Appalachia Civil War Letters

Civil War Letters 12

Time to check in with W.C. Penland-our Civil War Soldier from Clay County NC.

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
    March 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    He was probably unhappy to be in Pegram’s Brigade, and rightfully so. I’m sure the following must have been on his mind as it occurred less than two months previous.
    “In a cavalry raid into Kentucky on 31 March 1863, Pegram outnumbered a Union force almost 2 to 1 and had a superior defensive position. But Pegram was defeated and lost several hundred men as prisoners, as well as most of the cattle he had gathered to feed Bragg’s army.”

  • Reply
    March 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I’m wondering what Big Jason did???/

  • Reply
    March 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    As for vaccinations, I have read about them in the Civil War. There is an account describing POW”s who had been vaccinated and infections had set in leaving huge holes in their arms. Not sure where I saw the accound.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    March 1, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Hello Tipper, I have been following your lovely blog since I learned about it on the Folk school page. It is my favorite thing to read each day and always connects me to my mountain roots. These letters are very poignant. My family homeplace is in Anderson County, Tennessee at the site of Norris Dam near Clinton. My Great, Great, Grandfather served in the Union Army – the area saw some families split between the sides. He was Hugh L Rutherford (one of many in the family to carry just an L in his name – including my brother) and was born in 1833. He served in Co F 6th Tennessee Inft. and was captured and imprisoned in notorious Andersonville, Georgia. He was one of the lucky survivors and returned home to live in the beautiful Tennessee hills until his death in 1923. My dad who was born in 1918 has childhood memories of him. So many of us are here today because of the courage and determination of men like these who made it back home to their loved ones. Thanks for sharing this window on the past.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I am just relieved he is not still needing a coat!
    My dad, born in 1915 was named w Curtis and my uncle, a few years older, was named Guy V….must have been a fad of the time.
    He sounds down and it sounds like there is good reason.

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson (USA)
    February 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    He breaks my heart. Can’t even say how I feel.
    Thanks for making these available.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Here the letter is dated in May…I wonder if any other letters are out there somewhere that mentions whether he got his hat or not?? Guess by May he wouldn’t need one for warmth any ways…
    I find it ironic that the Penland School of crafts was started as a cottage industry called the Penland Weavers. Names the same and especially since W.C. asked for his Mother to make the jean material (loom woven) at the time for the coat…wonder if they would be kinfolks..
    My Dad always went by his initials most of the time except by my Mom..
    I read that the Smallpox vaccine has been around for 200 years and was used as biological warfare early on…I know my parents scars were large (nickle size)from the smallpox vaccine..The vaccine was given to them in the 1915 and 1920’s were huge..I remember Mother saying that a lot of them got infected back then, when I asked about it after seeing it on her arm as a child..Our scars in the forties were tiny….
    I enjoyed this post..though I could feel some dread and fear in the letter. The thoughts of deserters was concerning him and I am sure all of them thought of it and home…
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I love C War letters and was very surprised to see a reference to Monticello, where I live.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    February 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    These are so wonderful, Tipper. Letters like this make those time come alive for me.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I have found a new way to follow you Facebook (I’m not sure why I didn’t before!) — What an interesting letter- We can learn so much yet so many questions left unanswered. I had a Uncle I.J. (Ira John), J.V. (just J.V.) and now I have a little nephew J.D. (Just J.D.) so the tradition has continued.
    I love these letters

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I enjoy reading these Civil War
    letters from Mr. Penland, drifting
    back when times were hard, food
    scarce, and travel difficult. You
    can see that he is worried about
    where they are moving to, calling
    it a tolerable scarce country. And
    it appears thieves were helping
    themselves when the opportunity is
    there. Now that part hasn’t
    changed much in my area…Ken

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    February 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I believe WC knows things are fixing to get rough and he’s wanting to spare his Mom from so much worry. Had they invented smallpox vacination at this time? They had some unsanitary conditions, I imagine. I have been watching Netflix’s Civil War Documentaries this past week. They are quite interesting.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Can’t imagine the agony those soldiers went thru not knowing what they would eat,if anything and how they would sleep,depending on the weather and the enemy. Am not surprised that some ran off to escape it all. Mr Penland does sound worried but is staying in there doing his best to be a good soldier. He sounds homesick but trying to reassure his folks all is well.

  • Reply
    Nancy @ A Rural Journal
    February 28, 2011 at 8:53 am

    As far as the vaccinations, would imagine it would have been for smallpox.
    I’m not sure how many deserters there were in the Civil War — but there had to be quite a few, based on the terrible conditions the writer described.
    I often wonder what our current “war” situations would be like if the soldiers had to endure the same conditions as these poor fellows.
    I find these letters extremely moving and interesting, Tipper. 🙂

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I thought the letter sounded much more “down” but had not thought that maybe he was protecting his mother before. I found it intresting when telling how different people were, he said “at this time”…knowing that that could change in an instant. Having to give up their tents would have been hard, I imagine. As always, thanks, Tipper…what treasures these are!

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 7:47 am

    It is so painful for me to think of all those men going hungry. No wonder they were deserting! I wonder how many of them paid the price for it? So sad.
    It would be interesting to know what they were vaccinated for. I think there was a smallpox vaccine back then, but have no idea what others were available. I think I’ll look into it.
    You might be able to find out about the names if you can find a regimental roster online. There seem to be lot of them available.
    It’s hard to think that W.C. has another year of this to endure, I wonder what will happen next?

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