here, for this is no place for him. There were eight drummer boys discharged from the regiment on the account of their not being old enough and they were glad enough to go home.

I am glad to hear that grandmother went home with mother but I hope that she will stay for one year, for five or six weeks will not be half of a visit for her. I am sorry to hear that she has got a bad cold but hope that she is better by this time. I know that you must have snow by this time, for we have had winter all the time since we have been here (or winter nights).

You spoke of being up to Kit's with the Martin girls. You say that Kit never said what I was told she did; if so, I am glad to hear it and will write to her if she is not offended by what has been said. I hope not.

You have got a good school teacher, I think, and I hope that he will have good success. Give my best respects to him.

I have not seen any of the Oakland boys here yet but hope to soon. I shall try to get a pass to go and see some of them if I can. I think the 136th (2) is at Fairfax Courthouse, [Va.]; if so, I can go and see them if I want to. When we were at Washington, I inquired for the 33d (3) and was told that they are in Maryland, but could not find out where.

Yes, I have got your first letter that you sent after you found that we had gone to Washington. No, I have not got my likeness taken yet, for I have not had a change yet. The first time that I can, I will.

I should like to say something about Thankful's leaving, but I will not now.

You spoke of not going to church since I left home, except to James Gillette's funeral. I have been every Sunday and intend to go every chance I find. You say that you cannot make it seem as though James is dead. This is true, for I have often said to myself that I would write to him before I thought of his death; poor boy, he little thought that he was telling the truth when he said to me that he should never live to see me again on this Earth, but he is among the happy, I trust.

Tell George Van Scoler to not forget the Oakland Mills. I should like my share of the 40 pounds of honey, but I could not eat it you know. If you do not believe it, ask Grandmother ­ she can tell what a small mouth [I have] for such things.

You must tell Rhoda that I can find her a black wolf here and one that will never desert her. I should like to hear from her and Henry Thayer.

There are men in the company that have worked for Jennie Walworth's folks in Hoosick Falls, [N.Y.]. They are all acquainted with her father.

I am surprised to hear that mother did not fetch you anything from Whitehall, [N.Y.]. You wait until next payday and you shall have something from me if I live. We are to be mustered for our pay tomorrow morning and we are to get it between the 4th and 10th of next month. [I] think I shall get my state bounty and two months' pay ­ it will be $84; my pay is $17. This is some better than $13. I was told that I should get $23, but this is not so; the orderly [sergeant] got $23.

I wrote to uncle this week. You have spoke about my having my money stolen. I have not had any stolen, for I do not keep it long enough for this, but there has been a good many cases where men have lost all of their money, but they were drunk of the time. We have a good chance to spend our money here, for we have got a sutler here that robs a good many out of Uncle Sam's money, (or his greenbacks). Butter is 40 cents a pound; cheese, 20; apples, 5 cents apiece; onions, 5 cents; and everything [else] in proportion, but they do not get much from me. I had to pay 50 cents for a small chicken, but I did not begrudge it, for I had a poor stomach just then.

We have all the shoveling that we want to do. We do not drill any now, for our company has been out on the ditch all of the week. But we can rest tomorrow, I hope, so that we can sign payroll.

We have had a chance to let ten men go into the regular army from our company, but I do not think that I shall bind myself for a longer term than three years, for if I stay this time, I will get enough of it.

Give my love to all of the folks at home and write often to me.

Your brother,



Fort Ethan Allen, [Va.]
November 1, 1862

Dear Sister,

I received a letter from father, David and you on this 14th. I am sorry to hear that father is no better, but trust that he is by this time. I am well and just came into my hut from inspection. We have to have our arms and knapsacks inspected every Sabbath morning and also our clothes; if they are found very dirty we have to return to our huts on a clean up.

I shall have to tell you what kind of a hut we have to-day. We have got a hut that is 7-9 feet and we have it raised a foot off the ground and we got a $5 iron stove yesterday that is placed in one corner. Our boards are made of poles. Thus we have a pleasant little shanty. We can now sleep as comfortably as we can at home, for we have got accustomed to it.

