Appalachia Civil War Letters

Mount Taylor, Carter County Tennessee Jan the 3rd 1863 – Letter 3

Army bridge across the Tennessee River

Army bridge across the Tennessee River at Chattanooga, L8121 (Library of Congress)


Mount Taylor, Carter County Tennessee Jan the 3rd 1863

Dear Father and Mother

I now take the present opportunity to write you a few lines   I am well at this time hoping that these few lines will find you and all the family and friends enjoying the same blessing   I am as hearty as you ever saw me I would have wrote you before this time but I wrote you one and had to go out to meet the Yankees and did not have to mail it    the Yankees were within one mile of us and said to be in force and there was but few of us Col Folk could not muster more than one hundred and fifty men in all at this place   there was a dispatch come to us last tuesday that the enemy were advancing on the bridge at Zollicofffer and for us to go as soon as possible    as we saddled and loaded our bagage and started late in the evening and got four of five miles from camp and heard that the forces at Zollicoffer were whipped and all killed and taken prisoners and were advancing and we turned back and went to a better position to fight and formed line of battle and stayed there until midnight    and then we went about six miles and camped until midnight and then we went about six miles and camped and throughed out pickets until morning and then we heard that there was a crowd of what we call tories in the crabb orchard that was a going to cutt us off if the Yankees whipped us and we had to retreat    and we went up into that country and found none off until we started back to our former camp and as we came on down we were fired on in two different places out of the laurel    two of our men were wounded but none killed we took six or eight prisoners and wounded men of them that had a gun and was in the woods near the south it was such a rough country that we could not get after them for the rocks and brush    I expect that there was near fifty or sixty guns fixed at us that day and but two touched there was two men of Browns company that were left sick on the road and they started to come to the battalian and they were fired on by five guns but were not touched a single time    we got back to camp last friday and I started to write saturday and sunday and was detailed before I had got half of a letter wrote to go about on scout     the Yankees have burnt two bridges and taken four companies of Loves regiment prisoners    these force were sixteen hundred men they have left this part of the country    the Major Mcdowell surrendered without the firing of a gun but Colonel Love give them a fight at Carter Depot   there was five or six of his men wounded and one killed    there were two of the Yankees killed and two wounded they were the best armed that I ever heard of in my life had Colts rifles that shot five or six times and two naval pistols a piece that shot six times    also there were several of our men runaway a few days ago and they will face tolerable tolerable rough if they get them    you wrote to me to try to get A E Pendergrass off if I could    he runaway when had been in camp only one week I think that it was a very little trick of them their officers were all kind to them and they were getting plenty to eat     I fear that deserters will be the ruin of our country if they keep a deserting and going to that country    there will be an army sent to that country it will be eat up and will be starved out    I think that is the only danger of our country being ate up or coming to want a deserter ought not to be countence in any shape nor form whatever    James Crawford is on the mend and is a great deal better than he was when I wrote to you before    he as been very bad    M A Martin had not mended much the last account that I had of him I have not heard from him since last thursday he was a little on the mend then    R V Alexander is well at this time    tell Mr. Sherman that John is well and is gone to Knoxville at this time with some prisoners    I am well this morning and have plenty to do lately I have wrote every day for eight days and part of the night in fact, nearly every night more or less in that time    I would be glad to be at home but I do not know when I can get a furlough    I do not think there will be any furloughing soon in this battalion    when we left camp we left all our our sick at camp and they left and we think that they went home we do not know what has become of     write soon and give me the news write to Johnson Depot Carter County Tennessee

so no more at present but remains your son as ever W C Penland


In this letter you can hear the the pent up energy in WC’s words. The manner in which he describes the skirmishes let’s you know it was a truly impressive sight to behold. He mentioned writing every night. I wonder if he was referring to letters he had sent home or if maybe it took him that long to write this one letter-in between all the goings on?

Hope you’ll leave me a comment with your thoughts on the letter.


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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 19, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    and Ed…you know I have read about the Shelton Laurel massacre. The salt was hid in Marshall, you know! Yes they opposed slavery but the town got in a skirmish during a vote…and I think you know the rest of the story…Today was the Tweed reunion, I wasn’t able to go…
    Just pondering again!
    Thanks Tipper,
    I remember my Dad sayin’, a man could hide out in a laurel hell forever…or disappear until in the future a bulldozer pushing over the “hells” found his bones!

  • Reply
    July 19, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks again, Tipper, for sharing another rich slice of history- and to all the Acorn’s comments.

