Appalachia Civil War Letters

Civil War Letters 11

Patience Mahalia Moore and Harvey Monroe Penland

When we last checked in with W.C. Penland he was writing home about buying a fur hat, some land, and the coat he still needed.

Since the last letter, Mike McLain sent me a photo (above) of Patience Mahalia Moore Penland and her husband, Harvey Monroe Penland. They were the parents of W.C. Penland and Mike’s great-grandmother, Luola Penland Patton. After reading all the letters W.C. sent home, isn’t it fascinating to see who he was writing to?

W.C. wrote today’s letter on May 5, 1863.

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 mentions several companies have left the area-and his is scheduled to as well-then he goes on to say he expects there is a fight coming. I imagine W.C. along with the other soldiers would have been nervous about what was to come in the next few days.
  • 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 W H Coleman. Pap’s Grandmother was a Coleman-makes me wonder if W H 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.
  • I wonder what Brand is that they put in their cornmeal?
  • 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. When I was little I loved sugar, butter, and rice mixed together-really who wouldn’t?

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



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  • Reply
    Robert Hutchins
    October 8, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    Although I don’t recall the military unit he was assigned to, my great-grandfather, AB Hutchins, died from sickness while in East Tennessee near Bristol. It is true that illness killed more than bullets during the War Between the States. This was in an era before the medical community had developed a germ theory of disease – before tuberculosis’ cause was known and long before those miracle drugs we have today, the sulfa drugs and antibiotics. Then, too, mustering large numbers of men from disparate communities that otherwise had no intercourse, exposed them to things their communities had gained no immunity to. I suspect that TB, dysentery, and pneumonia accounted for the majority of deaths due to illness.

    Tipper, I’m just now getting in to your blog. Is there a way that I can read them chronologically?

    Thank you for all the time, energy, and talent you pour into this for us!

  • Reply
    Betty Patton
    February 24, 2011 at 12:02 am

    My husband Andrew Patton, son of Holt Patton, said that Holt thought Patience was the best woman he ever knew! Thanks for sharing the history of our family! Our 4 children too, look forward to reading more of these letters. Little did we know the letters were at the old homestead.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Yay! He got his coat!
    I thought $20 was high for a hat.
    I can imagine the thoughts running through their head about the coming battle, too.
    I don’t know how they could ration the horses and expect them to be at top performance like they would be needed to go into battle.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I thought the same exact thing about the offer for the horse. I imagine our soldier might have been somewhat tempted to sell it, but then thought better of it.
    So interesting, Tipper. This is the first time I’ve read this type of post from you. Loving it.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    One of my mother’s make do meals was rice and a pan of biscuits. We children did not know it was to stretch the budget, we thought it a treat. About a year before my mother became sick, my brother went up and had mom make him a supper of rice and biscuits. She would cook it with an egg and sugar then serve it with milk on it. Mercy it was good. Think I’ll make some, haven’t had it in a long while.

  • Reply
    Amy Jo Phillips
    January 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Oh My Goodness!! I LOVE rice with sugar,butter and milk! Ive ate it seens i was little. as a matter of fact, I had some for dinner last night!!! U can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner… snack. Its so good, u can have it anytime!!!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    I’ve been enjoying reading along and looking forward to new letters being posted. It’s funny he comments that his coat is too short then asks for more. How about a thank you?
    I absolutely love old letters and journals. I just started a series of love letters on my blog. They start it 1873.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Well, I must say I feel a little less sympathetic after W.C.’s reaction to the coat. With as hard to come by as things were in the south by the spring of ’63, he’s lucky it had a skirt at all!
    I love the pictures of W.C.’s parents, Patience has a very kind face. It is reassuring to know that thier descendants are still in the area too.
    Have you considered pursuing the Coleman connection to your family? You never know what you may find!
    I guessed the “brand” would have been the coarser part of the grain – you know, the stuff we eat on purpose now to stay healthy and ‘regular’! I think it was looked upon as an undesirable cheap filler back then.
    If the army was reduced to eating field peas, they may have put sugar in with them. Rice with butter and sugar has always been a favorite comfort food in my family. I haven’t had it for quite a while, but now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I’m sure I will soon!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I believe that Uncle Chamberlain was Robert Chamberlain Penland, brother to Harvey Monroe Penland pictured here. I don’t have a date of death for Uncle Chamberlain, so I don’t know if he survived his sickness or not. W. C. served as a sergeant in the 7th Battalion of the North Carolina Cavalry. C. M. Anderson appears to have been Charles M. Anderson and Lieutenant Anderson was probably George W. Anderson. Interestingly, the 7th Battalion, North Carolina Cavalry may have been also designated the 6th Regiment, North Carolina Regiment at one time. W. C., Thomas R. Setser, and both of the Andersons mentioned appear in the rolls of both the 6th Regiment and the 7th Battalion.
    Thanks for sharing these letters, Tipper.
    I think I may have shared before, but it looks like the letters wound up in Holt Patton’s house because his mother (my great-grandmother) had mental problems after the death of her husband followed closely by a bout with spinal meningitis and her mother, Patience Moore Penland, who was a recent widow by this time (Harvey died in August 1889 and his son-in-law, Burgess Patton, my great-grandfather, died in June 1890), moved in with Luola to care for her children, including my grandmother, Juanita Patton McLain. Patience was surely the recipient of W. C.’s letters and probably brought them with her as treasured keepsakes when she moved in with Luola.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    From the first time I read about
    him, I liked Mr. Penland. He sure
    had no fear of being in the army
    and he honored his obligations to
    his country. Thanks to Mike McLain
    for W.C.’s parents’ pictures. They
    add to the insight of the times in
    the mid 1800’s. Love all these posts of our past and the folks
    who comment so honestly…Ken

