Appalachia Civil War Letters

March 23 1863 Headquarters 65th N C Regt Letter 9

Confederate lines at Cold Harbor, Va.

Confederate lines at Cold Harbor, Va. – Library of Congress

This letter was written on the same day as the letter shared last week. The previous one was sent to W.C.’s mother this letter was sent to his brother, James Penland.


March 23 (on envelope) 1863

Headquarters 65th N C Regt

Zollicoffer Sulivan County East Tenn

Mr James H Penland

I set myself pen in hand to write you a few lines in answer to your kind letter which came to hand sometime ago   I have not answered it as soon as I would have but we have moved a good deal lately   we are stationed here to guard this bridge   I expect that we will stay here for some time   my health is very good at the present and in fact all of company is in tolerable good   all that were sick are on the mend   the last account we had of Arel Henson he was a getting better   we are not a getting much for our horses to eat since we come to this place   it is a very nice day here today    there has been a great deal of rain here lately   we are not doing much riding lately but are not a feeding much   I would like to be with you and talk with you but I can not do so and I will just rite   I have not had a letter from any of you at home in a month   I do not know whether you have not written or they have been miss placed   I would like to hear from there now   Uncle Wm Moores Company is to be here in a few days so I have heard but I do not know whether it is so or not   we are a looking for the Yankees to make a rade into this part of the country but I do not know whether they will or not   write to me as soon as this comes to hand and give the news in general   give my respects to all of my friends and acquantances and especially to all of the family

so no more at present but remains you affectionate brother ever

                               Wm C Penland

to James H Penland


This letter was especially interesting to me-because it is written to his brother James instead of to his Mother or Father. As in some of the other letters-we can see his longing to hear from home. I’m positive they wrote him often-I’m betting the letters they sent were lost along the way or as he said “miss placed”.

All of W.C.’s letters are written in cursive. Has anyone else noticed-kids today don’t learn to write in cursive? At least they don’t here. In this area-it’s just not required.

Chitter and Chatter never learned to write in cursive. They can sign their names-but that’s about it. In high school they had a teacher who only wrote in cursive. When the students complained to him that they couldn’t read his writing because none of them had ever learned cursive-he said that really wasn’t his problem and he continued to write in cursive on the board and on all the handouts he used. The girls would bring the handouts to me and I’d translate for them.

What jumped out at you from the letter? Do kids in your area learn to write in cursive?


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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

    I think Mr. Penland is very lonesome and longing for the childhood times he spent with his brother. He apologizes for not writing him but still needs more mail from home. He wants to state how he feels, maybe with a bit of fear and dread in his heart, over the unknown of the future time, if and when the Yankee invasion will or won’t occur in the area. He then holds back and barely speaks of it.
    So sad! No mention of his coat or being cold this late in March. Do you know if he was killed in the war, anyone?
    Cursive writing needs to be taught to young children. I think as soon as they learn their printed alphabet. I read that TN schools are bringing back cursive writing in 1915/16 school years. My Grandchildren write their names in cursive. I deplore the fact that I may see in the future, a document for example, marriage license, will, home purchase, etc. that is signed in print and not in ones own cursive signature. A cursive signature is your individual own, much like your fingerprints and yes, even your face! I fear that we all will somehow have to print our name, place our fingerprint and write our own personal number down to identify ourselves, when we sign our documents…Yes, 666 is here! My heart pounded when I found out that my new Grandbaby, even several ago, had to have an identifying social security number assigned to him. Very Scary!
    Thanks Tipper, I am not in the Civil War, but tired, hope you can read my typed cursive…
    PS…I wish my keyboard would connect the letters in cursive! LOL

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    The whole cursive issue is interesting and also disturbing.. As far as the letter goes, the way in which he phrases his sentences cannot help but capture your attention.. “I set myself pen in hand to write you a few lines”.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Not teaching cursive is a step toward illiteracy! How can one read an old document? Or, a letter from W. C. Penland? If the power grid is compromised, there will be no internet, no cell phones. The school systems are taking rather than giving. Tragic, I’d say, and such a waste!

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    NC legislature recently found out teaching cursive in NC schools was discretionary, upon the decisions of the teachers. They changed that and made it mandatory teaching now. Thank Goodness!!! Wonder who let that “discretionary” pass in the first place. What business would want to hire someone who can only print? (I’m thinking those whose CEOs were educated in NC schools where they were never required to learn cursive either, depending upon how their teacher felt about it that day, I guess. smh)
    Boggles the mind, doesn’t it.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    What jumped out to me was the fact that he really let it be known that he had an emotional need for news from home. I am, however, shocked as a retired middle school teacher,to learn that your girls did not learn cursive writing. It, to my knowledge, has always been a curriculu requirement in second/ third grade. Only recently has there be a dropping of the requirement in a couple of Northern States, but I have never read that NC has dropped its requirement. I hope you will get them a writing book from Staples or an educational store so they can at least be familar with the formation of the letters. A stocking stuffer!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    I love William’s hand written letters to the different family
    members. Don’t guess many of the
    folks knew how to write back then
    either, no wonder the mail got so
    When I e-mail my daughters the next time, I’m going to use some of W.C.’s words “no more at present but remains your affectionate daddy.” (see how they respond)
    I think everyone should be able
    to write in cursive form…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    One other point! In reading W C’s letter one might assume that he, because of his spelling and punctuation, is less that well educated. We must always remember that he is outside or in a tent at best. He is writing with a pen that must be dipped in ink and applied to a precious piece of paper lying on a likely rough uneven surface. He didn’t have spellcheck. If he mispeled a word, he could either strike through it and waste space on the paper, or just go on. He probably had only one sheet of paper that might have been used already. To get off any kind of correspondence under those conditions is remarkable.

