Appalachia Civil War Letters

Blontville Sulivan Co East Tennessee May 5th 1863 – Letter 11

View of Chattanooga, Tenn. Library of Congress

View of Chattanooga, Tenn. – Library of Congress

Camp near

Blontville Sulivan Co

East Tennessee May 5th 1863

Dear father & Mother

I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well   hoping that this may come safe to hand and find you and all the family well   the last account that I had from Uncle Chamberlain he was very sick   I allowed to get a permit to day and go to see him but there was no chance to get a permit to day for there come orders to this place this morning for us to be in readiness to move to Knoxville in the morning at eight o’clock   I have not heard from Uncle Chamberlain now for two or three days   I would have went up there before now but our company has been out on picket below here   all of Loves Regt but one company has left Zollicoffer   last night Henrys company went with the Regt all of Walkers Regt left but one company also stayed to guard the Bridge   I expect there is a fight expected down below some where    I sent you a pack of envelopes by Thomas Setser   He said if he did not see you that he would leave them at Fort Hembree   C M Anderson and Thomas Setser went to take the remains of Lieut Anderson he died on the 28th of April   He was a good officer and a noble Soldier he was well thought of by all of the men in this company   he died and said that he was willing to die he had a tolerable long spell of sickness his death was much lamented by all who knew him   W H Coleman is very unwell yet he is still at the home of one of his uncles   M A Martin is in good health now   R V Alexander is also well and John Sherman and all of the boys that you are acquainted with but A M Cook  I got my coat that you sent to me I like it tolerable well it not quite long enough in the skirt   Mr Bristol got with J N Ownsby at Knoxville and he brought it to me   you wrote to me to know whether I wanted any other clothes as I want one pair of pants and I also want you to get some fur if you can and have Daniel Woods to make me as good a hat as he can make   I do not like to wear a cap and a common cotton hat is worth $20 in this country and I do not like to give this sort of price    my horse is a goodeal reduced on account of getting such short rations for him but he is shed of and in good spirits   I have been offered $350.00 for him but I would not take I thought that I could not get a horse that would suit me any better   We get a plenty to eat our selves such as it is and that is corn meal with Brand in it and bacon and some of the time we sugar and rice and peas

so no more at present but remains your son as ever

William C Penland


I found this letter very interesting. My thoughts:

  • He tells his parents Thomas Setser may leave the envelopes he’s sending at Fort Hembree. Fort Hembree was in Hayesville, NC. The fort was founded in 1837 and was one of the forts used in removing the Cherokees from western NC.
  • He mentions WH Coleman. Pap’s Grandmother was a Coleman-makes me wonder if WH was one of her ancestors-and mine too.
  • He finally got the coat!!
  • $350.00 dollars for the horse seems extremely high for those days. But I suppose horses were in short supply and high demand.
  • He mentioned putting brand in his cornmeal-I wonder what it is?
  • This part: “and some of the time we sugar and rice and peas makes me wonder if he mixed sugar with his rice. Have you ever seen anyone do that?” Both mine and The Deer Hunter’s family have been known to mix sugar and butter with their rice.

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



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  • Reply
    November 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I had family sickness and missed this post, so I am posting late. I have followed these letters with almost obsessive interest–this brave soldier just trying to get warm clothing. Being a WV native, I have gr gr grandparents from both the Confederate and Union army. Possibly due to the great division which created WV, I still have strong feelings about this. I try to post without strong opinion on your wonderful blog. But, I must admit I don’t care for the disrespect shown to the confederate flag. The Trail of Tears occurred under the Federal flag, so nobody perfect. History can get really twisted depending on who is writing it. I just have the utmost respect for soldiers on both sides who fought so very hard for what they believed. So very sad to know that this soldier of long ago would suffer such hardships only to lose the final battle.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    November 8, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    These Civil War letters and all the excellent comments are terrific. I agree that “brand” was bran added to cornbread and that the “shed” horse was the shod horse. As to sugar and rice and peas, I think he meant to write “we get sugar and rice and peas” – separate items.
    As to $350 for the horse, I agree that it and the $20 hat reflect inflation-ravaged Confederate money. Federal money was also degraded by inflation but a day’s manual labor was still worth only about $1 in the east and $2 in the booming western gold and silver mines.

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    November 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Tipper: I was thinking that bran is what the soldier meant. We often put our bran out to feed the chickens.
    Will the girls be all ser for Sat. @ 12:00? We are all set!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I think when he said the horse was shed of (off) he meant that it had shed its winter coat. He got his new coat and so did his horse. I think he is saying that he had thought about selling the horse and buying another but that the horse had come through the winter pretty good and that for 350.00 he couldn’t do any better.
    I think he wanted the longer coat because cavalry men wore them that way. It covered their legs when they rode and kept the trail dust off their clothes. Like cowboys in their long dusters.
    I never ate rice much growing up but when I did it was always with sugar.
    Did you ever eat raw oatmeal mixed with sugar?

    • Reply
      Ray Presley
      March 1, 2021 at 5:22 pm

      Ed, the phrase, “shed of” was used quite commonly in the area of LaFollette, TN in the early days. A typical dialog: “Hey, you still got that same old mare”? Well, no, I got shed of her a year ago” When they said it, it sounded like, “shet of.”

