Appalachia Civil War Letters

Camp Near Clinton East Tennessee May 24th 1863 – Letter 12

Col. Sharpe's horses, Falmouth, Va., April, 1863

Col. Sharpe’s horses, Falmouth, Va., April, 1863 – Library of Congress

Camp near Clinton East Tennessee

May 24th 1863

Dear Father

I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well   hoping that these few lines may find you all well    I was out on guard last night   we have had to give up our tents    there has not been any rain since we gave them up    I think it will be a tolerable bad chance when it rains    our mess has just a cloth but I do not know how long we will get to keep it    I have heard the boys a talking that we had to leave our wagons    I do not know whether it is so or not     we are a going to start to Ky. this morning    we have drawn list days rations of provisions and I mean we will certainly start to day    we have not been a getting much to eat since we have been at this place but I am inclined to think that men will be healthyer in camps on tolerable short rations    as far as I am concerned I am doing very well on what we get with a few exceptions    James and Prator and Joseph McClure are at the hospital at Knoxville    there is some few sick but none of them very bad off    you can tell Mr Sherman that John is well and hearty at this time M A Martin is also well and R V Alexander and L C Harper are also well at this    A M Cook is well also & James Wood Crawford    we have been a pasturing our horses now for some days & feed a little on corn    old Rubin Leatherwood’s mare is gone and has been ever since yesterday    I do not know what has become of her    I would not be surprised if she was stolen for this is a bad place here for such as that    we are ordered to Monticillo KY it is between one hundred and one hundred and twenty five miles from this place    I expect that it is a tolerable scarce country of anything to eat and feed upon    I have not heard from uncle Chamberlain since I wrote to you    the three Ledford boys are in jail at Knoxville and I expect it will be a good while before he gets out of there    I would not be surprised if they was to shoot Big Jason    His trial has not come up yet    I recon A E Pendergrass is home before this time    I would advise him to come to camp himself as soon as possible    I think that is will go easier than if he has to be gone after    If they do have to go after him this time he will be apt to be brought in strings and it will be apt to go hard with him    we belong to Pegrams Brigade and he and Moore are both in K.Y. at this time    We are to join them Col Fains Regt is at this place    now I do not know whether they will go with us or not    Riley McConnell has the worst arm that I ever saw in my life it was lansed by vacination    all of the rest of our company are well of the vacination    I do not know how long we will stay in Kentucky I want you to continue to write to Knoxville and there will be a chance for us to get them through by couriers going through    write soon give my respects to all of the friends and if I have any time to write I will write to you

I will close

Wm C Penland


My thoughts or I should say my questions:

  • WC seems more worried in this letter-is it because things have gotten harder for him-or since the letter is addressed to his Father maybe he isn’t trying to make it sound better for his Mother?
  • I’m guessing the Ledford boys and A E Pendergrass ran off from their duty?
  • I want to know what the vaccination was for and if Riley’s arm got better?
  • I wonder if all the initial names-are initials or actual names? I know several older men here that have initial names-but the initials don’t stand for anything-the letters are their actual names.

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


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  • Reply
    warren craig
    October 18, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    In this day and age I cant imagine how hard it would have been to be hungry living in rags bare foot and still be expected to go out and fight against men more healthier and better equiped .Braxton Brag seemed to have no hesitation shooting deserters from what Ive read,a good book Company Aytch by Sam Watkins describes this very well.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    The vaccination was more than likely SMALLPOX…known to fester up before healing and drying up.
    The scar is round and usually very large. The very unsanitary conditions of the Civil War in the field would and could create infection which was usually deadly unless the limb could be amputated to cure it! No antibiotics during that time period! Only remedies of medieval nature.
    Jim was right about Western North Carolina not interested in picking sides, so to speak. All these mountain folks wanted to do was try to farm out a living and feed their families. Most of them were not slave owners nor had any intention of owning any!
    I personally had a great-great-great-great-I grandfather right in the middle of this type of conflict. One group trying to persuade the other for vote to join the Union the other trying to get folk to stay with the Confederate side!
    During this type of raucous, a crowd gathered with drinking and arguing in the Marshall streets! A skirmish occurred. Shots were fired in the air to try to quiet down the belligerent crowd??
    A shooting happened by the sheriff of Marshall directed to my grandfathers son, another shooting occurred that ended in the death of the sheriff….It is a long family story…The sign and white two story building is still standing on the street of Marshall, NC…I think this happened after the Shelton Laurel Massacre. My grandfather at the time of the incident was holding office in the courthouse of Marshall the county seat and was well thought of as fair man!
    Terrible time in the history of the United States…no winners here!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Still some sick here…Hope you all are staying well and warm on this beautiful day!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I enjoy W.C. Penland’s letters he
    writes home.
    Several years ago I had a friend,
    C.F. Myres, who did excellent work with his heavy equipment. Everybody just called him C.F. and I really miss him. I guess he was the best at landscaping I’ve ever known…Ken

