RANDALL THOMPKINS VAN VALKENBURGH
As told to his grand-daughter, Zoe Anna Van Valkenburgh in 1934
ONE MANS ADVENTURES IN THE CIVIL WAR
Amenzo and Randall Van Valkenburg during the Civil War Years
In the year of 1833 there came to Michigan a family of the name of Van Valkenburgh. This family had come from the state of New York by the way of the Erie Canal and Buffalo. From Buffalo they took a sail-boat to Toledo. Here the father set up a blacksmith shop and they stayed, in this location for one year. The urge to go west was so great that Lambert, the father, could not resist It. He piloted his ox-team and his family toward the great west. They traveled so slowly that by the time they reached Tipton, Michigan, the family was exhausted with weariness. When the settlers of Tipton heard that Lambert was a. blacksmith, they offered to give him eighty acres of land, and build him a home, and a shop if he would stay. This offer was so tempting that Lambert could not let it go. Here the family took up their home and remained for many years.
It was here that Randall, the next to the youngest of twelve children was born on September 7, 1847, The van Valkenburghs lived very happily for four years and then the lust of gold in California drew the father west. He went with a group of men who planned to go by boat ground by the gulf of Mexico and up tp California. When they were in mid ocean, Lambert became very ill and died suddenly. His companions had a very ceremonious funeral, for him and he was buried at sea.
After the death of his father, Randall lived with his mother until he was twelve years old. At that time his oldest brother married and the farm was divided among the children. The younger children went to live with their appointed guardians. Randall went to live with a family by the name of Reynolds, who had six children of their own. Here Randall lived for two and. a half years, or until he was fourteen years old. He was a very healthy lad and therefore he was put to work plowing the fields with an ox team in the summer time and in the winter time he plowed through a mile of snow drifts to school.
One summer Randall's Guardian's brother, a veteran of the Mexican War, came to visit them. The children were all thrilled by the stories that Uncle Iria, which was his name, told to them. Each evening after the work was done Uncle Iria gathered the children about him on the porch and told them wonderful stories of his adventures in the war. One of his favorite stories was, "When I was in the war and In the Dragon regiment, I would mount my charging steed, with a sabre In my right hand and a pistol in my left hand, guiding my steed with my knees and spurs. I would charge upon the enemy, sabring them down without mercy." Later when Randall was in the war he wrote to Uncle Iiria and said, "I certainly wish that you were down here, mounted upon your charging steed; and I bet that you would have a devil of a time mowing these Johnnies down."
After the election of Lincoln, Randall's guardian and the townsmen. were all excited about the slavery problem and the South. His guardian was a strong Republican and firmly believed that the slaves should be freed, but he was unwilling to have his sons go to war about it.
After the 1st Battle of Bull Run, the men who had enlisted for three months came home. There was much telling of stories and their adventures to the younger boys, Randall, like all the other boys, was caught by the glamour of fighting and especially by the brass buttons and gay uniforms of the soldiers.
In the spring of 1862, Randall went to stay In Manchester, Michigan for a while. Here he came in contact with a German bv the name of Ottomer, who was getting men to enlist, When Joe asked Randall to enlist, he said, " I can't, Joe, because I am not old enough and I won't be fifteen until September. Whim Joe heard that he laughed and said " Oh yes you vas, I makes you be eighteen." He immediately put his name down and his age as eighteen. He was never asked during the time he served how old he was.
In the middle of June, Randall was called to Adrian with ten other men to join the Company A, 17th Michigan. At Adrian they met other men and then they drilled until August. After the regiment was organized they were sent to Washington ,D.C. Here in camp the men were set to chopping down trees to use as a protection against the enemy.
