Appalachia Civil War Letters

April 22, 1863 – Letter 10

Manassas, Va. Orange and Alexandria Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates

Manassas, Va. Orange and Alexandria Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates – Library of Congress

When we last checked in with W.C. Penland it was March 23 1863. He wrote today’s letter almost exactly a month later.


 Apr 22, 1863

April the 22nd

I feel better this morning than I did yesterday   M A Martin is in very good health   Cousin Robert Alexander and the two Crawford are both well   we will not stay at this place long   I will send you one hundred dollars by Liut Cunningham   I would have had more to have sent but I have been loaning some money   I have lent one hundred and twenty five dollars   Mother I want you to send me that coat or the cloth   I do not know when you will have another chance to send it   I also want a pair of pants   That I believe is all that I want at the present   I have heard that Daniel Woods has got to making hats I want you to have me a hat made and send it to me   I want it to be made out of fur if it can possibly be got   tell him to do his best on it but not to make it too powerful heavy ha   I want you to write to me whether Big Jason Ledfords land is worth Seven hundred dollars or not   He told me that he would take that for it if I would give    I want you to write to me as soon as this comes to hand and tell me whether it is worth that money or not   I will send you some envelopes also I would sent you more but I have not got them at the present   I must bring my letter to a close   I have said enough with it was better

so no more at present but remains your affectionate son as ever

                                                 W C Penland


A few things about this letter that make me wonder:

  • WC didn’t write the address of where he is at the top of this letter like he did on the others.
  • He’s ask for the coat or cloth in several letters-why hasn’t he got it yet?
  • Martin and Ledford are still common names in Clay County-how many of the present day Martins and Ledfords are related to M A and Big Jason?
  • Seems like he has a lot of money-for that time period-he has enough to send home and enough to loan out.
  • How many acres would $700 buy?
  • My favorite part of the letter- I have heard that Daniel Woods has got to making hats I want you to have me a hat made and send it to me   I want it to be made out of fur if it can possibly be got   tell him to do his best on it but not to make it too powerful heavy ha

Hope you’ll leave me a comment with your thoughts about the letter.


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  • Reply
    September 27, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    I noticed about the same thing Tipper did. I wonder where WC was getting hundreds of dollars. I was under the impression all serving in the Civil War were pretty destitute, on both sides, because of mail trains and tracks, etc., getting hit and the mail nor the payroll was getting through; I wonder if that was what was delaying the cloth he’s asked for making a coat so many times too. Good to know someone was doing ok during those tough times, and that he was helping others out with what he had too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    September 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Interesting letter-wordier than today but using more words was typical back then. The lack of any punctuation is noteworthy–or was that the transcriber? The term come to hand, meaning to receive something, appears to be an archaic idiom.
    The money surely must have been Confederate money – the letter doesn’t indicate it but I assume he’s in the Confederate army. Lots of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee boys joined the Union army but if W.C. Penland was a Union soldier he wouldn’t have any Lieutenant Cunningham to carry his money to his home down south in 1863.
    I have no idea what $100 Confederate was worth in 1863 but it was quite a lot in United States money.
    In terms of consumer prices, $100 then would have been equivalent to about $5000 today. In terms of earned income it would have equaled about $10,000 today.
    Back then farm labor was paid $.50 a day, skilled craftsmen made $1.00 or so a day and $1000 per year was a very handsome salary. Soldiers made do on a few dollars a month.
    Anyway, I hope W.C. got back what he lent out. Loaning money to fellow soldiers has always been chancy. Through history every company of troops seemed to have had its 20% man-a thrifty opportunist who charged 20% interest–per month!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Congradulations to Barbara and
    Brenda on winning the tickets to
    our Fall Festival at the JCCFS.
    “It’s a Good Thing!”
    W.C. Penland’s coat material is a mystery. And, wonder how many acres went with the land for $700.00? I guess shipping was a problem for the Post Office.
    Crooks must have been plentiful
    back then too, cause he felt
    better sending money home by
    someone he knew and trusted.
    To borrow some of his words:
    “No more at present, but remains
    your affectionate friend.”…Ken

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I’m with b. Ruth on getting this boy his coat material. Sheesh.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 26, 2014 at 11:40 am

