A well-educated man, Valentine C. Randolph knew Greek, Latin, Hebrew and was learning Spanish when he joined the army. His diary, edited by David D. Roe and with commentary and annotations by Stephen R. Wise, provides a unique eyewitness view of a private who was quite capable of describing what was going on around him. The diary was written in seven volumes, covering from September 1861, when Randolph enlisted in the 39th Illinois Regiment, to September 1864, when he was mustered out after his term of service.
Roe received this diary around 1970 from a family friend named Deborah Gay. In 2000, Roe began editing the diary, but he found that the diary did not need much; some corrections were needed when words were left out, and Roe added the assumed appropriate word in brackets. At the beginning of each volume, Stephen R. Wise provides commentary of the events that transpired during the period about which Randolph writes, setting the stage for Randolph’s entries. Wise also provides an epilogue to the diary, and there is a short biography of Randolph by Charles Stanley.
Randolph’s education and Christian values shine through in his diary entries. He makes references to
classical mythology and other literature; he writes short Latin phrases in his entries, which have been translated here. He also notes some of the immoral actions and behaviors of some of the soldiers - gambling with cards or other games, for instance, which Randolph found offensive especially when this was done on Sunday. Many soldiers cursed and swore, and some drank alcohol and got drunk. Randolph not only notes the immoral actions of the soldiers, however, but also the conditions they lived under. He wrote entries about everyday camp life for himself and the other soldiers. Some of this material is so mundane that it bores the reader, but in the preface Roe encourages the reader to continue reading the diary in order to discover information about the Civil War that you cannot find in textbooks.
He not only wrote about the mundane things of the soldier life, but also when he and others were involved in battles or skirmishes. Randolph served around Lincoln, Illinois (volume one), Hancock, Maryland (volumes two and three), Harrison’s Landing, Virginia (volume four), Folly Island, South Carolina (volume five), Morris Island, South Carolina (volume six), and Bermuda Hundred, Virginia (volume seven). Four maps help orient the reader to locations Randolph and his regiment were.
Randolph wanted to have his diary to be read by him and those he wished to share it with - or it was to be destroyed - but luckily for posterity, it was saved and made available for historical research. Randolph was born on February 16, 1838 in Illinois. In 1857, he attended Illinois College in Jacksonville; he began studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1860 but withdrew in 1861 when the Civil War broke out and enlisted in the 39th Illinois Regiment for a three-year tour, during which he was slightly wounded and contracted malaria. He was mustered out on September 16, 1864. He entered Ohio Wesleyan University in 1865, graduating in 1868 then going to Garrett Biblical Institute and receiving a bachelor of divinity in 1869. He became a Methodist minister as well as teaching and serving as a vice-president at various colleges. He died January 1, 1895 and was buried in Lincoln, Illinois.
Endnotes, a bibliography and an index are provided, although there are no illustrations except for a picture of Randolph on the title page. This diary is highly recommended to those studying the Civil War looking for primary sources. General Civil War enthusiasts will also enjoy this book.
Stephen R. Wise is a Civil War historian and the co-author of Running the Blockade (1995), and the author of Gate to Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863 (1994), and of Lifeline to the Confederacy (1989).