  • Reply
    C. Ronald Perry, Sr.
    September 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    When I was in school, almost every class had the cursive alphabet on a long strip of paper showing capital and lower case letters along the top of the wall over the blackboard. Kids today don’t write except on their phones and that is so abreviated that I can’t understand half of it. Most kids don’t read anything they don’t have to read for school and seldom ever newspapers unless it is the sports section. If they get points for saying “like” 4 or 5 times every sentence, they would score in the hundreds. I came from a generation where only a few families had TVs and reading was a real enjoyment.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Two words jumped out at me. “here lately” Here being a point in space and lately being a point time, right? I grew up hearing that phrase used as almost one word. It’s difficult to explain the subtle difference. Maybe you can see it in a sentence. Here lately Tommy seems down in the dumps. My biscuits don’t seem to want to rize up right here lately. In text it appears that the word here is unnecessary but when spoken it is vital. It’s as if “here” is the essence of the speaker/writer as opposed to a GPS coordinate. Do you get what I’m saying?
    Get me the name of and address of that teacher and I will send him a Thank You card with some money in it. Students here in Burke County don’t learn to write cursive unless their parents teach them. Many of the parents can’t read or write either. The generation that could is almost gone. Students here learn EOG. That is their focus throughout the school year. Doesn’t matter if or what they learn, it’s all about EOG scores. Teachers don’t like it! Parents don’t like it! Uncle Raleigh likes it and that’s what matters.
    I have before me, on the wall above my desk, a laminated 12″ by 16″ picture on which all of Dusty’s 5th grade 2003-2004 class signed their names. Only 1/4 are in cursive and most of those look like they have been formed separately then stuck together. Alicia Byrd and Jessica Frady though have beautiful signatures. One other impressed me but she was the teacher, René Stilwell. Ms. Stilwell was a wonderful teacher for Dusty but here lately that gets you nowhere.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I learned to write cursive in the 5th grade with a steel-nibbed stick pen (furnished by the school) and a bottle of washable blue Skrip (furnished by my parents), and each curly-cue was enforced by Miss Goggin’s 15-inch boxwood ruler. I’m a bit surprised that your girls, that, being so artistic, haven’t tried to learn cursive on their own.
    As to Mr. Penland’s letter, his remarks regarding lack of feed for the horses was poignant. Who, today, would consider horse feed a part of war-time necessity. Other than that, only the odd mis-spelling of ‘write’ (rite) stood out.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Concerning the “cursive debate”. When my brother-in-law, a very intelligent man and about 10 years older than I, was in college, even typewriters were a luxury. Most papers were hand-written or you hired someone to type your papers. He has an absolutely beautiful print hand and so turned in his paper for a particular class in his fine print. He was given an F because it wasn’t in cursive. My mother-in-law, then an elementary school principal, tried to talk to the professor but this professor would not be swayed. The paper itself was a really well-done paper on the influences of science on society, so I’m told. No matter, this incident became the instigation for brother-in-law to drop out of college.
    More recently, I substituted for the few years between my leaving the classroom and my parents coming to live with us. At the end of each day, I wrote a summary of the days events and any commentary I thought would be useful as well as messages to be forwarded for the teacher. The following day I happened to be at the same school and that teacher sought me out to tell me she couldn’t read my notes – turns out, she couldn’t read cursive. Since substitutes are not allowed on the computers in the schools, I had to hand print my 4 pages of notes to her in addition to that days notes before I left campus.
    My granddaughters are not being taught cursive in school but one granddaughter is “teaching herself” – she considers it a secret code because her older sister can’t read what she had written!

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    September 19, 2014 at 9:35 am

    here in NW fla they teach cursive but don’t know for how much longer.As a retired teacher I see lots of things being dropped so they can learn how to pass the test just wait for Common Core its awful.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    September 19, 2014 at 9:34 am

    They still teach cursive in 3rd grade in our county, but they only learn to write the alphabet. They don’t practice putting letters together into actual words and it’s something they only spend maby a month covering. I think that is such a shame. Some of my great aunts had the most beautiful cursive handwriting. I’ve saved several things they wrote on because of that. One of them told me one time that was all they learned in school-How to “figure”, read and write and you’d better write neat.:)

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 19, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I was taught cursive in a different time (1950’s), but in getting a mechanical engineering degree, I got in the habit of doing block printing from mechanical drawing classes in the days before CAD drawings. Now, I use all capital block letters with my real upper-case letters being larger than the capital letters that should be lower-case. My cursive was never that good, so my block printing is much more readable.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    September 19, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Tipper: My father, R.C. Pipes taught handwriting to his classes daily, just as he did math and spelling. In 1983-84 the North Carolina Department of Education in response to ‘A Nation At Risk’ developed what they called a ‘Basic Education.’ As Superintendent of Cherokee County Schools I suggested that they add handwriting to the basics. But … they didn’t so most children still don’t/can’t write cursive.

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