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    November 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Bless his heart, the weariness is coming through in every sentence. I can only imagine how tired and ready to go home he must have been. I imagine most of the men walked off because they figured they could make it through the woods and eventually be home. It would have been a hard thing not to do once you got around areas that looked like home. He is showing his character by not walking off his post.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 20, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    The vaccinations he mentions are probably for smallpox. The vaccine was usually obtained from pus from a cow with cowpox. The vaccine was put into the arm of the soldier through an incision made with a lancet. The same lancet was probably used for all the soldiers in the camp. The vaccine worked because the soldiers got cowpox which was a milder disease but provided them with immunity to smallpox. Some soldiers contracted other diseases and infections from the lancet itself.
    Did you know that for every soldier that died by bullet or bomb during the Civil War, two died from disease?
    I found an alternate way of obtaining vaccine here, this is wild.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    November 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Other records list Alberter Pendergrass as a blacksmith with Penland’s company. His fate: an Alberer Pendergrass of Macon County, NC died on March 10, 1865 in the Federal POW prison at Ft. Delaware, Delaware.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    November 20, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Definitely a downbeat letter. Desertion was a problem and seemed especially so in regiments raised in the mountains where there was more pro-union sentiment and a big independent streak that did not fit in with regimentation.
    Looking at rosters, I see six or seven Ledford privates in Sergeant Penland’s company including a Jason W. Ledford. There is an Alberter E. Pendergrass listed as a musician. Be interesting to track down more details on him and the Ledfords.
    Fascinating stuff! Wonder what Big Jason did to risk getting shot? Likely more than a simple desertion.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 20, 2014 at 9:32 am

    There seems to be a sense of urgency in his letter. It appears they are living on very little and things are tough.
    Desertion was a big problem, I guess the temptation was too great since many were within in a few days of home.
    I know the punishment could be severe for deserting but I think a lot of those men were willing to take their chances at home rather than the battlefield. I can not imagine doing either and I am thankful I never had to.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 20, 2014 at 9:04 am

    There is Alberter E. Pendergrass, Ansell M. Cook, Langden C. Harper and Robert V. Alexander, all serving in W. C.’s unit. I found an Alexander M. Martin in his unit, but not an M. A. Martin. Maybe W. C. Had a bit of Dyslexia?

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    November 20, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Oh my gosh, Tipper! Clinton is just four miles from Oak Ridge and MANY YEARS older. Oak Ridge was created for making the ‘you know what’ to drop on J-pan!
    I am so familiar with all the names in this letter. The soldiers could all be from Clay County.
    My son has a keen interest in such history! In fact he is threatening to write a novel set in the WWII period. Guess I may have started something – with my writing – but I have stick to the real story – as close as I can determine it.
    Hope your day is bright and sunny. Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 20, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Tim–While it is true that treatment of deserters could be harsh, the fact remains that desertion was extremely common. Thousands of soldiers actually deserted or were captured then served on the other side. One of the most famous was the man who would become famous as an African explorer, Henry Morton Stanley.
    In WNC, many had no great loyalty to either side and frequently did not enlist at all if they could avoid it. Then too, some of the “higher ups” in society took questionable paths.
    For example, Thaddeus Bryson, for whom Bryson City is named, is a case in point. For starters, he was never commissioned a real colonel although he always used that title (he was a colonel in a militia group before the war but that was a far stretch from being a real military outfit).
    Although in May, 1861,he was elected a captain (not colonel!) in the 25th N. C. Infantry, which was made up mainly of men from far southwestern NC, he was apparently unpopular with the rank and file and did not stand for re-election in April, 1862. He saw no further service, and his story was similar to that of countless others. Also, it was quite common, on both sides, for affluent individuals to hire someone to fulfill their duty once it became a requirement.
    The entire Civil War was a mishmash in this part of the world in many ways. Thomas Clingman, who would become a brigadier general after initially being elected as the first colonel of the 25th N. C. and would head a brigade, was a fiery secessionist and would be elected to congress, but he was probably marginally competent (at best) as a field soldier. The man who actually did the leading of the 25th N. C. was Major (later Colonel) Henry M. Rutledge. He fought throughout the war, was present at the surrender at Appomattox, and was beloved by his men. Interestingly, he was a native of low country S. C.
    Incidentally, although my background training is in history, the Civil War was not my field and I’m no real authority in the subject area. I just happened to be fortunate enough to take some graduate courses under the man who is probably the premiere Civil War authority alive today, James I. Robertson, Jr., and I’m interested in the 25th N. C. because I’m writing a biography of Rutledge’s son, the noted poet and sporting scribe, Archibald Rutledge.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    November 20, 2014 at 8:41 am

    This gives a picture of the Civil War, unlike just reading the history. The thoughts that come as we read this! He could write, but what about the many who could not write or had loved ones at home who could not read or write.
    He is trying to make the situation better by indicating the short rations may make the men in camp healthier. History shows these troops had to depend on food available where they were. So sad to be a young man during those days, and possibly worse to be their family back home.

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    November 20, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Very interesting. I’m especially intrigued by names. I had a great-grandfather named Otis Harper, but he went by “O.H.” and my great-great uncle was “L.M.” but I never new his real name. My grandmother on the other side was named Willie C but her mother, Eula Mae, would chastise anybody who tried to put a period behind the “C” because, as she would say, “it don’t stand for nothin’.” By the way, everybody called Eula Mae by her last name, which was Garrett.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Life in this letter appears to be very difficult and the mem seem to be living with bear needs. Even their animals are suffering. I don’t think there were any laws to protect desserters back in those days. At least he showed care to warn them they need to get back to avoid heavy punishment. I admire the bravery of this soldier; he kept his family informed, letting them know that he is alive.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2014 at 6:09 am

    He seems to me more down in this letter.. Not enough food, sickness all around the wounded,, would be more than enough to get me down.. Most deserters were dealt with harshly the sentence was execution..

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