Francis V. Randall

Francis Voltaire Randall, son of Gurdon R. and Laura Scott (Warner) Randall, was born in Braintree, Vt., February 13, 1824, and died in Northfield, Vt., March 1, 1885. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Northfield, where a granite shaft, set up by his comrades in arms in memory of their beloved leader, marks his resting place.

In 1828, his parents removed to Northfield, where he attended the district school in the winter, working on a farm with his father, and at carpentry in the summer. Later he attended for a few terms the academy at Chester, Vt., and taught school winters. He studied law with the Hon. Heman Carpenter of Northfield, 1845-48, and was admitted to the Washington County bar in November, 1848; practiced his profession in Northfield, 1848-57; Roxbury, Vt., 1857-60; Montpelier, Vt., 1860-61, 1865-76. In his profession, he was eminently successful, being one of the ablest advocates before juries at the Washington County bar.

He was commissioned captain, Company F, 2d Vermont Infantry, May 20, 1861; served in the battles of Bull Run, Lees Mills, Williamsburg, Goldings Farm, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, and Crampton's Gap. He resigned September 9, 18C2, to return to Vermont to assist in enrolling more troops for the service. He took an active part in raising the 13th Vermont Infantry and was commissioned its colonel, September 24, 1862. In this work, he was assisted by W. D. Munson, '54, later lieutenant-colonel of the regiment, and by George Nichols, M. D., later surgeon of the regiment. At the battle of Gettysburg, July 1-4, 1863, the 13th Vermont lead by its gallant colonel, rendered conspicuous service and gained for themselves an immortal name in the war history of our country for the gallantry displayed in this decisive battle. Notable, during the second day's fight, Colonel Randall, at the request of General Hancock, recaptured a battery that had been lost to the Confederates and turned with terrible effect upon our own men who had been unable to silence it For their gallantry in this heroic charge, General Hancock personally and on the field, complimented Colonel Randall and his command. To this regiment belongs the distinction of repulsing General Pickett's famous charge in this battle. He was mustered out of service, July 21, 1863, and began immediately to recruit the 17th Vermont Volunteers; was commissioned its colonel, February 10,1864; served with distinction in the battles of the Wilderness, the siege of Petersburg and the capture of Lee's army, and finally was mustered out of the service, July 14, 1865.

Returning to Montpelier, Colonel Randall spent several years in looking after business interests that had been more or less neglected and of a miscellaneous sort; and from 1876 to 1883, he engaged in farming in Brookfield, Vt. In 1884, he bought the old hotel at Northfield Center, later used as the "N. U." mess hall, where he lived until his death. In politics he was, before the war, a Democrat; after it, a Republican. He was postmaster of Northfield, 1853-57. He represented Roxbury in the House of Representatives, from 1857 to 1859, and was state's attorney of Washington County in 1859.

He took great interest in the welfare of "N. U." serving as vice-president from 1883 until his death and as trustee, 1882-89; received from the University the honorary degree of A. M. He was always ready to give of his time and means to serve the University; gave assistance in securing the State aid in 1884. He once said of "N. U.": "To see her future permanent and secure would be glory enough for me if my whole life's work besides were blotted out." He was a member of DeWitt Clinton Lodge, F. and A. M., of Northfield, and the G.A.R.; honorary member 8 X Fraternity.

He was twice married: first, July 3, 1846, to Caroline Elizabeth Andrus of Connecticut. Three children were born to them: Charles Woodbridge, born May 14, 1847, died October 20, 1868; Francis Voltaire, born April 3, 1851, resides in northern Vermont ; Zella Valeria, born in 1854, and died in infancy. He was married the second time, December 6, 1863, to Fanny Gertrude Colby of South New Market, N. H., who died in Ellendale, N.D., October 26, 1893. Three children were born to them: Phil Sheridan, "N.U.," '86; Gurdon Colby, born December 21, 1867, died July 20, 1868; Luther Volney, born March 4, 1875, and resides in Flaxton, N. D.

