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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The End of the W.C. Penland Civil War Letters


Since Veteran's Day is tomorrow, it seems like a fitting time to finish the story of Civil War Soldier W.C. Penland. Sadly, the story of his life doesn't end on a happy note. 

The Penland Historical Society has graciously allowed me to share the following historical notes with you. They were written  by Buford W. Penland. The details explain the situation surrounding the penning of W.C.'s last letter.

"General Pegram  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 Ebernezer, Williams [WC] 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." 

In the Civil War most soldiers signed up and served with their neighbors and friends. This made it a certainty that W.C.'s family knew the men he wrote about in his letters. I'm not sure that knowing your fellow soldiers in an intimate manner would have made things easier or harder. You'd certainly be comforted by being surrounded by your people, but I imagine it would also make you feel their sorrow and pain on a deeper level because you'd know who waited at home for them to return. 

As they say its a small world after all. Even though they were many many miles from home, W.C. and Doc McConnell found a familiar face of friendship during their time of need.

If you'd like to read the entirety of Buford W. Penland's historical notes written about the W.C. Penland Civil War Letters go here

Please drop back by tomorrow for W.C.'s final letter written to those he loved. 


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The Legend of the Rebel Soldier

Joel thompsonPhoto from Find a Grave 

Joel Thompson was Don Casada's 2nd great grand uncle, the brother of Alfred G. Thompson Don's g-g grandfather. Alfred died in the Civil War, a couple of days after being wounded at Chickamauga. He is buried in a national cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.

His daughter Maggie Thompson Price, the mother of Don's Grandmother Minnie Price Casada, died in childbirth. Don's Grandmother Minnie and her brother Will were taken in by the sons of WH (William H) Coleman - Andrew Jackson and James Coleman and their wives, Samantha and Laura Shearer (sisters who married brothers). You may remember William H served with WC Penland, the Civil War Soldier whose letters we've been reading. 

There's a grave marker for Joel Thompson in Elmira, New York-you can see it at the top of this post. But at least one person believes he may have been buried close to home in Young Harris, Georgia.

Don Casada's research on his family's genealogy turned up two distinctively different stories about Joel Thompson's burial.

agatemoon on shares the following information:

Joel Thompson died March 29, 1865 from the conditions of the Northern Prisoner of War camp in New York where he was taken after being captured. His wife Hannah when she found out that he had died left her young children with different family members and with a friend of the family went to New York to bring Joel home. Hannah had to first travel by wagon from Union county Georgia to Toccoa, Georgia to catch a train. She had to get on and off the train many times as the troops would commandeered the trains often. It took her another two weeks after she arrived in New York for the Northern officials to meet with her to give her permission to have Joel disinterred. Then the long journey home began. It was again on and off the trains having to remove Joel's coffin each time. Hannah was low on funds and she would stop and use her cooking, cleaning, and clothes washing skills to earn enough funds for the next part of the train fare. It is told after she was back on the North Carolina and Georgia trains they did not charger her extra for Joel's coffin. She made back in June. The war was over by the time she made it back home with Joel. Hannah was a truly brave and remarkable women. Women did not travel the distances or have make the hard decision that she had to make in that time period. Women only traveled with fathers or husbands any distance and they did not leave their young children with others to watch unless the were extremely ill or died.

Joel Thompson is buried in the Old Union Baptist Church Cemetery near Young Harris, Georgia

This story was told by Millie Ann Thompson Thomas, daughter of Joel and Hannah Coffey Thompson to her children. Millie Ann lived to be 108 years old. Her daughter Coreen Thomas Swanson who told me this story lived to be 95.

This alternate version was also shared on by a different person:

This letter [see below] was handwritten and sent by Irene Thomas-Plott. It was sent to her son, James Ralph Plott, who lived in Key West, Florida during 1966-1967. Irene is the daughter of Millie Ann Annie Thompson and the granddaughter of Joel Thompson. Margaret, referred to in the letter, is the sister of her son-in-law, Donald McFaden, Annie Jo Plott's husband. Irene suggests that she and her mother Millie Ann Annie Thompson never knew where Joel was buried. Dennis is the son of Annie Jo and Donald McFaden. Joel Thompson's wife was Hannah Coffey.

Irene, daughter of Millie Ann Annie Thompson, never mentioned the story about bringing Joel's body back from New York. Like any good Thomas descendent, she loved to tell her stories. She would have talked about her grandfather's body being moved to Old Union Cemetery. Plus, ALL of the Thomas children and relatives would known of Joel's body being moved. Old Union Cemetery has no record of his body nor a grave plot/marker. The Elmira records have Joel being buried there.

Also, Irene Thomas never wrote letters. This is the only letter she wrote to her son James Ralph Plott. The finding of her grandfather's resting place was of great significance to her. As she mentions in the letter, "I wanted to go and tell my mother I had found her daddy..."

