William Cowan McClellan returned to a desolated Limestone County countryside whose homes and businesses were mostly pillaged, burned, or destroyed. There was a shortage of livestock and crops, and the scarcity of food threatened parts of the population with starvation. As one soldier described the scene, “most of the fields . . . were covered by briars and weeds, the fences were burned or broken down. The chimneys in every direction stood like quiet sentinels and marked the site of once prosperous and happy homes. Long since reduced to heaps of ashes. No cattle, hogs, horses, mules, or domestic fowl were in sight.”1 The McClellan family was fortunate— their home was still standing. Like most Alabamians, the McClellans faced a new world during the Reconstruction years as they tried to rebuild their lives.
Despite the difficulties, some normalcy returned to their lives. On October 15, 1866, William married Susan Strong of Madison County, Alabama, at her father’s house. They bought a small farm adjacent to the McClellan farm, and within the next three years they had two daughters, Charlie Alice McClellan and Willie McClellan. Willie never married and became a successful businesswoman in Huntsville, Alabama. Charlie married Tony Arthur White of Pulaski, Tennessee, and had three children, including my grandmother Nancy Susan White (Carter).
William McClellan, however, did not have long to live. Perhaps it was the strain of four years of hard marching, battle, sickness, and constant deprivations; or perhaps it was the unsanitary prison conditions and poor food. But by late 1869, his body finally gave out. The family said he died of consumption, but the official record listed the cause of death as “congestion of the kidneys.” The backaches that leveled William for weeks at a time during the war were probably the beginning of his fatal ailment. His final days were spent in his father’s house, where he died on December 9, 1869. His young wife, Susan, raised her two children alone over the next ten years but later