Appalachia Civil War Letters

Greasy Cove Tennessee Washington County March the 2nd 1863 – Letter 5

A lone grave on the battlefield of Antietam

A lone grave on the battlefield of Antietam (Sharpsburg) (Library of Congress)


Greasy Cove Tennessee Washington County

March the 2nd 1863

Dear Father

I seat myself to write you a few lines that I am still in the  land of the living   hoping that these lines will find you and all of the family in good health   I am not very well at this time but have been well all of the time until a few days ago   I have the bad cold very bad   I think that I will be well in a few days   we have been doing some very hard scouting   we started one morning last week at two o’clock and walked all day until night over the mountains and did not get anything to eat until between one and two o’clock   some of our boys went to the limestone cave and they got back   and they got two bush whackers   General Jackson is in this part of the country and a part of our men crossed Chucky to go with the general   they are a going to give the mountains about the line a general scouting   they killed one of the bush whackers yesterday   they found three of them at a camp and they started to run and they shouted and they would not and they killed one of them and the others got a way   there is camps nearly anywhere in this country where there is there is a thicket    Arch Henson met with a bad accident the other day   I believe it was yesterday morning   he was going to get into a canoe   had his gun on a rock and hit the cock on a rock and it went off and hit him in the back   I do not know if it went to his hollow or not   the doctor says that he will get over it    I expect it very uncertain whether he will

March the 3rd

I feel some better this morning but not at all well   Big Jason Ledford and Hezakiah Smith runaway a few days ago   I recon if he went strait on he is at home today   he did not tarry with us long   I think that he just come after his money and not as he aimed to stay   he is a true lover of money   and at least he thinks more of money than he does for his character   we a getting a plenty to eat for ourselves and our horses   my horse is in a little better condition than he was when I wrote you last   our men are very much scattered    Lieut Barnard and about twenty four are here   and there is a detail of fifteen with Lieut Feancher   Lieut Anderson and all of the rest of the sick a way down below Johnson Depot and the last that heard of Lieut Cunningham he was in the Elizabethton area   I do not know here James Crawford is now   He was a getting better   I have not got a letter from home for some time now   the last one I got was from brother James H Penland   I got a letter from Mr E M Scroggs   he is well   he says he thinks that the folks of Macon and Clay have forgot him   I expect that would be glad to hear from you all at home   I do not  know when I can write again for we are all nearly out of paper and we can not get any paper in this part of the country    we can get some by sending to Jonesborough or Greensville   I want you to write me as soon as this comes to hand   I must bring my few lines to a close   give my love and respect to all the children and Mother and grandma and also Mr Sherman   still address to Hanesville Washington County Tenn   tell Uncle Charles and family howdy for me   so no more at present but remain your affectionate son as ever

to H M Penland

                            William C Penland


Reading this letter-makes me sorry W.C. is feeling under the weather with a bad cold. Interesting how he continues to use the letter as a means to share news about the other soldiers from home that he is stationed with.

Ledford is a very common surname in Clay County today. I wouldn’t doubt there is a ‘Big Jason Ledford’ currently living in the very area of W.C.’s home.

He still isn’t getting letters from home as much as he would like. And it sounds as if James H Penland has gotten even fewer letters from home. The line: he says he thinks that the folks of Macon and Clay have forgot him really pulls at my heart strings. I’m sure the reason the boys didn’t receive letters frequently was the mail system itself. Much different from the ‘instant contact’ we have with loved ones today.

What jumped out at you from the letter?


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  • Reply
    August 15, 2014 at 1:24 am

    From having served myself, during more modern times of course, I well remember how precious were those letters from loved ones. And from when our nephew was in Afganistan setting up a brand new camp there, they had little to nothing but holes in the ground, including regular mail, until the British soldiers rolled in with all their full gear and comfortable pleasantries, several weeks down the road from when our troops got there. Such is military life.
    Praying for all of our troops, wherever our prayers find them, and for their loved ones at home, often struggling mightily to keep home fires burning in their absence.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    August 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks again for another heart-felt letter from W. C. Penland. Many things do jump out at me, but this time, it’s the amount of ground he and the others covered, at all hours with little food- and their horses as well, who suffered their own deprivations.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    It’s nice to get a glimpse of what
    life was like in the Civil War Days. Mr. Penland didn’t seem to
    think much of deserters, but he
    sure has a lot of love and respect
    for family and friends of home.
    I wish our younger generation still
    had this kind of commitment…Ken

