Appalachia Civil War Letters

Civil War Letters 13

Time to check in with our Civil War Soldier W.C. Penland.

July 19th 1863

                       Sweet Water Monroe Co.  E  Tenn

Dear Father and Mother    I now set myself to write you a few lines in answer to your letter which came to hand some time ago   but there has been a good deal of passing lately but they always started with so little warning that I did not have time to write   I can say to you that I am well at this time and have been ever since I wrote to you   There is a good deal of sickness at this time   John Sherman, S. V. Ledford, Eli W. Lewis, J. P. Cherry are all gone to the hospital at Louden   Andy Carson, J. M. Ownby and H. P. Ownby are all sick besides several others to tedious to mention   Mark Auberry that was left in Kentucky sick came to camp yesterday morning   the Yankees took him and parolle him   he started home yesterday with A. L. McConnell    there has been a talk of several of our men a getting to go home soon but I do not know whether they will get off or not   there is a fine crop of wheat in Tennessee this year   the citizens says that there is the best looking prospect for corn that there has been for some years   my horse is a mending some now   I will send him home the first chance that I have   the boys that went yesterday took some horses and could not take any more or I would have sent him by them   my mare looks very well at this time   there is several of our company at Wattsburgh on picket and have been ever since we come from Kentucky   Lieutenant Virgil Barnard & R. V. Alexander are there with about 16 men   we are a looking for Samuel H. Allison to come into camp now every day   he has been gone a good deal over his time now   I would be very glad to see him come for I think that I will surely get a letter when he comes from home   I am anxious to hear from there now for I have heard that there is a good deal of sickness in that country this Summer   I want you to write to me what has become of A. E. Pendergrass   it is a mistake about Big Jason being shot for deserting he was taken by the Yankees at Wattsburgh by the Yankees   I saw Newton Gibson   he stayed with us night before last a going to his command below Sweetwater   I want you to have me a good pair of Boots made by fall and send them to me for boots can not be had here for less than 50 per pair and I do not expect that they are very hard to get there   but I want them if they can possible be had   I would like for you to come down and see us all and see how we are a coming on and if you can not tell Mr. Sherman or J. H. Penland one or both of them to come   I forgot to state that J. H. Ledford was terrible bad off and has been for several days   I will bring my few lines to a close by saying write soon and often   give my respect to all enquiring   Direct your letters to Sweet Water and as before excuse bad writing and composure   So no more at present but remains your Son as ever

                                        William C. Penland

To H. M. & P. M. Penland

PS   write to me whether you know where Uncle Chamberlain is or not   I have not had a letter from Mr.  E. M. Scroggs now for a long time   he did not answer my last letter   I do not know what is the reason of it   W. C. P.


Things I noticed in this letter:

  • A few new names among the ones he mentioned from home.
  • He must have 2 horses-wonder if he’s had 2 the whole time?
  • He is anxious for word from home-he’s worried they may have been sick.
  • I would like to have known Big Jason-W.C.’s mentioned him so many times he must have been a character that everyone at home was familiar with.
  • The line-Write soon and often tugs at my heart.
  • I’m wondering if E. M. Scroggs is from the Scroggs family of Brasstown.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you noticed.



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  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 10, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    He referred to “Uncle Chamberlain” in his PS on this letter. I can only assume he was talking about Robert Chamberlain but he was killed in the Battle of the Cumberland in KY as part of the NC 62nd Infantry, or at least assumed killed. There were 443 men in that regiment and that’s where records on that regiment end. They had to do a Muster Roll report everywhere they stopped and Muster Rolls ended in Cumberland for them. My cousin said she could not find a death record on Robert Chamberlain so that’s probably why? Theres a lot of nameless tombstones out there from the civil war. You just have to track the unit down and follow it and see where it ceases to exist. In the case of the 62nd,I found a report on them that said they were pretty much “destroyed” there in Cumberland, as was W.C.’s unit. Even the Reb General, Gen. Zollicoffer, who led the attack, perished.

  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    There is some confusion in records I have on E.H. She lists herself as Elaine Hasselltine in the Bible but other records I have lists her as Elizabeth Hasselltine Penland. I have some old letters that she received from family but they just list her as E.H. so I don’t know if she changed her name or what? I do know that my dads name on his birth certificate was Clifford Walker but his name on his license was Robert C. Penland, which is all I ever knew him by. His military records also show Robert Clifford Penland as his name on his discharge so I guess you could change your name pretty easy back in the day? His birth certificate is correct on everything but his name- shows his mom and dad and where they lived when they had him, his correct birthdate but they said they didn’t have a Robert Clifford Penland with those characteristics on record? He even drew his social security as Robert C. Penland so I don’t know?LOL

  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 10, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Ok I have to make another correction. I have so many records that I am getting confused myself!LOL Robert Chamberlain Penland was my great great Grandfather. He was the brother to H.M. Penland (W.C.’s Dad), which would make W.C. my great grandfather’s (G.W.) cousin. I have G.W’s and his wife’s (E. H) Family Bible but its kinda hard to read.

