Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama

Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama

Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama

Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama


Vivid and lively letters from a young Confederate in Lee's Army.

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.


In June of 1861 a young Alabamian was caught up in the patriotic furor, “the rage militaire,” that was sweeping Limestone County, 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 along with his six brothers and sisters when Fort Sumter was attacked. Emotional ties to the old Republic quickly dissolved in Limestone County that spring, and any future plans that William had were put on hold for the duration of the war.

Many Southerners claimed to be fighting to preserve their right of selfgovernment, which they felt the North was threatening to take away. They feared that they would also lose their American liberties, which would in turn lead to their own enslavement. William was well versed in the political ideas and the current issues of his day, perhaps because of his father’s political background. As one recent historian has observed, the majority of the volunteer soldiers were politically sophisticated and, as a result, they “would be more responsive to the issues in the conflict and would be convinced that they had a stake in the outcome. They would be more motivated to join up and stay the course until the issues were resolved.”

While that may have been true, William was more concerned at the beginning of the war simply to do his duty and perhaps to become a part of history. His was a naïve ideal that emphasized a soldier acting out a romantic concept of war that called for courage, godliness, manliness, and honor. That ideal changed with the Union invasion of the Tennessee Valley in 1862, and his thoughts turned toward the safety of his family and efforts to prevent Limestone County from being enslaved by the Black Republican government—a goal that represented his own personal view of Southern liberty.

William Cowan McClellan was the first member of his family to enlist . . .

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