Appalachia Civil War Letters

The William C. Penland Letters From East Tennessee

The Penland Historical Society has graciously allowed me to share the following Historical Notes with you.




Historical Notes by Buford W. Penland

The William C. Penland Letters From East Tennessee 1862 – 1863

During the American Civil War Colonel George N. Folk organized the 7th Battalion N.C. Cavalry at Asheville, N.C. The battalion was originally, (July 18, 1862), composed of five companies but had grown to seven companies by the end of 1862.

Company B was organized under the command of 31 year old Captain William Patton Moore. It is believed that all the original members of Company B were from Clay County, N.C. Most of Clay County had been part of Cherokee County until February 1861 when the North Carolina Assembly established Clay County. Probably due to the war and its aftermath the county was not formally organized until 1868.

An enlistee in Company B under Captain William Moore was 18 year old Sergeant William Chamberlain Penland whose letters home are the subject of this writing. These letters add to our historical knowledge of the Penland and Moore families and to military movements, communications, supplies and living conditions in East Tennessee in 1862 and 1863.

Sgt. William Penland was a half first cousin to Capt. William Moore. William Moore’s father was Jacob Lawrence Moore, whose father was John Moore and whose mother was Martha Covington. William Penland’s mother was Patience Mahalia Moore whose father was John Moore, but whose mother was Susannah Jones, (John’s second wife).

In late September 1862 Colonel Folk was ordered to go with three companies of the 7th Battalion to Johnson City, Tennessee to capture or disperse a group of disloyal men believed to be organizing near Stone Mountain. The North Carolina line runs along Stone Mountain (near Boone, N.C.). Company B evidently went by way of Knoxville, Tennessee since William’s first letter home (Oct. 12, 1862) was from Knoxville. His next one (Nov. 23, 1862) was from Taylorsville, Johnson City, Tennessee. The mail was obviously a problem as he had not heard from home since leaving; at least two months and probably longer.

In his letter of Jan. 3, 1863 he gives an account of the Christmas week skirmishes in which people were killed and wounded. Northern General Samuel P. Carter made a raid into Carter County, Tennessee but was forced to retire due to Southern pressure. They must have burned the Zollicoffer bridge before retiring. From William’s report the Yankees probably didn’t need to retire. The Company B skirmishes seem to have been with bushwackers, not Carter’s raiders. William also mentions run-a-ways (we call them AWOLS) and gives his low opinion of deserters.

In his letter of Feb. 18 1863 he says the battalion is now in the 65th Regiment. (The 5th Battalion and the 7th Battalion were combined to form the 65th Regiment). In his letter of Mar. 2, 1863 when he mentions General Jackson he is referring to General A.E. Jackson, who was headquartered at Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, not to General T.J. (Stonewall) Jackson.

Several of William’s letters were written from Camp Zollicoffer, Sullivan County, Tennessee. The Zollicoffer bridge was where the railway crossed the South Holston River. This railway connected East Tennessee with Virginia; therefore all bridges on this railway were important military targets. The site is now called Bluff City Tennessee.

In early May the 7th Battalion was ordered to the Knoxville area to serve under General John Pegram, whose brigade had just returned from Clinton and Wayne Counties in Kentucky to Clinton, Tennessee. General Pegram’s forces were preparing to return to Monticello, Kentucky to picket the Cumberland River. From William’s July 19, 1863 letter we learn that he went to Kentucky and had returned to Sweetwater, Tennessee. There had been fighting in Kentucky, and in fact, the Captain and fourteen men of Company D of the 7th Battalion were captured.

In mid June General Pegram had been forced to retire from Kentucky in the face of added Federal pressure and of rumors of a raid on Knoxville. He first returned to Wartburg, his supply base, but Federal Colonel William P. Sanders had raided Wartburg and moved on toward Knoxville. Sanders was not able to enter Knoxville in the June 19, 1863 attempt; so, he headed North along the railway to destroy bridges. Battalion 7 was among Pegram’s forces who followed Sanders but never caught him.

General Pegram then set up headquarters at Camp Ebenezer near Knoxville. Various companies of Battalion 7 were then sent to Big Creek Gap for scouting and picketing the road to Kentucky. In his letter of Aug. 14, 1863 from Camp Ebenezer, William said he had been sick for five or six days. As the troops moved toward Big Creek Gap William got sicker. His next letter Aug. 16, 1863 was from the home of Joel Bowling at Coal Creek (now Lake City) Tennessee. Obviously he was sicker than he thought, since Joel Bowling had to complete the letter and send it. William was able to sign it. Three days later William died.