I got a letter from uncle by the way of Mr. Johnson of Whitehall. He was here together with three other men from that place. They were all well and sent their love to all at our house. I got a letter from James Haver (4) also. He was in good health and had been on the march for about two weeks. He spoke of getting a letter from you and one from home. I think that I shall hear from him soon if I do not see him.

I am sorry that Miss Julia has had another bust-up. "Bully for her."

This is enough for this time but now a few lines to father.

Dear Father,

I was glad to hear from you but sorry to hear that [you] had such a hard fit of the rheumatism, but hope that you have got able to be around by this time, for I know how you have suffered heretofore when I have been at home.

I wish that I was there to help you if I could but [I cannot] do so, for I am far from you and all my friends, fight ing for my country and the Constitution, which I hope will be redeemed. But as things look now, we cannot tell what the future will bring forth, but I hope that the late elections will have some good effect, no matter what party does it, if they accomplish the right thing. I think that it might be the object of every man, which will draw it to a close. I care not how, for I have seen enough of it and have but one thing to say, and that is that it is a money war.

Tell little "Em" that James thinks that he will return in the spring, if not before. I will tell you why: we had the news yesterday that we are to be disbanded on the account of our regiment not being full. We cannot get brigaded yet; nor have not been nowhere; not got a commissioned officer in the regiment; and if this [is] true, they cannot do much with us. They cannot put us with another regiment if they can not fill it up with volunteers. We will have to do something before long. It is for this reason we cannot get any pay. We do not know how long it will be before we get any money. We cannot get any until we are brigaded. When I am paid off, I can send it to you by express from here. This I will do, for I know that it will come in handy just now, your being sick. I know that I should like some just now.

When you write, send some stamps if you have not, for they are scarce here. That is good since Ed sent me some yesterday.

I [can] think of no more now to write. My respects to all in Oakland. My love to grandmother and grandfather, mother, and all the children. My love to you.

Your affectionate son,


[Note: The following letter to James's brother David may have been enclosed with the two letters above that he wrote to his father and sister. It was probably sent from Camp Abercrombie, Va. in October or November 1862, as there was some uncertainty of the 169th's higher command assignment during this time. According to a letter written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McConihe on October 26th 1862, the 169th was assigned to the Provisional Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, and Brigadier-General John J. Abercrombie's Division, part of the Defenses of Washington. Major-General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac was on their right at Harper's Ferry, and Major-General Franz Sigel's Army Corps was on their left.]

Dear Brother,

I hope [you learn] to a better advantage than I ever did, but when you are studying there, just think of James, what he is doing down in Old Virginia.

I do not know in whose division I am in for certain. If we are in any, we are in Seigel's (5).

Kiss Jessie for me and tell the deacon to fetch in all the eggs every day. Tell Victoria that I will send her money as soon as I get it. How do my skates go and what have you done with them?

I have no more to write you, only to tell you to write to me often. Do not wait for me. You cannot improve your time better.

Your affectionate brother,



Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
November 26, 1862

Dear Mother,

I received yours last night together with the box in due season, but where was I? I was in the hospital when the news came to me that I had got a box up to my tent. But now I am in my tent and doing pretty well for one that had so severe an attack of the fever as I did for five days while I was in the hospital. It was for a just reason that you spent many nights in my thoughts, for I was then in trouble and suffering for the want of care.

I wrote to Mary on the 24th and told her where I was, but do not borrow any trouble of me for you have enough [at] home.

I have often thought, while I have been here, if David had improved any in his conduct towards you; but as you mentioned it, tell him that the best thing he can do is to enlist and have a short spree of sickness and to be deprived of a mother's care, and then the time will come that he wished he could have his loving mother with him. Mother, I do not say but what I have set some bad examples before him, but I never gave you a cross word as I can recollect of ­ if ever, I ask to be forgiven by you and my God.