  • Reply
    R U Worthy
    July 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I used to have a replica Colt Navy cap and ball black powder six shot 44 caliber revolver with a brass frame and walnut grips. I bought the kit and put it together. It was a pretty thing when I got through with it. The brass shined like gold. People even asked if it was gold plated. After a while my mind moved on to other projects and the gun began to tarnish so I decided to give it to someone else who might appreciate too. So I gathered it up with all it’s accoutrements and gave it to a family member who was down in the dumps. I thought it might give him something to focus on. He sold it! I didn’t bother to ask how much he got for it.
    Such a weapon was what W C Penland referred to in this letter. If not for a little impediment called time I could have given it to him. I am sure he would have treasured it much much more than the actual recipient.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Most everyone has already captured my
    thoughts, but I do admire W.C. Penland’s
    Grit. I wish we’d a had more soldiers
    like that…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I didn’t mean to insinuate that W C Penland would willingly participate in a massacre, but if he was in a detail escorting prisoners and was ordered to fire, then I would expect him to do so. Refusal would have meant the guns would have been turned on him.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I can well imagine young Mr. Penland’s frustration. He writes home but never receives a reply. He obediently sends reports of the condition of his friends and relatives who are serving with him. He sees friends and relatives being shipped out to other places and never hears from them again.
    As I said in my response to the last letter, he is in hostile territory. Although Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina were confederate states, at their juncture was a ruggedly mountainous area whose citizens opposed slavery and chose by a vast majority to remain part of the union. These were the people he had to look upon as the enemy and they looked but little different from those he had left at home. He doesn’t get to see a line of blue uniforms with guns at ready. He hears a rustle in the bushes or glimpses a flash of alien color as he moves through. He knows someone is there watching or waiting for him. He doesn’t consider training his weapon on the spot that attracted his attention. The perpetrator would surely have moved. And, if he fires his weapon, he must stop and reload. His enemy, if there is one, could be armed with one of those newfangled repeating rifles and could easily end his life right there in the road. Or, could the object of his interest be a couple of eight year old fishermen who were frightened into hiding by the sounds of approaching soldiers. Or, nothing at all.
    Anyone who hasn’t read about the Shelton Laurel Massacre, should. WC Penland could very well have been involved in it or others like it.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    July 19, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Tipper, Thanks for another Penland letter. My eyes perked up when I saw that this skirmish was in the county in which I live .I look forward to researching the event here. Here in upper east Tennessee , only Sullivan county voted to secede. Our local people were savaged by both sides with such divided loyalties. Larry Proffitt Elizabethton, Tn, Carter County .

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Besides the anxiety in parts of the letter, other words stir gut wrenching sorrow for W C Penland.
    “Tories” in the “Crabb Orchard” and “retreating and then going “up into that country” and “the rough country for the brush and rocks”! This reminds me of the plateau ridge and snaky rocky bluffs deep in the woods even with “laurel hells” that abound! It must have been terrible much less trying to navigate thru it all. I suppose he was referring to Crab Orchard Kentucky, but we also have a Crab Orchard on or near the plateau here in E. TN. There was a camp set up in Kingston that men were designated to burn the Loudon bridge, others during the Civil War. Just in case the reference could have referred to this area, I have a story. A friend was hunting squirrels just under some bluffs between Crab Orchard and Rockwood Tn. He tripped on something. Knowing and now seeing that it was a root, he kicked at it and managed to get it out of the dirt it was partially stuck in. It was a Civil War Bugle. He took it and had it identified. Besides a dent or two and the dirt, some rustiness, it was in great shape. Go figure? Makes you wonder where all these men traveled. This place was isolated far from known old home places. Nope, I couldn’t get him to sell it to me! LOL
    When I used to walk across our old stagecoach road I always hoped I would find something other than an old bottle or cow skull!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Love these letters although very sad sometimes…I think I will sit down and write him a letter, maybe somewhere he could know that people are still thinking of what he went through! Yes, I ponder doing that!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 19, 2014 at 10:10 am

    You can tell that he is a devoted solider and that he does not think much of deserters. Although he would like to be home he knows he has a job to do. I really enjoy these stories. Both of my great great grandfather’s were Confederate soldiers. Both survived with one wounded and captured near Vicksburg MS.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2014 at 9:34 am

    It is so important that some of these letters were kept by families, as it shows what a truly difficult time this was for our country. Unlike the military of today, many soldiers in the civil war fought hunger and left behind families that were subjected to hardship without a man around.
    Especially here in southern WV the hardships were great because this area was so divided between north and south. Sometimes the same family fighting each other.
    These letters were so very interesting.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I think it was beautiful that this young man took the time to write to his family and letters that told about the history of this war. He probably took a couple of days to write this as he told about different events and feelings.Rather enjoyable and meaningfulreading reading

  • Reply
    July 19, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Wow, you can feel the built up anxiety coming from this letter.. He never new that some 150yrs later that someone other than his family would be reading this letter.

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