Manassas to Centreville, Virginia
July 22–September 21, 1861
The great battle has benn fought. I am sorry to inform you that I
was not in it.
—William Cowan McClellan
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, where the McClellans used to live. With the first units of volunteers already in Virginia, more were forming at home that would include William’s brothers John and Robert. The romance of war was still in the air, as was the hope for a quick and successful war. While no significant battles or invasions had occurred in the Tennessee Valley, they were anticipated shortly, and the call was going out for more volunteers to meet this threat. Life at home for the McClellans remained relatively normal:relatives from Tennessee were coming for extended visits, marriages were taking place, school was in session for the younger McClellan children, and the crops were growing well in the fields.
The 9th Alabama was sent from Richmond to Winchester, Virginia, on July 14 to help reinforce the troops in the northern Shenandoah Valley. They took the trains from Richmond to Manassas Junction, stopping there briefly before continuing on to Strasburg in the Shenandoah Valley. While en route, Captain Hobbs noticed that a number of the men in the company were breaking out with measles; more would come down with them later when they returned to Manassas Junction. William and his company arrived at Strasburg on July 16 in time for breakfast and then had a hard march along the Valley Turnpike, where the 9th went into camp a mile and a half north of Winchester in an open wheat field. It was raining steadily, and the men were forced to use wheat stacks for shelter since they had no tents.
On July 18, after Union forces began moving from Washington, D.C.,