Waiting for the Great Battle:Richmond
June 21–July 21, 1861
“There is . . . some horrid scenes going on in camp every day.
—William Cowan McClellan
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 were still available back home, forming a regiment was not an easy task. John had originally joined Nicholas Davis Jr. in the 2nd Alabama Infantry Battalion. Unable to raise additional companies, they were placed in the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion, which later became a part of the 26th/50th Alabama Regiment.1 Robert would enlist in the 9th Alabama Cavalry. William’s youngest brother, Thomas Nicholas, was too young for military service and remained at home with the family.
Northern Alabama enjoyed a short period of peace for the rest of 1861. Union troops, however, threatened northern Alabama in early 1862, and the Union blockade of Southern ports reached Mobile in May. William’s major concern focused on the possibilities of battles in Virginia and in advancing on Washington until the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, and the Battle of Shiloh that April. With those Confederate defeats, the way lay open for an invasion of the Tennessee Valley and for the war to be brought to the doorsteps of the people of Limestone County. After these events, William’s motivation to fight changed from the glory of participating in one great battle to keeping his homeland and family safe from invasion.
Alabama, like most of the Southern states, was not well prepared for war. Many of the soldiers from Limestone County left for Virginia with inferior weapons and a lack of basic supplies. The home front in northern Alabama was equally unprepared; there were no stockpiles of supplies and foods, and many of the essential items for home life were either disappearing or avail-