  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    By The Way, Good Music! Im a guitar player myself, as are most Penlands in my immediate family.

  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Correction on that last post. I said my Great Grandfather’s Brother, I should have said my Great Great Grandfather’s Brother. My Great Grandfather was G.W . Penland.

  • Reply
    Ron Penland
    January 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    I have copies of some of those letters as well. He wrote a lot of them from what is now Bluff City, TN., about 10 miles from Blountville, which is where I live. W.C. was my great grandfather’s (Robert’s) brother. My Grandfather was born in Macon County, N.C. Bluff City used to be Zollicoffer. If You’ll check some of the letters, he wrote them from there. There is a Penland, NC about 65 miles from where I live. It was named after Robert Penland, though I’m still fuzzy on which Robert Penland? There are Several in my family. I have our entire Penland History but still making connections. W.C. died of sickness trying to get back home and the unit he was with was later captured or killed in KY (There was like 40 who escaped). Im still putting everything together from all of the records I have recovered.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Sounds like he had more than just mom and dad writing to him. I must’ve been hard to be so far away and know there is nothing you can do to help those who may need you back home.
    $50 for a pair of boots??? That was expensive for that time.

  • Reply
    Lisa @ Two Bears Farm
    March 31, 2011 at 8:31 am

    What a letter! He must feel so unsettled, yet trying to appear strong.
    I have a mourning dress from the Civil War that has been passed down to me through several generations. It’s wonderful – layers of black lace and gloves and such. I have long wanted to put it on the blog, but cannot due to some relatives not knowing I have it (and not wanting to start any family drama).

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    March 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Stacey’s comment, “Oh, how I wish I could have written him a hundred letters for he seems so homesick”, made me think about all the young soldiers who are serving in war zones and how homesick they must be. I buy Girl Scout Cookies for the troops but maybe I should go a step further and send some letters too. I am sure longing for home is timeless.

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson (USA)
    March 30, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    There’s no imagining the stress and strain of wondering how others are and waiting to learn the answer. Tough times all the way around.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    I noticed how bad he needed a pair of boots- oh man but $50.00 can you imagine. He also didn’t want them to believe that about Big Jason any longer. That’s just how things happen now -you hear that this happened and you all talk about it -ends up different then you thought.
    I love reading these letters. Glad though you sit down and retype them for us, it makes it easier to read.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    March 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I wonder if the Sweetwater valley looked like it does now during the Civil War…just lots of land that is growing the most beautiful corn…and I imagine back then fields of wheat…I also wonder why, when those that where passing thru, that he did not have a letter ready to post or give them to take home? So close to home yet so far..Maybe carrying it around could cause problems…Yet, he asks them to come and see them? Odd..I also wonder how long it took for the news of the Battle of Gettysburg to arrive to his regiment in Tennessee, as it was a tragic battle lasting three days July 1/3 1863…the conferates lost 28,000 men, the Union 23,000 and winning that battle..I have an original print of the Battle of Gettysburg, very large..passed down thru our family…purchased by a Grandfather because a family member served in the war…just to look at it is so sad…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Mary Jane Plemons
    March 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Oops…typo…not Calvary, should be Cavalry.
    Mary Sunshine

  • Reply
    Mary Jane Plemons
    March 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    My mother’s grandfather, Robert Orr, and three of his brothers (one was too young to go to war) were members of Parson’s Texas Calvary, I believe it was called, and they were in the War. There is a little book someone published in the sixties of one brother’s letters home. I can hardly bear to read the haunting letters, but they all made it home.
    My mother’s great- grandfather on the other side served as well. He caught smallpox or some other serious disease and walked home. He called to his wife from up on the hill in front of their house and told her to bring food and blankets halfway up the hill and leave them, but come no closer. He camped underneath an old wagon there and managed to live over the sickness.
    Mary Sunshine

