St. Joseph Tucker Randolph was 17 when the Civil War began in April 1861. He did what most young Virginians did and immediately signed up with a newly formed regiment. For a time, he participated in drills and preparations, but he also had time to continue working in the bookstore operated by his father.
The Randolphs had a storied heritage, one of Virginia’s first families with the Lees, Carters, and Tuckers. By the time of the Civil War, however, they had fallen on harder times, operating stores and other middle-class endeavors. Perhaps it was the influence of his father’s bookstore, or his own solid education, but Tucker, as he was called in the family, began keeping a diary from April 9 through about 1863. He also wrote letters to his parents and other family letters, and he showed himself a fairly astute observer of military operations, battles, officers, and his fellow soldiers.
Tucker’s regiment was eventually assigned to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s army, operating in western Virginia. At one point, Tucker was wounded, but what looked initially serious turned out to be flesh wound. After Gettysburg, his unit was transferred to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and it’s here that his observational talents truly shone.
He went through the Battle of the Wilderness, experiencing from the ground level Ulysses S. Grant’s military strategy of keep hitting at Lee’s army without respite. The Battle of the Wilderness was followed by Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Tucker’s account is still considered one of the best first-hand accounts of that battle.
Shortly after, however, at what is known as the Battle of Bethesda Church (a prelude to Cold Harbor), Tucker died in action. His death was confirmed, with no actual eyewitnesses (or ones who left any account), by his commanding officer, who wrote to Tucker’s parents that he had died during a desperate charge at the church. (The battle is also known as Totopotomoy Creek.)
Tukcer’s diary entries and letters have been published before, but a new edition has just been published, From Western Virginia with Jackson to Spotsylvania with Lee. Edited by Peter Luebke, it includes diary entries, letters, the letter announcing his death, and an account of Tucker’s military life written by another soldier and published in 1901.
Luebke received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia. He has deep experience in the field of public history and he worked as a historian with history highway market program. He’s also written or co-edited numerous articles and books, including an edition of The Story of a Thousand by Albert Tourgee. For this work on Tucker Randolph, Luebke has arranged the chapters chronologically and provided helpful context for each. He’s also included an extensive notes section, bibliography, and an index. And the book is full of illustrations, especially of the people cited in Tucker’s narrative.
From Western Virginia with Jackson tells a story of a young man who, like many young men of his generation, fought a war against fellow Americans. Tucker Randolph didn’t survive that war, but he left behind an articulate and insightful account of his experiences.
Top illustration: a drawing of the Battle of Bethesda Church.