The Confusing Confederate Service of Randolph McCoy

Randall McCoy
Randolph McCoy

As the most popular post on this blog continues to be the one discussing the Confederate service of Devil Anse Hatfield, it seems appropriate to also examine the record of Randolph “Randall” McCoy, his chief antagonist in the famous feud. 

Much like Hatfield’s military record, primary documentation of McCoy’s Civil War service is sparse. Oral tradition holds that Randolph McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield served in the same Confederate unit during the Civil War, but their names, as yet, have not been found together on any unit rosters. But this alone is not unusual as information on many of the local units, especially the short-lived ones, is mostly incomplete.

Hatfield served in the Virginia State Line (VSL), a local militia unit formed in May 1862 that reported to the Governor of Virginia instead of the Confederate military. When the unit disbanded in April 1863, some 372 members of the group reportedly joined the newly formed 45th Virginia Battalion, a Confederate infantry unit organized by Lt. Col. Henry M. Beckley, a previous commander of the VSL. While Anderson Hatfield is listed as a 1st Lieutenant in Company B of this unit, Randolph McCoy’s name is absent from the rolls. But a limited Compiled Service Record (CSR) for Randolph McCoy does exist, and it indicates that, as far as the Union army was concerned, he was associated at some point with the 45th Virginia Battalion. 

McCoy’s CSR states that he was captured in Pike County, Kentucky, on July 8, 1863 and sent to Camp Chase, a Union prison camp in Columbus, Ohio, where he arrived on July 20, 1863. A month later, he was transferred to the large military prison at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, where he remained a POW for the duration of the Civil War.

But to what unit was McCoy attached when he was captured? The document from Camp Chase identifies him as being a private in “May’s Regiment” from Virginia, while his initial POW roll at Camp Douglas lists him as being in “Co. A, May’s Virginia Cavalry.”  Although Col. A.J. May was the commander of a unit formed from McCoy’s home area, it was a Kentucky unit, not a Virginia one, and it had disbanded in October 1862. In the spring of 1863, May was involved in recruiting members to a new unit that would become the 10th Kentucky Cavalry, but whether or not Randolph McCoy was a part of this recruitment effort is unknown. 

By the time of his release from Camp Douglas, however, McCoy’s prison documents had stopped listing him as being associated with Colonel May. Instead, he became identified as a private in “Co. C, Beckley’s Regiment” (also spelled “Backley” on some documents), which would place him with the 45th Virginia Battalion. To make matters more confusing, McCoy’s documents from both Camp Chase and Camp Douglas have annotations that read: “1 Cav. State Line”; “45th Bn., Va. Inf.”; and “1 Inf., Va. State Line.” Who made these notations to his record and when cannot be determined. 

The details of McCoy’s capture are unknown, but elements of the 45th Virginia Battalion were involved in a small skirmish in Pike County, Kentucky, in July 1863. The unit operated in the West Virginia-Kentucky-Virginia border region, not only as a guard against bushwhackers, but also to help protect the vital salt mines in the southwestern portion of Virginia. Union general Julius White, commanding the District of Eastern Kentucky, moved into the Pike County area in July 1863 and sent a small force to engage the Confederates along the Tug Fork River.

Men from the 45th Virginia Battalion met the advancing Union force along Pond Creek in Pike County, Kentucky, on July 7, 1863. A brief Official Records report written by Brig. Gen. White on July 10, 1863 states:

Since my last dispatch, a detachment of the Sixty-fifth Illinois and Thirty-ninth Kentucky, from this command, under Colonel Dan Cameron, have returned from an expedition up the Tug River into West Virginia where they routed and dispersed the enemy, under Buchanan, killing 5 and capturing 20. The enemy took to the cliffs and mountain sides, but the brave Illinoisans and Kentuckians vied with each other in climbing the steeps under a galling fire, and driving the enemy from their mountain fastness. Colonel Cameron and his officers and men have exhibited the utmost daring and energy, and have penetrated where no Union troops have been before.