The part of William’s last letter written by Joel Bowling leaves the impression that Joel Bowling and William’s father, Harve Monroe Penland, were friends. They probably were, for Joel Bowling had previously been postmaster at Fort Hembree in Clay County, N.C. This also explains why William and Doc McConnell, both sick, were taken in and looked after by the Joel Bowling family.

Katherine B. Hoskins in her history of Anderson County Tennessee said “The first Coal Creek post office was established March 6, 1856, with Joel Bowling as postmaster. Bowling had a large grist mill on the creek and coal land nearby, where he made an entry and mined some coal in the 1850’s.” Joel Bowling’s son, A.H. Bowling, was the first superintendent of the Coal Creek Coal Company established in 1887. One of their mines was the famous Fraterville mine, which, in 1902 (long after A.H. Bowling’s superintendency) exploded with the death of many miners, the worst coal mine disaster in USA history. One of Joel Bowling’s grandsons was State Senator Bobby Lindsay who in 1939 was instrumental in getting the State Legislature to change, the name Coal Creek to Lake City. It was, at that time, the closest town to Norris Lake.

The style of William Penland’s and Joel Bowling’s writing was quite interesting. The lack of periods at the end of sentences and of capital letters to start sentences looks strange to us now, but was typical of writing at that time and place. William’s penmanship and spelling are generally better than should be expected when you consider that he was probably writing while sitting on a camp stool, a wagon bed or maybe even a tree stump, surrounded by other soldiers. The use of such expressions as “a coming” or “a going” seem quaint to us, but were typical of Southern Mountain English even in the early 1900’s. William’s vocabulary was certainly broad when you realize that he was reared¬† on a farm in an isolated mountain valley. Some of his letters look strange to us. For example, his “x” looks like a small capital “H”, “y” looks like “[a lower case cursive z]”, and his “r” looks like “[?]. The beginning and end of each letter to us seems odd (stilted), but were obviously the result of either schooling or tutorial training.


  1. Manarin, Louis H. (Compiler) N.C. Troups 1861 – 1865 A ROSTER
  2. Rogers, David (Compiler) Reflections in the Water: Coal Creek to Lake City May 1976
  3. Hoskins, Katherine B. Anderson Memphis University Press 1979
  4. Padgett, Guy A History of Clay County North Carolina 1976


I hope you enjoyed Buford W. Penland’s overview of the letters. In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing the letters W.C. Penland penned and sent home from the Civil War.


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  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    These and other letters home written by soldiers during the War of Northern Aggression demonstrate the hardships endured by our ancestors. The most of the troops from WNC we rugged Mountain Men many of them were of Scots-Irish descent who had located in the Mountains to avoid government interference in their private lives. Though the conflict was mainly about “States Rights” many joined the Confederate Cause because they felt the Union Troops were raiding their homes and those of their neighbors. Very few mountain families weren’t touched by the fighting with Union Forces and/or Bushwackers who crossed into WNC out of East Tennessee. The Bushwackers were encouraged by the Union leadership to disrupt WNC by murdering and robbing to try to keep the men from joining and/or supplying the CSA. Though NC was the last state to secede she provided and lost more men to the Confederate Cause than any other state. Most people do not realize how hard the war years and the reconstruction years were on our ancestors.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    June 23, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Tipper: These are fantastic notes1 Buford lived here in Oak Ridge. When I was writing “The Matheson Cove: In the Shadow of the Devil’s Post Office” I met with Buford who very graciously told me about his father (BLIND JIM PENLAND) who brought the first telephone ‘board’ from Atlanta to Hayesville and set up the first telephone company in the County! Buford was a brilliant and gracious fellow.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks to Buford Penland and the Penland Historical Society for sharing with you and your readers.
    A minor correction to this which you might want to pass along to Buford:
    The first name of William Patton Moore’s father is Joab, not Jacob. (Joab is my 2-g grandfather). At least three of Joab’s sons served in the Civil War – William Patton (Billy), John Jay, and Joab Lawrence, Jr.

  • Reply
    June 23, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Oh, this is great – thank you!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 23, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this piece of WNC history. I am now in the process of picking through it to find additions to my family tree. So far I have found quite a few and expect to find many more. I am anxiously awaiting more of the letters from William C Penland.
    PS: The author mentioned Jacob Lawrence Moore. If that turns out to be Joab Lawrence Moore, who married Margaret Patton, I am on to something bigger than I originally thought.

