Appalachia Civil War Letters

Coal Creek Tenn August 16th 1863 – Letter 15

Wc penlands last letter sent home from civil war clay county nc

August 16th 1863

Coal Creek Tenn   31 miles north of Knoxville and 11 miles below Big Creek Gap at Joel Bowlings

Dear Father & Mother & Relations    I drop you a few lines to let you know that I am not well at present   I have some simptons of fever   But not Dangerously Bad at this time   we was ordered from Ebineser to Big creek & I & doc McConnel Both Being unwell we have stopped at Joel Bowlings till we get Better   When I rote to you I thought I was Getting Better but was taken worse the same day & father I would like you would cum & see me if you can & if you cum you cum through a horse back   cum to Loudon & Campbell Station & Clinton & Jacksborough   there is a few of our men at the hospital    But not Bad   as to the Rest of the Boys   they are generally well   we hear they are Bushwhacking sum in Cherokee & if so we would like to cum up & settle the matter as we just could do that thing   times over here is Quite now but we don’t know how long will Remain so   times is pretty hard here   Money & provisions & co

Mr. H.M. Penland esq
Dear sir   Wm is here & wants you to be sure & cum & see him   we will take the best care of him thats possible in our power while he Remains here   he is tolerable poor & he may be well in a few days or he may get worse   I can’t tell   he wants you to cum to see him & I would like to see you out here too if our Country was not tore up   But you cum any how & will do the best we can for you     & Co

Say to Miles Mcconnell that Doc is here with Wm & unwell but not dangerously & say to Andrew Groves that Wm is here & is well & he ways that he eat the first beans for his dinner to day that he as eat this year   Now he is in reasonable health   Columbus is mending   he can   on his britches    So I will not Rite no more as I hope I will see you soon
yours as ever with Due Respect   & Co

Wm C. Penland

Joel Bowling to H.M. Penland


To read W.C.’s previous letters please visit the links below.



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  • Reply
    November 16, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    This may be a repost but I think my computer was messing up when I originally sent it yesterday? I created the message then hit preview but when I got the preview, there was no send button on it so I don’t know if it sent or not? I have been researching Joel Bowling to find out how he was tied to North Carolina and came up with some pretty interesting info on him and thought Id share it with you.
    He was born in 1817 in Coal Creek, TN. His father’s name was Larkin Bowling, his grandfather’s name was Joseph Bowling (who was originally from VA). Joel had 3 brothers (Caswell, George and Hugh) and 1 sister that I have found (Euphania). At some point before Joel had reached 28, He moved to Cherokee, NC, where he converted. He met and married Adaline M. Carroll in 1838 and they had 5 children (though some have said 8, I have only found 5 in census reports). They were Charles C. (B: 1840), Lorenzo (B: 1843), Martha H. (B: 1845), Hugh B. (B: 1849) and Amanda (B: 1850). All were born in Cherokee, NC. At some point after that, Joel moved his family to Brasstown, GA, where he received a License to Preach the Gospel.
    Some time afterwards, he moved back to Coal Creek, TN, where he opened a Lumber Business. He also opened a Mining Business with either his Brother, Hugh or his son Hugh B. Not sure which but they called the business HB and Joel Bowling Mining Company. I have not found anything confirming him as a US Postmaster, as I had originally thought so Im assuming he had a Post Office set up in his Lumber Business? (Kinda like Sam Drucker on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction on TV?) It does seem like he, his father and grandfather were pretty prominent citizens in the town?
    They do seem like they were pretty prominent Democrats because in 1884, Joel, at age 62, along with a couple of others, started a movement to get the then residing chief of the US Pensions Office removed from office, who was a republican, and who they accused of many infractions, to include being a ringleader of a bunch of paroled convicts from the area who would use force, if necessary, to get what they wanted. Joel died sometime after 1900 in Coal Creek and his wife died in 1915.
    I was hoping to get some kind of clue in my research that would reveal the approximate whereabouts of WC’s grave but from the research, Id say the Bowlings owned a lot of land in the area so his grave could be anywhere? I will keep researching and keep you updated

  • Reply
    November 15, 2015 at 11:54 am

    He died 3 days after the letter on August 19. One of the really sad parts to me is it probably took a couple of weeks for that letter to reach home? By the time Harvey got the letter and had gotten back up there, WC probably had already been buried, if he did go back up there-and Im sure he did. In my experience as a Penland, distance made no difference when it came to an ailing relative.
    I have a few postcards dated from 1911, written by my great grandmother (WC’s cousin by marriage) chronicaling her trip from Highlands, NC to Winston-Salem, NC to attend to another Penland- Sallie-who also incidentally died according to one postcard. Her trip was in a horse drawn wagon in January of that year and she spoke of the snow she and her new husband encountered- as G.W. (W.C.’s cousin) had died in 1896.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    I hesitated to read yesterday and today’s posts, to be honest, because knowing the end was coming it seemed it would be dismal. And of course it’s sad, it’s very sad. But…as I read the letter, it just seems to me to be such a huge blessing that W.C. was in a place of relative safety and comfort, with a hometown comrade and amongst friends who were glad to do anything they could for him. It’s a pity that his life was so short, but to me it seems Fate was kind at the end of his short life, making his death easier than it often is, in war or peace, in the past or the present.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 11, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I have been to Coal Creek (now Lake City, TN) trying to find Joel Bowling’s house, or at least where it was located. I don’t know where great-great-uncle W. C. is buried, but I would like to find him. Unfortunately, he may have been buried with a wooden marker, which would be long gone. I have found nothing that indicates that his family removed his body to his home in NC.