After the Battle Of Bull Run, Lee began to advance toward Washington. The Commander was in such a hurry to get out that he left the wagons and other equipment in Washington. The Commander ordered another man and Randall to stay and guard the wagons while the rest of the regiment advanced. When they got the wagons, they followed the army and finally they caught up with them in a place called Hagerstown, which was in the valley between North Mountain and South Mountain. Here they received orders to join the regiment which was stationed at the foot of South Mountain. When they reached their destination, the Company was detailed to guard the prisoners that had been taken on the march. As Randall and his companion did not wish to go back to Fredericksburg, the commander said that they could go with the Company.
Just as the Commander was talking to them a shell exploded near by, killing some of the boys. Then they were immediately ordered to make a charge up the side of the mountain. On the mountain there were two roads which crossed at the top. The one cross-road which went to Middleton was filled with the enemy.
A volley of musketry was poured down upon the regiment's heads from the top of the hill, but did not hit Randall, as it went over his head. This was the first time that they had seen any bombshell explosions and it made them tingle with excitement. The boys ran around chattering like squirrels, not knowing what they were doing or saying. The camp was in an uproar, bullets were flying here and there. They did not know just what to do or where to go. They finally went into their lines and began firing into the rebels. Randall's regiment lost a great many men, but they managed to cut off the rebel line.
The dead rebels were lying fifteen men deep in the ditches. As they were burying the dead, Randall came upon a wounded rebel soldier that had been shot through the mouth, cutting off about half of his tongue. Randall couldn't stand to see the man suffer so he took his canteen and poured some water down the wounded soldier's throat. The dying man could not answer, but he closed his eyes and died peacefully. As Randall was standing beside him he thought of his mother and what she told him of her praying each night for the Lord to protect him through the fight.
After the din of the battle had quieted somewhat they began to dig trenches to bury the dead First they dug the trench and then they took the wooden boxes that their crackers came in and laid them in the trenches. They then wrapped the dead in blankets and placed them on top of the boxes. Finally they put more boxes over them and then the dirt.
Randall's company stayed in camp for several days until Stonewall Jackson came with 30,000 men and the fight was turned on toward Antietam. Three days later they fought the Battle of Antietam. The regiment crossed the Antietam River at Burnside's Bridge. There were so many men killed on the bridge and thrown in the water, that the river was, literally, flowing with blood. This was the bloodiest battle that Randall had ever seen.
The next day the army went into camp to recruit, which was in Pleasant Valley. They had so many men wounded and sick that they were forced, to remain there a month. One day General Burnside and President Lincoln came into the camp. Randall was very much impressed with the President's appearance. He was mounted on a lean black pony with his long legs dangling from the sides of the pony. He wore a black coat, a tall, black stove-pipe hat, and he carried an old umbrella under his arm. He made a speech to the soldiers which was a great honor then. He said to them, "General Burnside has told me about the gallant charge that you made at South Mountain, and how you charged the enemy on the Stonewall. I will now give you the title of the 'the Stonewall Regiment".
The Commander decided that it was time to go into winter quarters, so they marched back over the hills and built log-cabins for the winter. Each night there was a patrol sent out to picket the river. When on picket, Randall could look across the river and see the rebels and their negroes digging picket ditches.
The army laid pontoon bridges across the river, only further down than the enemy's camp was. After the battle of Fredericksburg, on December 20, they laid blankets and straw on the bridge to deaden the sound of the artillery and the troops. The army was planning to retreat, but just before they left, the General called for volunteer pickets.
Randall and another man said that they would go. They were ordered not to speak above a whisper and not to make a fire. They went up the hill to the breast-works, where they laid down. They kept within arms length of each other so they would not get lost or separated. There were many dead lying around, so they piled, them up in a heap and used them for protection from the enemy's shots. Here they remained until daylight. When they got back in camp, the army had crossed the river and so they cut the pontoon bridges and floated down to the opposite side of the river. When they reached the camp they received orders to go to Newport News, Virginia where more recruits would join them. At Newport News they spent Christmas and early spring.
