The Little General
THE LITTLE GENERAL
Charles Carter Randolph was one of 15 children of Charles and Mary Ann Randolph. Young Randolph was born on April 18, 1846 on his family’s estate, “The Grove,” near Warrenton, Virginia. The elder Randolph had served in the War of 1812 as a Captain in the U.S. Army. A first cousin of Robert E. Lee, Capt. Randolph was prosperous and held large tracts of land.
Shortly after the War Between the States began, President Abraham Lincoln suspended by proclamation the “Writ of Habeas Corpus,” thus giving the military a free hand to arrest any person suspected of disloyalty to the Federal Government. Early in the conflict, Union troops swept through Fauquier County where Capt. Randolph’s estate was located. The 73-year old veteran was arrested by Federal soldiers. Capt. Randolph’s son, Robert, was serving in the Confederate Army as a cavalry officer, thus prompting the arrest. The soldiers burned his house, destroyed his livestock and crops, and hauled him to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, DC.
Unable to help his father, young Charles, though under the age of enlistment, did manage to enlist with Company F, 6th Virginia Cavalry. The dark-haired, gray-eyed youth was only 4 feet 6 inches tall. His small stature prevented him from becoming an accomplished cavalry soldier.
“Boys, it looks like I just don’t have the cut to be a horse soldier. I’m going over to talk with General Jackson, and see if he can give me something to do,” Charles said to his mess-mates as he saddled his horse.
Riding into Jackson’s headquarters, the young rider was stopped by the sentry. “I want to see the General,” Charles requested.
The sentry alerted an aid, Colonel Henry Kyd Douglas.
Young Charles related to the Colonel of his intentions on seeing General Jackson, “Well son,, the General is not in at the present, but you can wait. He should be along directly,” the aid replied.
Very soon the General arrived, and immediately went into conference with Colonel Douglas.
Waiting patiently, Charles was finally approached by Colonel Douglas. “The General will see you now,”
After dusting off his uniform, Charles entered the general’s tent, came to attention and gave the General a snappy salute. “General, I want you to give me something to do.”
Although the other officers laughed at this request, Jackson talked with the young man at length. He advised young Randolph to get a release from the cavalry, and told him he would give him a job as an orderly.
Securing his release from the cavalry, Charles then reported for duty at General Thomas J. Jackson’s headquarters.
Despite his small stature, “Charles quickly proved his worth. The conscientious orderly," Jackson observed, "performed his duties well."
Observing the young lad under fire, Colonel Douglas noted that “Charles showed no signs of fear when the bullets flew past him.”
In the Battle of Sharpsburg in September 1862, Charles distinguished himself. Major General J. F. B. Stuart remarked, “A young lad named Randolph, brought me several messages from General Jackson under circumstances of great personal peril, and delivered his dispatches with clearness and intelligence highly creditable to him.”
Riding together after the battle, Charles and Jackson encountered General Robert E. Lee. When Jackson related to Lee how gallantly Charles had behaved, Lee congratulated his young relative and bowed. According to Jackson, Charles blushed until he turned scarlet.
In December 1862, Charles received news that his father had died in a Yankee Prison. Still under the age of 18, Charles received his honorable discharge from the Confederate States Army. General Jackson had taught at the Virginia Military Institute, and now recommended that young Charles attend that school.
Major General Francis H. Smith, the VMI superintendent, following the advice of General Jackson, arranged to have Charles Randolph enrolled in February 1863. Impressed with his battlefield experience, Charles’ classmates nicknamed him “Little General.”
In May 1863, Charles heard the shocking news that Jackson had been shot and later died from pneumonia. The death of his friend was a great tragedy. After elaborate ceremonies in Richmond, Jackson’s body was brought back to VMI. On May 15, 1863, the Corps of Cadets took part in the funeral services at Lexington, Virginia.
For the next year Charles worked very hard at his studies, and became one of the schools’ best students.
On the evening of May 10, 1864, a dispatch from Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge arrived at the Institute. The Federals had launched a major offensive in the Shenanadoah Valley and the General needed the Cadets to help repel the invaders. His summons was met with wild enthusiasm.
Superintendent Smith chose 27 of the youngest cadets to stay behind to guard the Institute. The remaining 258 gray-clad students, including Charles, were anxious to travel. Armed with awkward muzzle-loading Austrian rifles, the cadets followed the Commandant of Cadets, Lt. Col. Scott Shipp. Starting their march at 7 a.m. on May 11, despite heavy rains, they joined Breckinridge’s main force at Staunton the next day.
According to Lt. Col. Shipp, Breckinridge did not wish to put the cadets into battle if he could avoid it. The cadets were to be held in reserve. Still, the VMI students marched down Shirley Hill, a short distance south of New Market, in impressive order. Federal batteries opened fire; a shell exploded in the middle of the Companies C and D. Although Charles escaped harm, five other cadets, including his friend John S. Wise, were wounded. The Corp of Cadets however, closed ranks and continued their advance
The fighting eventually progressed to the area beyond New Market. Breckinridge kept the students out of the battle as long as possible, but with tears in his eyes, he finally ordered the cadets to fill a critical gap between two Virginia Regiments.
Approaching the Bushong House, the youths came under heavy fire from both artillery and infantry. An exploding shell killed two cadets instantly and a third later died.
Despite a terrible fire that ensued, the courageous young men advanced, closing the gap. After an unsuccessful Union charge, the Federals began to abandon their line. A fierce thunderstorm broke out, but the cadets were still ordered to charge a Federal battery. Enemy riflemen immediately opened fire on the students. Suddenly, a bullet struck the “Little General” above the ear. The youth fell to the muddy ground with a severe wound. Sweeping ahead, the other cadets completed their dramatic charge, capturing the federal gun that had been firing on them.
Although Breckinridge routed the Federal force, the cost of the New Market victory was high for the VMI students. Ten cadets died; 47 others were wounded. After the battle, the surviving cadets searched the field for their classmates. “I thought he was dead,” Cadet Moses Ezekiel later wrote of Charles Randolph, “but I found him that night in the hospital.”
Before returning to Staunton, the cadets buried their dead in a New Market cemetery. Union Major General David Hunter, leading another invading army, burned VMI the following month.
For Charles. the war was over. Returning to an older sister’s home, the 18 year old veteran endured a long, difficult period of recuperation from his head wound. The hearing in one ear remained impaired for the remainder of his life.
Following the war, Charles resumed his studies in the autumn of 1866 when VMI reopened in Lexington, graduating in 1870. Charles then made a decision he had contemplated for some time. “He dedicated his life to God, just as Stonewall would have had him do,” his friend Wise observed.
Entering the Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria, Charles was ordained an Episcopalian Minister in 1877. The clergyman married Sara Anthony in 1879, but she died a year later. Their only child did not live to adulthood. In 1884, Charles married Sarah McGuire. Four of their five children survived to maturity; one son graduated from VMI.
Ending his long career of service to the ministry, Charles retired in 1916. On May 14, 1925, Charles Randolph died at home. As General “Stonewall” Jackson had predicted so many years earlier, his faithful messenger had done well.
© copyright 1999 Jim Howell
Music playing is "Dixie" sequenced by a talented
Haywood County donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
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