Have you got your teeth yet? If so, let me know it. I am thankful for those things that I got in the box. Everything comes handy. Tell me how much the charges were for. I must have another one between Christmas and New Year's.

If all are alive, the 4th of next month my monthly pay will be $51.00 and this together with my state bounty, which we expect soon, will be quite a help to you all at home, for you shall have it if I ever get it. I wrote to Est. today and will write to Kit.

Duty soon. No more now, so goodbye for this time. I will write often. My love to all at home.

From your affectionate son,



[Note: The heading was torn off of the following letter, which must be from James Randall's company commander, Captain Augustus D. Vaughn. It appears that James's father had written to inquire about a state enlistment bounty that his son had not yet received. The bounties were supposed to be paid after the mustering-in of the regiment at Camp Van Vechten, Staten Island, N.Y., on October 15, 1862, but payment was delayed until around early December 1862, at which time the regiment was at Camp Abercrombie, Va. The estimated timeframe of the bounty payments is based upon information contained in the correspondence of Sergeant Marcus Peck, Co. H.]

TO: C. H. Randall
FROM: Captain Augustus D. Vaughn, Co. F

[Camp Abercrombie, Va.]
[c. Early December 1862]

Dear Sir,

I received your letter this evening. In answer, [I] would say this: my papers for [the] state bounty were not informal. The blame rests on the paymaster. He said that he would pay until it was time for him to take the boat to New York, and he stopped paying my company on that account. The most of them received their bounty. I saw Colonel Bliss, general paymaster, in New York and he said if I would send the checks to him which I held, he would send me the money. I have done so, but have not yet received an answer from him. We are expecting to receive the money from him every day. Your prospect is perfectly good. I wish I had the same amount due me from the state. I should feel perfectly safe about receiving it. "Red tape", like good things, comes slow.

Your son has been unwell for a few days. He is now able to eat his rations. I have not had time to drill him enough to keep him from growing fit. As soon as the bounty is received, he will let you know, which I hope will be soon...

[Note: The rest of the page was torn off.]


Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
December 24, 1862

Good morning, Father,

I hope you are in as good health this morning as I am. I never was better after eating a meal of victuals than I am after eating the chicken which I and my tent-mates called "good". I got the box and your letter last night after crossing from Minor's Hill, where we had a brigade review.

Yesterday morning, we were ordered to sling our knapsacks and march. We knew not where, until we reach here. We were with four other regiments, including the one Welch is in and the rest of the boys. Here we could number only 400 men and were brigaded. Our future duty is to remain where we are for the defense of Washington. Thus we will not be likely to remove from here.

Our regiment is very sickly. We have the solemn duty to perform this morning of marching to the city in escort of one of our boys of my company (6) who died night before last. We have two more that are not expected to live the week out (7).

We were out on picket last Saturday and Sunday. We had a cold time and took three Rebels. Mike was here last night when I got the box and we had a good time, you may bet!

Matthew (8) is very bad off now with the rheumatism. I think he will get no better while he stays here.

We have got to have a change of officers in our company soon. Our second lieutenant has resigned and is a going home soon (9).

My state bounty will soon be here, for the captain of Co. A (10) got the checks for his men last night, and my captain (11) expects his this week, so you will get it soon. I hope so, at least, for I want some myself.

I have wrote to Whitehall twice and have not heard from them yet. They must be dead.

How I would like to see sister Emma! I would give her one kiss for the honey she sent in the little pail. I would like to see you all equally as well, for you all are dear to me. But this war will not close, so that I cannot have the privilege of doing this for a good while. Give my thanks to the Arnold girls, for the butter is as good as [40] cents to me for every pound.

Now let me tell you what I am going to have for Christmas, which is tomorrow. First, we have a corporal that has got his wife with him, and he has got a good cookstove with him and he is our sutler; that is, for our company. She makes pies and biscuits and everything, so my tent-mates engaged three tins of biscuit and I furnish the butter and honey, so you know what a Christmas dinner we will have. Welch is coming down too. We are to have a big time to-morrow. The city of Troy has sent a dinner for the regiment. I wish you all a merry Christmas at home.