William Arba Ellis, Norwich University 1819-1911, Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, (Capital City Press, Montpelier, 1911, vol. iii), pp. 67-68




The following thrilling account of Capt. Randall's escape from death by drowning is from a letter from his own pen;



I have just got your letter, and as I can't do anything else I will write you again. I get all your letters very regularly. We are at Camp Lyon, where Byron and the 3d Regiment are, but we were sent on a scout up the river a week ago today, and are here yet. We shall probably go back soon. We are in an awful rough works. Our pickets were fired into this morning. We are right opposite to where the rebels have quite a force, but they are some miles inland. Our directions require our Colonel to send over a scouting party to reconnoitre, and last Wednesday I was ordered to select such men as I thought proper, and cross the river if a place could be found where it could be done. I took George Doty alone with me, and we crossed some three miles above here on a raft, but it was so poor we had to swim some, and we took no clothes but our own shirts and drawers. Great Falls is one of the roughest places in all the country, and the current very swift for some miles above. We however got over in safety and explored as far as we could through the afternoon, and when the night came we returned to the river having been six miles into the country without being seen. Now George Bridgman and Amos Benett had been sent to get a boat to take us back, but they had to go seven miles further up the river to find one and did not get back, as it proved, till night. Doty and I were wet and cold, and we thought we could run our old raft back, and as night was fast approaching we launched out, but we were so near the falls that we could not manage it, and soon saw that in all probability we should go over the falls. We had now got where the water was one tremendous foam and running as swift as a horse, and we poor devils pitching and tumbling, and not over eighty rods from the pricipice. We now left the raft, as that had become shattered and nearly gone to pieces and took to swimming.. We managed to reach a large rock that projected out of the water and clung to that, and finally drew ourselves on to it. We were now ten rods from the shore and between us and shore run the most furious part of the river. We were now out of hearing and no way left but to again try our swimming skill.

Doty being the best swimmer plunged in, but my blood chilled in my veins as I saw him carried down, like lightning. But he put forth all his efforts, and reached a point of rock on the shore. He beckoned me (he could not be heard from the roar of the water) to try the experiment. He went to the camp, and the whole regiment came pouring down to help me off that point on which I stood. It made me shed tears to see the anxiety of the soldier boys to help me safely off. This was done by a long rope sent from an island above. It was night, and I was badly bruised, and standing so long in the water was chilled almost to death. I have not left my room yet, but they are going to carry me down to camp on the ambulance tomorrow. I took an emetic yesterday, and feel better today. I think I shall be well soon. Doty is very lame, but did not take such a cold as I did.

CAPT. Randall

Submitted by Deanna French.


After Gettysburg

22 July 1865

13th Vermont Regimental History


Sudden Death of Col. F. V. Randall.

Col. Francis V. Randall of Montpelier died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy in that town on Sunday afternoon, in the sixty-first year of his age. He went out in 1861, as Captain of Co. F, of the Second Vermont Regiment; was promoted in 1862 to the Colonelcy of the 13th Vt. Vols. ; distinguished himself at Gettysburg, and in February 1864, was appointed Colonel of the 17th Vt. Vols., and served to the close of the war.

The Late Colonel Randall.

The Funeral.

The funeral of the late Col. F. V. Randall was largely attended at Northfield on Thursday afternoon in the Universalist church. People were turned away by scores from the doors. The cadets of Norwich university and Co. F, of the state militia, together with Northfield cornet band, escorted the remains from the residence to the church, where they were met by members of the Grand Army to the number of 100, an equal number of the Masonic fraternity, a large delegation from the Washington county bar, and a large number of citizens.

At the church the services were conducted by the Rev. F. C. Cowper, rector of St. Mary' s church at Northfield address was delivered by Chaplain N. F. Hill of the First Vermont, and the services of the G. A. R. and the Masonic fraternities were impressively rendered. Delegations were present from many parts of the state.

Sketch of His Life.