    If I’m ciphering right, W C has been enlisted for about 8 months at this point. Top pay for an enlisted confederate soldier was $21 a month. That means he could have drawn only about $168. Therefore the money he mentions could not have come entirely from his military pay. Even if he were loaning money at extremely high rates of interest, the $225 he speaks of would be difficult to accumulate. Either he had an outside source of income or he was receiving money from home but in that case why would he be sending it back? Puzzling!
    In today’s real estate market $700 would probably buy enough land to set one foot down if you wear size 7 or smaller.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    September 26, 2014 at 11:36 am

    There must not have been coats there or surely he would have bought one with his money instead of loaning it.

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Sue-JCCFS stands for John C. Campbell Folk School. Their annual fall festival is coming up soon-Oct 4-5. I hosted a giveaway for festival tickets : )

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 26, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I ponder why he would want a fur hat in April. Of course, if it takes until Fall for the hat to be made and Winter for it to arrive, then of course it would make sense to ask for fur!
    I am about to ship that boy a coat myownself and a extra pair of pants! Why did he leave off the address? I suppose he felt they knew where he was by that time, only a month later! I think he stated in the last letter they would be there awhile. We don’t know if his Mother was even able to get the fabric or weave it, how her health was, etc. I now fear the coat was lost or stolen!
    I am sure that packages were opened, etc. but letters sent on!
    Even the good guys, so to speak, can be bad, that is if they need a coat as well!
    He does seem to have a good bit of money. I am thinking the boy is looking forward to the future when the war is over, to buy the land and settle down! His money is more than likely at home in his savings and most of it made before he went to war. Of the Penlands I have heard my mountain kin speak of, a lot were more affluent than most. Don’t, of course know if he was from the same families.
    Remember these boys didn’t take R&R to McDee’s for a hamburger, fries and shake on Saturday nights nor run to Wally World for games, movies and buy gas for cars.
    “I have said enough, I with (wish) it was better”! So no more at present, I remain your affectionate reader, b. Ruth
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Have a good time this weekend!

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 9:39 am

    It would be much easier to hold onto the money, as probably nothing very tempting to spend it on. Do we know if he ever got that coat? I don’t think we can imagine how difficult it must have been for even the folks back home and for mail to keep moving during those times.

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 8:52 am

    I, too, was surprised at the amount of money he was sending. I wonder if it made it. Is he loaning money with interest, a modern term, and why. Where could the men be using it – gambling? Also, the coat must be uppermost in his mind as so many letters contain a reference to it. I also wondered how he learned about the maker of hats. I am also amazed that he could write so many letters; his skills for that time seem to be quite good.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    September 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I feel kind of bad for this poor guy because he ask for a coat over and over. It’s good to see that he is looking forward to getting home and starting his life again with the purchase of land. I hope he gets his coat by the next letter!

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 8:01 am

    What is … JCCFS ??

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 26, 2014 at 7:26 am

    I, too, wonder how W. C. Penland came by so much money on the battlefield. Is he referring to “Condederate” money? Were they paid this much–or had W. C. been gambling a little with his buddies and won? (Just wondering!). He must have trusted his carrier to send $100 home with his letter. Also, he had a good bit to have loaned $125. And he implies that he has enough to pay $700 for a parcel of land if the land “is worth” the price.
    I know they depended from someone “back home” to furnish them clothing when theirs was ragged and inadequate for the weather. And getting materials for making the garments was very hard at the time, even a fur hat that wouldn’t be “too heavy.”
    Thanks for a personal peek into times back then through the eyes of a soldier on the field.

  • Reply
    September 26, 2014 at 7:20 am

    I’m beginning to wonder if it’s taking longer to get his letters than you’d think.. he has been asking for a coat for a while and I believe he ask for pants, because they were $10 a pound where ever he was at the time.. He must have trusted the “Luit” Cunningham with his $100 he was sending to his Mother. Talk about feeling trapped. I can only try to imagine what it was like, and fall very short…

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 26, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Congratulations to Barbara and Brenda. I’ll see you there!
    It does seem that he has a lot of money but I guess he holds on to it, except for loaning it out.

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