So goodbye from your son,



Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
December 26, 1862

Dear Father,

I received a Christmas present last night of $50.00 and I have a chance to send $40.00 of it to you, and the remainder to keep. I have but a few moments to write in, so I will have to stop. I am well as usual.

From your affectionate son,



Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
December 27, 1862

Dear Sister,

I received yours of the 21st in due season; also the one you sent in the box which was so very acceptable to me. I am well this morning and hope that all are the same at home. If you could only see me you would not think that I ever saw a sick day. I expect to weigh 160 lbs soon, but for all of this I am liable to be taken sick any moment and be sent home to you a corpse. Yes, you were smart enough in getting home from church as soon as you did and writing me so long a letter as you did, which I like to get and that often, but I should liked to have been with you. I could have cleaned the table alone with the appetite I now have.

You spoke of Mr. McNair's being at our house ­ give him my best respects; also the family. Does he come as often as usual?

You ask me what I think of its being almost Christmas. I think that it is but a short time since we were all together and had good times at Chester's. How time passes away to us all! Where are all the young men that are there at that gathering? This you can answer as well as I. Think of it and ask yourself, where is he who is near and dear to you? You speak of having a Christmas tree and of the many presents you are preparing, also of the presents you sent me, which I feel indebted to you for. And no, I take the privilege of sending you a present ­ a New Year's present ­ and I hope you will return the compliment soon. I received a Christmas present of $50 and have sent $40 of it to home to father, which he will get before you do this, but you tell him to let you have enough to get your photograph taken and sent to me.

Yes, I have heard of the late battle and expected to hear that some of my friends are unlucky. I have not heard from James Haver (12), but I hope he is alive.

No, I will not send along the Dutch letter, for I can read it (or have had it read to me) and know very nearly who it came from.

I supposed it cost considerable more to send those boxes then it did, so send another if you think you can afford it. The reason I kept so much of my state bounty is that I know not when we will get our monthly pay; thus, I kept enough so that I will not have to send home for more again and not get it.

I have not much more to write. My respects to all at home and my love to all of the family, yourself included.

From your affectionate and loving brother,



Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
December 28, 1862

Dear Father,

I send you a receipt this morning of forty dollars that I expressed to you yesterday. Perhaps you will get it before you do this. We are to get our monthly pay between the first and tenth of next month. I am well this morning. We have got to go out for company inspection now. Go write soon.

My love to all,



Camp Abercrombie, [Va.]
December 30, 1862

It is but a short time since I wrote home, but for all of that I must write you a few lines this morning in order to let you know how near we came to having a fight on Sunday night and Monday morning. We were called out a few minutes before 12 by the cry of, "Fall in, Company F!" Soon we were in line and each man had his forty rounds given him, and then each captain took his respecting companies and marched us to the rifle pits, and there we were in the cold until daylight. The night extremely cold and the reason of this was we had a report of Stuart's Cavalry (13) being within nine miles of us. This in fact was so as we have since found out, but this is not all.

Last night we were again called out at 8 o'clock and took possession of the [rifle] pits and kept them until morning. When we were called out we could hear heavy guns in the distance and then all expected an engagement, but we returned again this morning without seeing a shell. We are kept in readiness for a minute's call.

Last night there were three captains called for after we entered the pits, one of them being D. Vaughn (14). They were then soon mounted on fine horses, and an order read by Colonel Buel (now general) (15), stating that the man making the best discovery in the favor of the United States [incomplete sentence]. On returning, Captain Vaughn stated that he had found a quantity of government clothing and immediately sent a guard to the house and examined it, and on doing it, it was discovered that the chamber was full, and the whole amounted to ten loads for four horses. The captain is said to be rewarded with 100 dollars and two positions in the general's staff. Well done for him!

No more to write now. I suppose you have received the 40 dollars by this time.

From your son,


P.S. I send this little present to Emily. Tell her to keep it to remember James with. I got it in a package of writing paper.



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