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I kept picturing dear Mrs. Penland, when finally getting the letter requesting the long awaited coat: how she would labor over it to keep her boy protected from the elements, at least, and somehow get it sent. When it finally did arrive, and he was able to let her know, alas – it was not long enough in the skirt!(The length that hangs from the waist, I imagine).
    I would venture to say,our soldier, though frought with many hardships of war, was used to being indulged. Next, we look forward to the order for the hat…

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 30, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Hey Tipper,
    What I liked about the letter…
    The statement that the coat arrived, but it was “a little short in the skirt”…Doesn’t every Mother still see her son shorter and younger? I do! Sometimes I can’t believe mine are grown, and without seeing them would probably sew their coat “a little short on the skirt.”
    Don’s right about the horse and car comparision I think.
    A hired man lived and worked on my Grandparents tobacco farm in Madison County. He never was married that we knew of..Grandma (90) always just called him Coleman. We (Grandkids) never knew his first name. He was a kind and gentle man. He died in the forties..My aunt said they would never find another person they would trust with the work and sales of tobacco like him..
    We ate rice with sugar,cinnaman and milk for breakfast, as well as oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. When we had rice with supper the kids always mixed a little sugar in it.
    Love the pictures and the letters. They bring us closer to the era…
    Hope we find out about the hat.
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Glad WC finally got that coat…even if the skirt was too short. What is a skirt on a coat?
    I just can’t imagine times so hard!!
    I think I mentioned I was a picky kid. The only way they could get me to eat rice was to put sugar and butter on it. I’d eat anything if it had enough sugar on it!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Hi Tipper,
    What a great letter. I collect old letters and journals, but I don’t have any from the Civil War era. I love the phrases that this man uses in his writing. I was wondering about the peas, sugar, and rice, too. I recall just like you that mama would sometimes mix a little sugar and butter in the rice for me…plus a dash of cinnamon..a lot like rice pudding..which I still love to this day. I’m going to check back on older links to read more of the letters. Thanks for sharing. Old letters and diaries are living history. You don’t get that kind from a history book! Blessings to you, Tipper!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

    The skin or outer shell of a kernal of corn is the “bran”. It is usually sifted away from finer, store-bought cornmeal but if you go to an old restored mill where you can buy fresh corn meal the bran is often left in the meal. It is very nutritious from many aspects. I suspect Mr. Penland was talking about corn bran when he mentioned “brand”.
    What wonderful pictures sent to you by Mr. McClain.
    As evidenced here again, I make note that more men died in that period of disease and sickness than being shot to death.
    I hope you have more letters from Mr. Pendland but those you have shared are special treasures.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

    You know that with each one of these, you’re making us all anxious for the next installment, don’t you?
    Couple of comments:
    1. I know there were Colemans on Daddy’s side of the family, although I don’t know exactly where. I suspect that if you go back 5 or 6 generations in families that have lived in WNC for that long, you’re almost bound to find that we’re all some sort of distant cousins, whether we be of the fighting or kissing persuasion (or both).
    2. Growing up, I never cared much for rice, but Mama made a rice pudding dessert with raisins and brown sugar that I loved. Even though it was a pudding and sort of creamy texture, I’d usually mix a little milk in with it.
    3. I’ve not done the math, but I’d bet you that in current day dollars, the value WC put on his horse would be similar to the cost of a new car.

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