My stepfather, Arthur "Mac" McDonald, was a major Civil War buff. He read widely about the war, visited the major battlefields when he retired, watched Kens Burns' Civil War series, etc. But he had no knowledge of anyone in his family ever being in the Civil War. Unfortunately, I didn't try to research his family tree until after he died. When I did I discovered that his Great Grandfather, Randal McDonald, did indeed fight in the Civil War! I so regret not discovering that while he was alive because he would have been so thrilled!
Randal McDonald was born in Dec 1829 in Potsdam, St. Lawrence, New York to Jacob Guy McDonald and Betsy Otis. Betsy's father, Joshua Otis, fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 from Vermont (Mac would've loved that, too!). In the 1850 Census we find Randal in Oswego, New York where he met and married Elizabeth Smith. They moved to Croghan, Lewis, New York where they had three children, Arland, Francis and Ella by 1861.
On 24 Jul 1863, Randal enlisted in the Union Army at Carthage, New York. He was a private in the 20th NY Cavalry. They saw battle in Virginia and North Carolina and were in the Appomatox campaign. His muster roll abstract notes that he was also referred to as Randall McDaniels. Interestingly, his father is called McDaniels in the 1830 and 1840 Censuses as well. He was discharged on 31 Jul 1865. He is described as "blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, 5 ft. 8 in. tall."
When he returned home, he and Elizabeth had one more child, Frederick, born 1868. In 1870 he and Elizabeth are living in Harrisburg, Lewis County. He is a farmer, value of Real Estate is $300, personal property is $350, neither he nor Elizabeth can read or write. In 1880, they are back in Croghan. He is now listed as a laborer but the "cannot read/write" columns are not ticked suggesting that he can do both. He is found in the 1890 Veterans Schedule as "Randall S. McDaniels" living in New Bremen, Lewis, New York. It says he is a Private Co. A 20 NY Cav from 28 Jul 1863-11 Aug 1865, 2 years, 0 months, 8 days. No disability but under remarks it says, "suffering from lung disease." He managed to live until the 1900 Census where we find him and Elizabeth in New Bremen, age 70 and married for 50 years. He is listed as a Day Laborer. He and Elizabeth can both read and write and they own their own home free of mortgage. He died sometime between this Census and the 1910 Census as I cannot find him in the 1910 Census. I found a possible gravestone for Elizabeth dated 1909.
So there is Randal who left his wife and small children to fight for the Union for 2 years and 8 days and then returned to his farm. An American. And, although unknown by name, a hero to his great grandson!