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    When I eat rice and oatmeal, I use
    salt instead of sugar. But I like
    Frosted Corn Flakes and Frosted
    I’m glad Mr. Penland finally got
    his coat, even if it wasn’t long
    enough to his liking…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    $350.00 for a horse was not as outrageous as we might assume. W C was a cavalryman. Without his horse he was only a footsoldier. His horse was his weapons platform. His horse was the equivalent of today’s Apache Attack Helicopter.

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    November 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I thought that the horse is “well shed” meant that the horse had horse shoes.
    About the rice, I still love it for breakfast. Like many others I ate it with milk and sugar. I add CINNAMON though! I sometimes make this on my gas cook stove when we are snowed in and cold because the power is out!

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    November 6, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I was thrilled that he finally got the coat. I’ve worried about that coat from long ago for months. Just in time for warming weather, although I expect the mornings were still chilly in the mountains.
    Both the 65th NC cavalry (Penland’s outfit) and the 62nd NC Infantry (also raised in Clay and surrounding counties) spent a lot of time guarding bridges and roads during this period of the war.

  • Reply
    November 6, 2014 at 9:34 am

    I’m happy to know W C received his long-awaited coat. I’m now thinking he was used to having his needs met (at least before the war), as he is mighty particular, being critical of the length, and then quite specific in the type of hat he required. Of course, a fur lined hat would be most handy in winter.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    November 6, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Momma used to fix us rice with butter and sugar a lot for breakfast when we were growing up. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I’m glad he got the coat and it seems there is a lot of sickness in the camps. I can imagine that a horse was a valuable thing during that time. Did he take his own horse with him when he enlisted?
    We ate sweet rice for breakfast as a kid. Mom sweetend it as she cooked it. We would eat that when we ran out of oatmeal.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

    The only way I would eat rice as a boy was when Mama made a rice pudding – rice with sugar and raisins (and maybe eggs & milk?)
    WH Coleman (also Coalman) was William Henry Coleman. It would be great if you find a familial connection to him, since I have one in an adopted way. My grandmother, Minnie Price, was raised by William Henry’s son, Andrew Jackson Coleman and his wife, Samantha Shearer.
    I found a letter on from William H Coalman which was sent from Knoxville on October 8 (four days before WC Penland’s first letter). I’ll transcribe it and send it along to you in case you’d like to post it.

  • Reply
    Martha Blevins
    November 6, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I am iinclined to think that the cornmeal with the ” brand ” in it is a coarce grind cornmeal with “bran ” or husk. The way people pronounced their words has a lot of bearing on the conversation.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 6, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Laid to my day, we had hot, white (short grained) rice and milk, sweetened with sugar for breakfast. Most of the time we had oatmeal, cream of wheat or bran cereal. We rarely had a boxed dry cereal, until the fifties. There were times I remember Mom fixing rice for lunch. She said she swore she would never feed her kids corn meal mush! LOL
    I was glad that WC Penland got his coat. His Mother just guessing how tall he was, did her best I suppose but made the skirt of the coat a bit short.
    He says he is shed of the horse. I think he implied that the 350.00 he got for it he wouldn’t have taken had he not been able to find another one to suit him better.
    The cotton hat seems high, the material might have been cheap but the making of the hat expensive!
    The picture of Chattanooga is interesting. The far mountain, I ponder if it is Lookout Mountain? I also wonder if the groove, straight up to the top, was the beginnings of construction of the famous Incline Railway that was opened in November 1895? If so that would date the picture somewhat!
    I’ve ridden that incline railway when I was a child. I remember it scared me to death. I kept thinking it would break a cable and we would fall all the way back down to the parking lot! LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    Love these letters…
    PS…There was a Coleman that worked with my grandparents on the tobacco. In fact he handled the caretaking of my Fathers tobacco allotment in later years.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 6, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I suspect the “Brand” might be wheat bran?
    By the way, W. C.’s Uncle Chamberlain was Robert Chamberlain Penland. Uncle Chamberlain apparently survived his illness. He died in 1895 and is buried in Asbury Methodist Cemetery in Otto, NC, just south of Franklin. He is on my list of visits the next time I am in Franklin.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    November 6, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Tipper, do you think he may have meant “bran” which was usually taken out of cornmeal?

  • Reply
    November 6, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Amazing how much info he always seems to have to share. Finally, the coat arrived. The hat is his next want; he is lucky that he has family who can produce his needs.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 6, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Tipper–On the surface the $350 offered for the horse just doesn’t calculate, but if you look at it in terms of Confederate paper money it does. By the time of this letter the Confederacy was in trouble on many fronts, including the financial one, and their money had lost much of its value.
    The amount would have been totally preposterous in federal dollars or hard currency (gold or silver), considering that it represented almost 25 times the monthly pay received by rank-and-file soldiers at the time.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    November 6, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I always want sugar on my rice unless it has other foods mixed with it. After all rice is a cereal and we sweeten other cereals don’t we. Probably 95% of my breakfasts consist of oatmeal with a little sugar and topped with fruit. (Usually apples, grapes and/or blueberries.)

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    November 6, 2014 at 6:14 am

    One of my favourite desserts growing up, and still is for that matter, was boiled rice with milk and sugar on it. Sometimes if we were lucky we’d have tinned condensed milk on it instead.

  • Reply
    November 6, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Glad to read where he finally got his coat.. Now if he just get’s his hat before winter..4 or 5 more months it’ll start getting cold..Just terrible what these men went through.. Yea, sugar and rice I still eat sometimes..

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