The late Francis V. Randall was a native of Braintree, Vt., the son of Gordon R. Randall. His father was a millwright, and a man of considerable reading, who named three sons after the famous French infidels and sceptics, Francis Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Constantine Francois Volney. He had nine children, three of whom are still living, J. J. R. Randall, the architect, of Rutland; Mrs. Charles H. Joyce of Washington, D. C., and Rev. Edward H. Randall, rector of St. John's Episcopal church of Poultney. F. V. Randall was the second son. His father moved to Northfield during his boyhood, and he was there educated, studied law in the office of Hon. Heman Carpenter, and was admitted to the bar. Removing to Roxbury, Vt., he represented that town in the legislatures of 1857-58-59, and was state's attorney of Washington county. In 1860 he moved to Montpelier, and was in successful practice of his profession, when the war broke out. He recruited a company for the first three years' regiment raised in this state, the Second Vt. Vols., was chosen its captain, and served with the regiment till September, 1862, when upon the organization of the Second Vermont Brigade, of nine months' troops, he was appointed colonel of the Thirteenth Vt. He was a genial and popular colonel; won high distinction at Gettysburg; and for a few days commanded the Second Vermont Brigade, after the wounding of Gen. Stannard in that battle. Col. Randall returned to Vermont with the Thirteenth, at the expiration of the term of service, and after a short interval was in Feb. 1864, appointed colonel of the last infantry regiment raised in the state - the Seventeenth Vt. Vols.


The Boston Evening Record contains the following account of the part taken by the late Colonel Randall at the head of the Thirteenth Vermont at Gettysburg and afterward as commander of the Seventeenth. Presumably it was written by Colonel Albert Clarke, as the Record is the evening issue of the Daily Advertiser staff, and Col. Clarke is on the Advertiser staff, and was in command of a company in the Thirteenth at Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, on the second day of the battle, when the second corps had been badly cut and been obliged to abandon a battery, Colonel Randall with five companions, was ordered to the scene. "Colonel, can you re-take those guns?" asked General Hancock. "We'll do it or die trying, " was the quick response, and the gallant little band dashed down the slope towards the Emmetsburg road against ten times their numbers, not knowing whether they were supported or not. They had scarcely started down when Col. Randall's horse was shot under him. Extricating himself from the saddle he ran and overtook his line, and putting himself ahead of the colors, hatless, limping and waving his sword, he led his men to the very muzzles of the guns, which had been turned upon them, before the enemy broke.

The guns were drawn to the rear, the line was re-formed and another charge was made, which resulted in the capture of 83 sharpshooters from a small house, the smoking ruins of which are shown in the great cyclorama now on exhibition in the city. The next day Col. Randall distinguished himself in the brilliant flank movement of Stannard's brigade, which is also shown in the cyclorama, though not with perfect accuracy. He held the right of the brigade, and in the din of the conflict was obliged to rush from officer to officer to have his orders understood. His entire line was within two rods of Pickett's column, where the fight was thickest, and a portion of it was a hand to hand conflict. As soon as the rebels began to throw down their arms, Col. Randall ordered his men to cease firing and alone dashed in among the enemy and pulled 243 of them within his line as prisoners. His son, only 16 years old, was second lieutenant of one of the companies, and with a father's heart, Col. Randall ordered the commander of that company to surround the prisoners and take them to the rear. Later in the war, as commander of the Seventeenth Vermont, Colonel Randall was in nearly all the hardest fought battles of Grant's campaigns against Richmond. In fact, his hastily gathered detachment went into battle before the regiment had ever had a battalion drill, and before the campaign was over he had lost more than half his men. But he passed through all these perils without receiving any injury except a sprain when his horse fell. His son, above alluded to, fell a victim to the infected clothing (as it was supposed) that the infamous Dr. Blackburn caused to be sent to the army, and died from the effects of small-pox.

Sources: Burlington Free Press, March 6, 1886, Caledonian, March 12, 1885,
Courtesy of Tom Boudreau.