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Book Reviews Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama. Edited by John C. Carter. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007. xii, 444 pp. $51.75. ISBN 978-8173-1521-4. Welcome the Hour of Conflict is a masterfully edited volume of correspondence between a Limestone County soldier in the Ninth Alabama Infantry Regiment and his family in northern Alabama. William Cowan McClellan volunteered in 1861 and served mostly with the Army of Northern Virginia until his capture in early April 1865. As the son of a small planter and state legislator, McClellan grew up in a household that owned eleven slaves and four hundred acres of land. His wartime correspondence and surviving letters from family members engage with pressing issues of the war, including regional political culture, Alabama’s secession, tensions between the eastern and western theaters of war, and the relationship between Alabamians and the state and Confederate governments. McClellan’s letters offer a valuable record of a private’s military experience over the course of the war. Through McClellan’s letters, readers gain a clear picture of the hardships of soldiering. Lice, insufficient clothing, inferior rations, fights among soldiers, gossip about home—all were fodder for his letters. Even more compelling, however, is McClellan’s candor as he assesses why he fought. In the first months of war, he assures his family he will fight with honor even as he worked to secure a transfer to another company and endured conflicts with soldiers who were not gentlemen. He regrets that he was not at the Battle of Bull Run but, by September 1861, he observes that “3 months service has completely cooled my patriotism” (p. 62). Many soldiers cursed the Confederacy, he notes, and he advises his brother not to enlist. He attributes some of his disillusionment to a chronic kidney ailment. “If I possessed good health, I would never release my hold on my musket until my country was liberated,” he writes (p. 68). A year later, by his own account, he is “starved to death marched to death nagged to death & dirty & sick” (p. 178). By November 1862, he writes his J U L Y 2 0 0 8 223 sister “I am not the gleeful Boy I was two years ago” (p. 189). He is convinced neither side can end the war through a military victory, because it is impossible for either to control the other’s vast territory . He predicts in early 1863 that he will come home at the end of the war—in 1870. During the Chancellorsville Campaign, the Ninth Alabama suffered its greatest casualties at the Battle of Salem Church on May 3, 1863. Thereafter McClellan’s company fought at less than half-strength. After Gettysburg, McClellan wrote home of his relief to be alive, but assured his family he was “ready to go into the foremost ranks if need be.” Others in his regiment did not share McClellan’s commitment; in 1864 the Ninth Alabama faced endemic desertion, most notably when twenty-five northern Alabama soldiers left the trenches at Petersburg for home. McClellan remained, but indicated that if he could get a furlough home, he would “ride the remainder of this war” (p. 271), a possible reference to joining the cavalry, remaining in northern Alabama, or engaging in partisan warfare. In the waning weeks of war, he is “low down,” seeing little hope for the Confederacy, but his faith in Lee remains steadfast even as his thoughts turn to his family and conditions in northern Alabama. McClellan’s letters are replete with commentary on political and military issues. Like other Confederate soldiers, he deems Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation impudent and hopes it will cause the Northwest to turn away from the war. The Democratic Party’s 1864 platform raises his hopes of an election victory and an end to the war, but he aptly points out that the Union capture of Atlanta will quiet the peace movement in the Northwest. Like other Alabama soldiers serving in Virginia, he chafes at his separation from his home state, especially when it is occupied by the Union. His Confederate loyalty is also colored by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 222-224
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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