The Peninsula Campaign and the Seven
March 25–July 27, 1862
. . . as long as there is a Soldier left on Southern Soil let him strike
for freedom in the face of death . . .
—William Cowan McClellan
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. (By the end of July 1862, both Colonel Turchin and his commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, faced court-martial charges for the actions of their troops in Athens.) Although other war-related incidents took place in Athens and Huntsville both before and after Turchin’s raid and the region experienced Union raids and occupation throughout the rest of the war, this one event greatly angered the Limestone County troops away in Northern Virginia. Despite the Confederate victories in Virginia, the invasion of their homeland caused anxiety and a loss of morale among the Limestone County troops. William longed to go back to Alabama to deal with the invasion himself, although the McClellan home went unscathed, possibly because it was located several miles outside of Athens.
Along with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army, the 9th Alabama moved to the Virginia Peninsula in April, and Companies F and D went on picket duty along the Warwick River. While on picket duty at Warwick, William Cowan McClellan would come under fire for the first time, with bullets piercing his clothing. He would see action again during the Battle of Seven Pines at the close of the Peninsula Campaign in May, and later during the Seven Days Battles in June and July, when the 9th would be in the thick of the fighting at Gaines’s Mill and Frayser’s Farm. William had waited eight months for his first taste of battle, but soon he began to wonder if the war would ever end.