  • Reply
    June 23, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I wonder where future histories will be taken from with digital media being so ephemeral and easily altered?
    Reading old letters, examining the script, just “sensing” them seems to make the time of their writer so much more real.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    All those troop movements back then seem to take forever. Today we have
    Eyes in the Skies to check on large
    movements, even blow ’em to Kingdom
    Come. But I can’t imagine the hardships on both sides, getting from place to place. They didn’t have the adequate facilities, and soldiers got plenty sick just maneuvering around.
    I love these stories of Mr. Penland
    when he has time to write home…Ken

  • Reply
    June 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Miss Cindy, I thought the same thing!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 23, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Tipper! As you know, W. C. Penland was my great-great-uncle. Captain William Patton Moore’s grandfather, George Patton, was my great-great-great-grandfather, making CPT Moore a first cousin three times removed. I really appreciate any information like that helps me fill in more history.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    June 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I should never post from memory but was too excited this morning to dig out files but a correction and amplification or two is in order.
    It wasn’t July but 18 June 1861 that William Patton Moore and his brother Joab Lawrence Moore, Jr. along with their half-uncle Norbonne W. (Bon) Moore joined Company A 19th Regiment N.C. Troops, which became when mustered into the Confederate Army 2nd NC Cavalry.
    On April 6, 1862, William Patton Moore (sometimes called “Irish Bill”) resigned from his first unit and formed Company B, 7th Battlion (Folks) on July 5, 1862.
    As noted in my first post, Bon Moore at the same time formed an infantry company.
    I used the spelling Norbon but it probably was Norbonne in the original spelling although I have seen many variations in the records and family Bibles.
    Although I have several letters written by my G.Grandfather, he always signed them N.W. Moore (even to his wife and children) and he also gave his initials to census takers.
    According to several published reports the first white settler in what is now Clay County was John Moore’s son John C. Moore who moved to the Tusquitee Valley from Rutherford Co., NC.
    His father John (1777-1857) later followed with his family and John’s younger children including Patience and Norbonne were born there.
    Foxfire Magazine published an article “Eight Generations of Moores” that was reprinted in the book Foxfire 9. It also includes sample pages from the records of the Fort Hembree Store and Tannery which has the value of items customers offered for payment.

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    June 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Buford’s account mentions “Fort Hembree in Clay County, N.C.” My Blakes of South Carolina and Tennessee are related to the Hembrees by marriage, and this is the first we’d heard of a Fort Hembree, which indicates that they were a family of substance. We’ll be investigating this lead in depth. Much thanks, Tipper! “The Blind Pig” strikes again!

  • Reply
    June 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Very interesting piece of history. I look forward to more shared information. Happy history lesson to all readers!

  • Reply
    Richard Moored
    June 23, 2014 at 8:42 am

    This is of special interest to me as my Great Grandfather Norbon W. Moore was the son of John Moore and his second wife Susannah Jones. William Penland’s mother Patience Moore Penland was a full sister to Norbon, who was called “Bon”. One of William’s letters mentions his Uncle Bon.
    William Patton Moore (and a brother) and (their half-uncle) Norbon Moore originally joined the Confederate army in July 1861 in what was originally the 19th N.C. state troops, which later became the 2nd N.C. Cav.
    At about the one year mark of their service, both William Patton Moore and my ancestor were sent back to their homes in the mountains to recruit and form new companies.
    William raised the company that joined the battalion described above which became part of the 65th NC Cav. At the same time, Norbon raised a company of infantry which became part of the 62nd NC Infantry.
    Thank you for posting this and the wonderful letters from William. You are right about the lack of punctuation in early letters. I have several letters from my great grandfather and he used capital letters to begin sentences by never a period.
    Bon Moore was captured at Cumberland Gap in September 1863 and spent the rest of the war at Johnson Island Prison on Lake Erie. I have a letter he wrote from prison to his wife in Clay County. “No more dead since I last wrote…” is how it opens.
    Literacy was not common in the mid-19th Century and especially in the mountains where schools were scarce. But I rather think old John Moore (who is buried in a cemetery in Shooting Creek, NC) must have made certain his many children learned to read and write and they passed it on to their children.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 23, 2014 at 7:27 am

    It is interesting to me that some of the history of the war is taken from letters written home.

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