In April they took the boat up to Baltimore, Maryland, and then took the train to Parkersburgh, Virginia. Here they received orders to go to Kentucky. They had several scrimmages in which they lost more men than they did in a regular battle. One day two men came to the camp selling pork. They seemed very pleasant and congenial sort of men, but looks are deceiving, and the next day they had a charge of rebels against Randall's regiment. They chased them across fields and finally at a fork in the road they caught them and shot them as spies.
After being in Kentucky for a while, they received orders to go to Vicksburg. At Vicksburg they fought a bloody battle, which was said to be the turning point in the war. That same day the Battle of Gettysburg was being fought. Both Gettysburg and Vicksburg were surrendered on July 4th.
The next morning they were ordered to march toward Johnson's army. They marched to Canton, where a scrimmage was held. Leaving Canton they went to Jackson. Here they were constantly fighting the rear guards of Johnson's army. They finally drove them out of Jackson. After being in Jackson sometime, they went to Knoxville, Tennessee. Here they built their winter quarters after having several scrimmages with the rebels. They again built pontoon bridges across the river so they could get forage. After the General heard that General Longstreet was nearing, he sent a detail to chop the pontoon bridges apart and to sink the boats.
Another stormy day when it was very cold, Randall's regiment was placed in the woods without any fire or food. They did not have hardly any clothes, since the wagon with supplies had been delayed. The next afternoon the regiment was surrounded by the rebel army at a place called Turkey Creek. Five of the men, including Randall, started for the mill, which stood there, so they would not get wet. It was raining very hard and the men had to fight in the rain. Just as they were about to enter the door the rebels saw them and suddenly began firing at them. Two of the men were killed, two were taken prisoners, and Randall was the only one to escape.
In the morning they marched back to Knoxvllle. They were so tired that they dropped down upon the ground and stayed there until noon. Then they were set digging rifle pits. Thus the seige of Knoxville was started. The siege lasted for twenty-two days. The companies ran short of supplies and the only thing that they had to eat was cornmeal made into bread,
After the siege of Knoxville the regiment moved to Strawberry Plains, The army was in a terrible condition because of the lack of food and clothing. Some of the men took their tents and endeavored to make clothing out of them but they were not very successful. In three days they ware transfered into Maryland, where they received supplies and new recruits from Washington. After the company recruited for several days they marched into Virginia, where the famous battle of the Wilderness took place. Randall's regiment was ordered to make a charge against the rebels along with a regiment of Indians. The Indians were quite brave until they heard the reports of the rebel's guns. they immediately broke and ran. This exposed the other regiment. The enemy fired lengthwise on the remaining and the men fell by the hundreds. The men that were left ran behind trees, logs, or anything that they could find for protection. Randall stepped behind a tree to load his gun. He was in the act of ramming the cartridge down it, when he was struck by a bullet.
It struck him in the right hand. he began to feel numb all over, and the only thing that he could think to do was to get out of there as fast as he could. He quickly dropped his gun and ran. He immediately went back to the field hospital where they tried to fix his hand. That night all the men that were able to ride were taken in wagons within five miles of Fredericksburg. On arriving at Fredericksburg, Randall had his fingers amputated. After spending several days there he was sent to Washington to the hospital. At this hospital, Randall saw the first white bedding that he had seen in two years. It certainly seemed like heaven to lie between such white sheets.
President Lincoln came to the hospital to visit the boys each day. He would always ask the boys how they were, and sometimes would stop and talk to Randall.
From Washington, Randall was sent to West Philadelphia and then to Harper Hospital in Detroit. Here he was discharged December 24th.
Randall married Tryphenia Raymond and they had three children. Minnie, Louella and Charles. Years later he married a second time to Jennie Burlingane. They lived in Washington. D.C. until her death. Randall then went to live with his widowed daughter Mimmie Cooley in Ypsilanti, Michigan for a short time. He spent his last seven years living with his widowed daughter-in-law, Ida VanValkenburg and family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He died in 1937 at the age of 89, 11 months. He is buried in Jackson. Michigan.