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    August 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Bless his heart, he so wanted to hear anything at all from home. In my opinion,he sounds worried about his bad cold. Imagine all he saw there; death and suffering were everywhere. I am sure he knew a bad cold could kill him. But yet, he did not want his folks to worry because he said he was still sick but better.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

    I have been saving this little tale for the time you post the Civil War letters.
    When we were selling on the 127 Worlds Longest Yard sale a man came in our tent looking for various collectibles. I always engage in conversation, YOU KNOW!
    He stated that he struck gold a few years ago at a stop off the road on the 127. It was an old house, and he saw a old suitcase for sale. He opened it and it was packed with old crumbling antique newspapers. He managed to read the headings of a few with all of the dry rot paper crumbling. Since they only wanted $1.00 for the old falling apart suitcase, he thought it would be worth it to try to read all the old newspapers, just for the fun of it.
    When he got back home, days later, he opened the case. Packed down partway toward the bottom of
    the old case was a treasure trove of many, many old Civil war letters in near mint shape. Only the papers around them were crumbling. Also near the bottom, was a first edition of the Boston Times.
    He told me he sold the Civil War letters through various ways, mainly EBay, etc. I asked him if he copied any of the letters, as my heart was pounding, to let me buy some copies to read! He said, “No, as he didn’t even think about it at the time!” His wife said they regretted not copying them! He and his wife told me that they sold all the letters and the first edition Boston Times for $35,000 and had no idea that so many people were interested in Civil War letters.
    He said that one great find is why he keeps coming back hunting treasure on the 127 Trail every year!
    Well, that was his “tale” and I sit on mine, but I really don’t believe he or his wife was making it up. I have met some wonderful folks on the trail and heard some great stories.
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 14, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I have often wondered if William C. Penland made it back home after the war. Maybe in the beginning of these letters there was a notation that he did live through the war.
    Until reading a book, actually just in the last day or so, “The Galax Gatherers” by Edward O. Guerrant (copyright 1910) did I find an “inkling” that WC survived the war. I quote from the book, “At clever William Penland’s we found our first mountain mission teacher, Miss Nellie Rogers, and soon Rev. J.A. Harris, of Micaville, one of the pioneer Soul Winners here joined us.” Prior to this statement he speaks of the people as not “easily provoked” and that they are pure Anglo-Saxon and Scotch-Irish. He may have known W.C. prior to his preaching mission thru the mountains of Western NC…as he speaks of 37 years before, he had joined the Confederate Army in February 1862 and riding with John Morgan and two thousand brave men on their last Kentucky campaign. Reminiscing, he states “How the scene has changed, only God and the old mountains remain.”
    I surely hope this traveling preacher knew W. C. Penland and he is the same person. He consistently speaks of people he meets on his mission travels, as colonel so and so…or captain so and so. At any rate a very interesting book and gave me hope that W. C. Penland lived on after the war.
    I love these letters, Tipper. W. C. surely misses home and the updates about others may help him, knowing that their families are concerned as well. Since paper seems to be a treasure his messages sent in his letters give all hope.
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…The author of the book references many in the mountains as “clever” people

  • Reply
    August 14, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I enjoyed the fact that a child kept in contact with his family. Being in the field has to be very stressful and a difficult experience living in the woods.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

    What jumped out at me is the part about money and character. Also, he seems to have a positive attitude about most things even though the conditions are far from perfect. I really enjoy these letter.

  • Reply
    August 14, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Two things that impressed me more than the rest: The tale about Mr. Ledford, who took the money and ran, and the story of the man who mis-handled his rifle and shot himself. The second instance makes me want to be even more careful with my percussion guns.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    August 14, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I’m run across the Ledford name often while researching. One of William’s uncles (younger brother of his mother) Maternic Chesterfield Moore (b. 1830) was married to a Sophena Ledford. But I’ve not run across a Jason Ledford.
    More of these boys died of disease than were killed by enemy fire. It had to be miserable having a bad cold and living with little protection against the elements.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 14, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Uncle Charles was probably Charles Milton Penland, born 1821, died 1873. I don’t know why W. C. singled out Uncle Charles by name for greeting and referred to the rest of the family generically. Maybe he was exceptionally close to his Uncle Charles.

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