McCoy Oath
Oath of Allegiance Record for Randolph McCoy
National Archives

The “Buchanan” referred to in the report was Capt. John Buchanan, who commanded Co. B of the 45th Battalion, the company to which Devil Anse Hatfield belonged. If Randolph McCoy was captured in Pike County on July 8, 1863, he was most likely involved in the action around Pond Creek, which, at the very least, would place him fighting alongside the 45th Virginia Battalion. 

Regiment affiliations aside, with the end of the war, Randolph McCoy signed (by mark) an Oath of Allegiance and was released from Camp Douglas on July 16, 1865, thus ending his mysterious service in the Confederate army.







  1. There are two books that are nice reads about Randolph “Randall” McCoy’s Civil War days. “The Story of the McCoys” by retired Chief of Police Barry McCoy and “The Other Feud” by Dr. Philip Hatfield. The reason Randolph’s Civil War record is confusing to some is because he spent most of his time during the Civil War in Prison Camp. Philip Hatfield wrote a chapter on Devil Anse deserting and questions a lot of his activity which was mostly oral stories passed down from generation to generation. The Civil Record actually has Devil Anse listed as 5’6 inches tall instead of 6’5 and Randolph McCoy 6’0. So one can appreciate the Civil War profiles site over bear tales of the feud anyday. I enjoyed your article Mr, Lively. I just think a more appropriate title for Randolph such as, “Randolph McCoy – Prisoner of War and Feud Leader” would have been more accurate.

  2. We are currently in pre-production of a documentary for the McCoy family. The documentary is going to tell the story of Randolph McCoy and the events of the feud as told by his direct descendants. We are going to start the documentary by showing Randall’s Civil War service and touch on his time as a P.O.W.. We have a contractor that is going to build a replica of Camp Douglas and have the Armies of Tennessee Civil War re-enactors to help with a lot of the scenes. As a bonus, we have the current McCoy patriarch, whom is also named Randall McCoy, who is going to portray the younger civil war era Randall McCoy. We are trying to be as historically correct as possible with this film and greatly appreciate the continuing support we receive from the Civil War community.

    • The limited documents in McCoy’s CSR all list him as a private. If he held a different rank in another unit, it either wasn’t recorded or the documentation was lost.

    • Matt Chrisenberry, the Hatfield/McCoy movies are very inaccurate. None of them were researched as well as they should have been before their makings.

    • None of the movies have gotten their stories about Randolph and William Anderson (Devil Anse) Hatfield accurate. I have laughed at most of them. They didn’t do their research well enough and relied on oral history which most have wrong according to some records that have been found by other researchers.

  3. I am wondering how Randall continued to have children during the Civil war. There was a child born in 1862, 63 and 64.

    • The units in which McCoy enlisted were local militia-type units that were organized to defend their home region as opposed to being deployed for action in other states, so they had opportunities to visit home during the time. Randall wasn’t captured until July 1863, so the child born in 1864 must have been conceived prior to that date.

  4. Do you have access to any records that indicate if “Bad” John Wright of Letcher County Ky serviced time in either Union Prison when Randolph was there. Mr Wright was captured near Cranes Nest, VA and sent to Chase but I don’t have the dates or any other details. Your help would unlock a feud mystery. Thank you for this wonderful piece of research.

  5. Also the regiment Colonel Andrew Jackson May commanded was the 5th KY Infantry that disbanded in October 1862 also reformed at the same time as the same unit. However it was sometimes referred to as 5th KY Mounted Infantry Regiment. Careful not to confuse this regiment with Colonel Hunts 5th KY Infantry from western KY that was later redesignated as the 9th KY Infantry Regiment. Some members of May’s 5th KY did join other KY units after their enlistments expired in October 1862. But it’s possible McCoy was in the 5th KY Mounted Infantry after its reformation in October 1862.

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