Michigan in the Civil War

Browse by Name: Randall, William H.

Randall, William H., 1844-

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Randall, from Pittsfield, Mich., first enlisted in Company H, 1st Michigan Infantry, April 20, 1861, for three months, and was mustered out at Detroit August 7, 1861. He reentered the service in Company D, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, November, 1862. He was promoted to second lieutenant of Company I on October 3, 1863; taken prisoner before Petersburg, July 30, 1864; paroled February 28, 1865; promoted Captain, April 1, 1865; and mustered Out July 28, 1865. His reminiscences (part photocopy, part typescript), written in 1867, have an essay style introduction, then entries from his diary kept in the field. He describes the farewell meeting for the troops in the Baptist Church; Fort Wayne and the city of Detroit; the presentation of a flag by Detroit ladies; embarking on the boat Illinois, for Cleveland and on to Baltimore, describing the country as they go along (farms, mountains that fill him with awe, oil wells, coal mines). They march down the streets of Baltimore; on to Washington where he visits the capitol and then Alexandria. He describes the death of Colonel Ellsworth and the building of Fort Ellsworth. He tells of the battle of Great Bethel; a grand review of troops by General Heintzelman; picket duty; inspection of arms, drilling; scouting expeditions; Professor Lorre and his observation balloon. He describes some of their camps; the campfires of other regiments encamped near them. He enjoys the music of the Detroit Light Guard. He also enjoys the books taken from the ransacked Romel House. There is a splendid description of the battle of Bull Run with a list of interesting incidents that happened, such as the troops' first terror of shells; Washington caught short of food with the descent of the routed troops; his own attitude during the battle. On the journey home he becomes very ill with typhoid pneumonia.

At the beginning of 1864 he was in Camp Douglas as a member of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters doing guard duty over six or seven thousand Rebel prisoners. He describes Camp Douglas in contrast to southern prisons. He tells of the 1863 plan to release prisoners in various camps. Money, officers and men are sent to Canada with plans to overrun the North. A rebel major revealed the plot to Colonel Hill of Detroit. He speculates on what might have happened had the plot succeeded. In March he returns to his regiment. He is detailed to an ambulance train, and creates vivid pictures of the battlefields with their dead and wounded, the ambulance corpsmen at work, and the often slow and agonizing trips to hospitals. He writes of Wilderness battles, a battle at night with the wounded being taken to a field hospital, and of the engagement near Spotsylvania where his brother Lewis was killed. They are always on the march towards Petersburg with immense wagon trains. He wrote, "A baggage wagon with six mules attached is a ponderous machine." There is an excellent description of the battle at Bethesda Church.

He was ill and the Sanitary Commission gave him food. "The Sanitary and Christian Commissions are a Godsend to the sick soldiers and save many lives," he said. They crossed the James on a pontoon bridge, and he explains how it was made. Fighting became more intense as they neared Petersburg. He left the ambulance corps and returned to his regiment where he and his men were fighting, digging ditches, standing picket guard until finally captured. There is a good account of the mine, incidents of the battle, and of the coolness of the Indian fighters.

He ends his Reminiscences with an explanation of the criticisms of General Grant by a group of men who "were the worst enemies we had, and did us more injury than though they had been serving in the rebel ranks." To him Grant was a military genius.

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