Welcome the Hour of Conflict
William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama
Publication Year: 2007
In the spring of 1861 a 22-year-old Alabamian did what many of his friends and colleagues were doing—he joined the Confederate Army as a volunteer. The first of his family to enlist, William Cowan McClellan, who served as a private in the 9th Alabama Infantry regiment, wrote hundreds of letters throughout the war, often penning for friends who could not write home for themselves. In the letters collected in John C. Carter’s volume, this young soldier comments on his feelings toward his commanding officers, his attitude toward military discipline and camp life, his disdain for the western Confederate armies, and his hopes and fears for the future of the Confederacy.
McClellan’s letters also contain vivid descriptions of camp life, battles, marches, picket duty, and sickness and disease in the army. The correspondence between McClellan and his family dealt with separation due to war as well as with other wartime difficulties such as food shortages, invasion, and occupation. The letters also show the rise and fall of morale on both the home front and on the battlefield, and how they were closely intertwined.
Remarkable for their humor, literacy, and matter-of-fact banter, the letters reveal the attitude a common soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia had toward the day-to-day activity and progression of the war. John C. Carter includes helpful appendixes that list the letters chronologically and offer the regimental roster, casualty/enlistment totals, assignments, and McClellan’s personal military record.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments and Dedication
In June of 1861 a young Alabamian was caught up in the patriotic furor, “the rage militaire,” that was sweeping Limestone County,1 and along with many of his friends and neighbors, he rushed to join the Confederate army as a volunteer. Twenty-two-year-old William Cowan McClellan (born April 28, 1839; died December 9, 1869) was working on his father’s farm...
1. Preparing for War: Alabama to Richmond, January 14–June 20, 1861
Four days after South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, Alabama governor A. B. Moore called for the election of delegates from all the counties of the state to attend the Alabama Secession Convention in Montgomery starting on January 7. On January 6, 1861, Thomas Joyce McClellan...
2. Waiting for the Great Battle: Richmond to Manassas, June 21–July 21, 1861
As William left for Richmond, Virginia, his brothers, John, Robert, and Thomas Nicholas, remained at home. John was attempting to raise a company with some of his friends, and Robert, having just finished school in Petersburg, Tennessee, was contemplating joining an infantry company. As William’s brothers discovered, although large numbers of volunteers...
3. Manassas to Centreville, Virginia: July 22–September 21, 1861
In late July, rumors and newspaper reports circulated in Limestone County of a great battle in Virginia, and everyone wondered if the 9th Alabama was involved in the action and in the other engagements that followed. Letters from William’s family at home inquired about the status of friends in the regiments from Limestone County and Lincoln County, Tennessee...
4. Camp at Centreville, Virginia: September 27–December 31, 1861
Thomas McClellan wrote to William that not only was paper money too scarce for the wealthiest men to pay their taxes, but terrible price inflation was setting in with no end in sight. This season had also been one of the worst for gathering crops, and Thomas despaired about the suffering and sadness caused by the war. William’s brother Robert joined a cavalry...
5. The Road to the Peninsula: January 8–March 24, 1862
At the beginning of 1862, William and the 9th Alabama remained encamped in the Centreville area. Hopes for a quick invasion of Washington, D.C., and an early end to the war had faded. With increased Union activity in Washington, Confederate leaders were trying to figure out the Union army’s next move now that it was under the command...
6. The Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles: March 25–July 27, 1862
Athens, Alabama, was sacked by Col. John Basil Turchin’s Eighth Brigade on May 2, 1862, with many households and buildings being burnt or plundered. The Union troops under his command were allowed to pillage the town for two hours, possibly in retaliation for recent attacks by citizens and guerrilla units on Union troops and trains...
7. The Second Battle of Manassas to Fredericksburg, Virginia: August 9–November 18, 1862
On July 26, Thomas Joyce McClellan had left Athens for Richmond, Virginia, on business, which included visiting William during the first week of August. The visit from his father was a surprise and a morale booster for a young man who had found it dif
8. The Fredericksburg Campaign: December 3, 1862–February 9, 1863
On November 9, 1862, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, and on November 15 he began moving Union forces southward toward Richmond. Burnside was under immense pressure from Washington to assume the offensive again and to force Lee to defend Richmond. The most direct approach to Richmond...
9. Chancellorsville, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: February 20–July 9, 1863
Athens and Limestone County, Alabama, were occupied again by Union forces in 1863, and in this year the Confederacy reached its zenith before the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July. Very few of the original recruits from 1861 hadn’t “seen the elephant” by now. In January 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia...
10. Orange, Virginia, to Petersburg, Virginia:August 22, 1863–October, 1864
With the losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, the Confederacy faced its darkest hour. By September, Confederate general Braxton Bragg was forced to evacuate Chattanooga as Union major general William S. Rosecrans thanked his defenses. Pres. Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Gen. James Longstreet to Tennessee to help Bragg shore up his forces...
11. Prison and Home Again: January 2–June 2, 1865
By 1865, there were few men on either side who didn’t believe the war was almost over. With a Confederate victory seemingly no longer possible, the only question was when the Confederate states would be brought back into the Union. The Army of the Potomac had finally forced the Army of Northern Virginia to go into the ground around Richmond...
William Cowan McClellan returned to a desolated Limestone County countryside whose homes and businesses were mostly pillaged, burned, or destroyed. There was a shortage of livestock and crops, and the scarcity of food threatened parts of the population with starvation. As one soldier described the scene, “most of the fields . . . were covered by briars...
Appendix A: List of the Letters
Appendix B: 9th Alabama Regiment Casualties/Enlistment Totals
Appendix C: 9th Alabama Regiment Officers and Infantry Assignments
Appendix D: Pvt. William Cowan McClellan’s Military Record
Appendix E: 9th Alabama Regimental Roster for Companies F and H
Publication Year: 2007
OCLC Number: 213271617
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Welcome the Hour of Conflict