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I just notice how, in the midst of what he’s going through, he’s more concerned for so many others than himself. What a testimony to those of us going through trials.
    With love.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    History repeats itself. And, to me, the history of every nation is the history of heroes and of human endeavour.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    March 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Tipper: it’s always so like it was writen just the other day,so real,soclear the need for conection with home. my grandfather told of his father,s telling many more soldiers died of desease than of battle inflicted wounds. great read. k.o.h.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    March 30, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    These names are all familiar. They sound like Clay County folks. I’m sure I am related to some of these folks, the Penlands through Granddaddy Bob Ledford.
    This was an interesting post.
    I had several relatives who fought in the Civil War for the Confederates.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph. D.
    March 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Tipper: All the family names in W.C.P.’s letter seemed like they were straight out of Clay County, NC – where I grew up!
    I just finished reading Harriet Reisin’s biography “Louisa May Alcott” which I could not put down! Alcott’s devotion to the care of wounded soldiers goes far beyond measure! Reisin must have done extensive research – or I am just NOT very well informed from the Yankee side of the War!
    Thanks for a meaningful read!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    All these letters do pull at your
    heartstring, cause he is saying
    things from the heart. The thing
    that moves me the most is he is
    always reminding his parents that
    he ‘remains their affectionate son.’
    My dad was born in 1910, grew up
    with a bunch of brothers and a
    couple of sisters. Although it was
    a simpler time, he never knew
    nothing but the hard times. One
    time in the evening years of his
    life I asked him why he didn’t say
    I love you to any of us. He just
    smiled and said “I guess it was the way I was raised.” Daddy could
    do anything, he is my hero, and if
    he had been away from home like
    Mr. Penland, his letters would have been similar I think…Ken

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    March 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Oh how sad, Tipper… I agree with you~ the words “write soon and often” break my heart as well, because I can only imagine how lonely and homesick he must have been.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    March 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    WC’s physical movement over time provides some interesting context.
    His first letter that you posted was from Knoxville on Oct 12, 1862.
    A month and 11 days later, on Nov 23, 1862, he wrote from Taylorsville (now Mountain City), which is about as far to the northeast as you can get in Tennessee. He had moved 120 miles northeast of Knoxville
    He remained in upper east TN for about six months. Four counties mentioned were Johnson, Carter, Sullivan, and Washington, all of which are clustered in the northeast corner. A letter dated May 5, 1862 coming from Blountville, which is about 4 miles as the crow flies from Virginia.
    But in less than three weeks, he’d moved to Clinton, more than 100 miles to the west southwest. He wrote from Clinton on May 24, 1863.
    Then between May 24 and this letter on July 19, he’d moved another 39 miles southwest to Sweetwater. All this time, he’s been moving toward home.
    Monroe County (where this letter originates) borders on current day Cherokee and Graham Counties, NC. At that point, Graham County wasn’t yet formed, so it may have been all Cherokee County at that point, or perhaps a bit of what was then Macon.
    Sweetwater is within 27 miles of Cherokee County, NC. Imagine how strong the yearnings would be to say hang it all and head for the hills that he called home.
    Within a month and a half after this letter was written, the south will have lost at Gettysburg, Vicksburg will have been taken, and Burnside will have occupied Knoxville for the Yankees (and was welcomed by many in east TN).
    Re: Sandra’s question on the cost of boots – it would be dollars. And it was likely just as bad back home.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    March 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I noticed his use of the a-prefix in the following examples below. My mom and my great grandmother in particular, among many others, use/used the a-prefix in this way, which harkins back to our Southern British ancestry according to Michael Montgomery.
    It is cool to see people write the same way they speak.
    “my horse is a mending some now”
    “we are a looking for Samuel H. Allison to come into camp now every day”
    “see how we are a coming on”
    I also noticed the use of the word “country” used to describe a certain area. I have heard that expression used here in East Tennessee.
    “there is a good deal of sickness in that country this Summer”
    Lastly, the boots would have cost $50.00. They would be hard to find and more expensive to make as the war progressed.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 10:40 am

    As the letters go on, I feel like I know him. Oh, how I wish I could have written him a hundred letters for he seems so homesick.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    March 30, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Like Nancy, I am struck by his concern for others and also that he is worried about his “bad writing and composure’ (composition?) Wonder if he was a teacher or just had had some ‘schooling’ along the way…

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I have my Dad’s letters to his sister from World War II. No matter where he was (Dad served in both theaters,) or what he was doing, the final closing was always “Write!”
    It’s hard to imagine the loneliness that always seems to accompany war.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Not only can you hear the home sickness in his writing but he must be exhausted as well. Can’t imagine all those soldiers went thru. Even today with our young men and women fighting in other countries it breaks my heart to listen to the news.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

    this might sound silly, but i had no idea wheat grows in TN and i am wondering if it is 50 cents or dollars for a good made pair of boots. his writing is a lot like mine.

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 8:00 am

    What struck me, Tipper, is that he seems so concerned about everyone one else and not so much for himself. No real complaints about his current condition. He must have been a fine man. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 30, 2011 at 6:26 am

    uh oh, now you got me…

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