    • Reply
      Ron Penland
      April 21, 2020 at 1:15 am

      Hi Mike,
      I still havent found it either though I am still looking. I found one small Confederate Cemetery closeby but no headstones with his name on them? I have some friends in the area checking records to try and find Joel’s property but so far, nothing. I did find an article that suggested that H.M. had started up to see W.C. but someone he met on the road told him that W.C. had died and was already buried. The article didnt say where he was buried or even whether H.M. went on to Joel’s place? I found that on an ancestry website. I did find evidence to support the fact that Joel was, in fact, the first Postmaster of Coal Creek. Seems it wouldnt be so hard to find his property? I guess, after all these years, the chances of finding a grave on it would be next to nothing? May be asphalted over by now? Hope everyone is taking care from this virus?

  • Reply
    Edwin Ammons
    November 11, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Why do old men get to send young men to fight and die in their stead? Why can’t we have wars where the minimum age is 60?
    I can feel though this young mans words to his loved ones that he couldn’t understand what it was all about. I can feel how much he wanted to be home with his family. And how at the end, when he knew he wouldn’t ever go home, he wanted his father to come to him.
    Do you know whether his body was returned to his home for burial? Does he have a proper marker somewhere? Or are these letters home his only monument? I wonder how many other young men were killed or died of disease without ever hearing from home. I wonder how many families waited for news from their sons never to receive it.
    Sorry to seem so morose but this kind of thing tears at my heart. It happened more than 150 years ago and we didn’t learn anything from it. It is still happening! The terrain and tactics may have changed but the schisms in the minds of men that cause us to kill each other are still the same.
    If the old men who are the planners and purveyors of wars were also the combatants, they wouldn’t last long. They, the wars or the warriors.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    November 11, 2015 at 11:39 am

    As a veteran of an awful war, I can feel the poignancy of Wm. Penland, his travails, his optimism and pessimism, and the tragedy of his young life cut short. I still have all of my letters that I wrote home to family, some with horrible descriptions of what was happening in that faraway land of needless death. It has been said that in war people can rise to their best, but I have seen many sink to their worst. War holds no glory, only sacrifice.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 11, 2015 at 11:20 am

    About 10 after 11 this morning, Donna Lynn was playing Tribute Songs to our Veterans when I noticed a familiar sound. It was Pap and his brother singing a tune I wasn’t familiar with. But I could tell that Signature Sound that comes from Wilson Holler…Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 11, 2015 at 10:38 am

    So many people died in that awful war, both sides thinking their cause was the greater. Actually, I’m glad the William Penland story is over, but still sad, probably because he’s someone from our area who we all got to know.
    Thanks to all the Veterans for their service. I’m honored! …Ken

  • Reply
    November 11, 2015 at 9:43 am

    This young man demonstrated his love for his family by corresponding his last thoughts of them. Thanks for sharing this piece of history with your readers.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 11, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I was hoping this man would get back home to his family. But he any many more like him did not. I could sense the urgency in this letter of him wanting his father to come. This was a sad ending indeed.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2015 at 8:55 am

    This very sad story was repeated over and over during the Civil War. So many left their little communities and farms to go fight a cause they deeply believed in. These were hard times for the women and children left behind, as the main breadwinner was off to war. My gr gr grandfather and oldest son killed at the same time. He left a house full of children in their wilderness home, and it is said they had to eat grass at one time before they managed to get crops. With ancestors on both sides fighting my home state was deeply divided…glad its just history now.
    So many times I have been very ill, but the marvels of medicine brought me right back. Reading of deaths from long years past, one realizes how easily they might have been saved with modern medicine. Many died where a simple antibiotic would have healed. Working with genealogy shows so many deaths from diseases where a simple vaccination would have saved them. It is just sad that life had to be so hard and that war made it even more difficult.
    I have read much about the Civil War, and even took a vacation to Fredericksburg once to see some of the sites there. I continue to find History fascinating, and have really enjoyed reading about W. C. Penland.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    November 11, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Reading W. C. Peland’s letter fills me with sadness. “Letters home,” from soldiers are nearly always filled with longing but at the same time a note of assurance for parents and others that “things will get better.” Sometimes, s we know, it take death to “make things better.” To the W. C. Penlands and countless others who gave or were willing to give their all, we thank you and salutre you on this Veteans’ (Armistice) Day.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 11, 2015 at 7:22 am

    This is a really up close and personal look at war. It is not for the faint of heart, but then, death is not easy under any circumstances.
    William was faithful and honorable to both his family and his country.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 11, 2015 at 6:07 am

    This letter is just pitiful, especially knowing that he passed away a few days or so after he wrote the letter. He seemed to let the family know how sick he was, even though he said, “symptoms of fever but not dangerously so…” He must have known he might not make it as he sure wanted his Father there with him and soon even giving the direct route of the towns he should pass through to get there.
    The little town of Coal Creek changed its name to Lake City, Tn. and just this past year got approval to change it’s name again to Rocky Top, Tennessee…I wish they would just call it Coal Creek like in the past…after all it is and was a coal mining town with a lot of Civil War history there and all around the area.
    Thanks Tipper,
    for posting all these letters…I wish the ending would have been happier, that WC could have endured the war, left and made it back home to the farm and family he wanted so much.

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