"The entire number of Confederate prisoners buried here (Elmira) during the life of the prison camp was 2,973. Soon after the war, three bodies were removed by friends and taken South for burial. There seems to be no record of the names removed. The entire record as kept by Jones was perfect with the exception of seven listed as unknown. All rights to Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library Submitted Information - Chemung County Historical Journal: Underground Railroad Activities in Elmira [A biographical sketch of John W. Jones was written in 1946 by Abner C. Wright, then Chemung County Historian. It was an answer to an inquiry concerning Underground Railroad activities in Elmira.]BY ABNER C. WRIGHT"

"Each coffin was clearly marked with any information that the soldier had been willing to share; the information also was placed in a sealed bottle inside the coffin. Any valuables owned by the soldier at the time of his death were carefully cataloged and stored. The graves were identified with wooden markers and arranged in a pattern that suggested soldiers lined up for inspection. . . . When the families received the precious family photographs, treasures, letters, and remembrances that Jones had kept for them, they were so moved that only three bodies were removed for reburial. All rights to John W. Jones ex-slave From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia"

Irene's letter reads as follows:

Dear All,

Well, I will tell you why I was in Elmira, New York Sunday as a week ago Margaret J and I went to Gettysburg, Penn. To look for something I thought I would never find, my grandfather's named, Joel Thompson. When I was a little girl, I heard my Grandma say something about my Grandfather being in Pennsylvania. When he died and my mother said the last time she went to see Grandma she said, "Ann, if any one ask you about your Daddy you tell them the Yankees had him." So, we went to Gettysburg where they keep records of the Civil War and asked if they had any record on Joel Thompson. Dennis was with us, so the man got four books down and ask me what I knew about him and if I knew what county he lived, so I said he lived in Towns County, Ga. Dennis picked one book up, started looking and counties and found Towns County, Ga., and then he saw Joel Thompson name. I will send a copy of what was in the book. I felt like I had found him in heaven. I read his name over & over. I cried. I wanted to go and tell my mother I had found her daddy and then I felt like they were looking down on me. They had found him first. Margaret, then went to Washington, D.C., where they keep records and found his records. There he was in a prison there for a while, so then sent to Elmira, New York. Put him in prison, there until he died. So, Margaret and I left last Friday to go and find where he has been sleeping for one hundred and two years and we found his grave and it's such a beautiful place. They sent him by train to Elmira, New York. We drove along the railroad track for miles, the one he was on, on his way up. We took a picture old prison ground where he died. Margaret took a movie of me going to his grave. I took a flag and put it on his grave. We will send you more pictures.


Mother Plott

****** Irene's mother, Annie Thompson-Thomas, lived with Irene and her husband, Newt Plott on and off for years. While Annie lived with Irene, she told her children and grandchildren, "the Yankees had her father", as directed by her mother Hannah Coffee-Thompson. Joel Thompson WAS and IS buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery, Elmira, NY.

After discovering the differing stories about Joel Thompson's burial site, Don visited the Young Harris cemetery and found no marker for Thompson there, just as the second story indicated. 

The story of Joel's wife bringing his body home would surely bring the song The Legend of the Rebel Solider to the mind of anyone who has ever heard it. 

Paul and Pap learned the song from the Country Gentlemen. I asked Paul about learning the song and this is what he said:

At the time, Doyle Lawson played mandolin. Bill Emerson played banjo; Bill Yates played the bass, and of course Charlie Waller sang lead and played the guitar. It was a cassette that I bought up at Wade's [Wade Powell] back when he had the recording studio. It's called "The Legend of the Rebel Soldier." The County Gentleman performed it in Japan back when it was just being released. They did three key changes in it when they sang it. They started in G, then changed to A, then to C. I can't sing as low as Waller, so we skipped the G, started in A and went straight to D. This is a full two frets higher than they sang it, but somehow Pap can still get the tenor. I don't know anything about who wrote it or any history behind it. As far as I know, they were the first to do it. I've never heard anyone else sing it. Mike Auldridge played the dobro on the original recording. They turned the reverb up wide open on his dobro so that it sounded like it was far, far away from everything else. It had a neat effect, I thought.

I hope you enjoyed the video and the Civil War history. Both accounts make an equally compelling story. I'm amazed at how information related to W.C. Penland continues to spider web out in all directions, interconnecting with one another until there they are--right here in 2015. 

When discussing the conflicting details of Joel Thompson's burial, Don said "Regardless of where Joel is buried, I'm confident that his soul indeed passed through the Southland." 


p.s. To read an interesting discussion on the MudCat Cafe about the history of the song you can go here

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Taking a Trip to Civil War Days in Cataloochee NC

Photo by suzi phillips cataloochee nc

Photo by Suzi Phillips

On a cold April day we set out to find the place Henry Grooms, his brother George, and Mitchell Coldwell were killed by Teague's Home Guard during the Civil War in the Cataloochee area of Haywood County, NC.

Don Casada was able to pinpoint the general area of the murders through his extensive research on the subject. 

Cataloocheed grooms tune

It was one of those bright early spring days that fool you into thinking its warm, and it sort of is as long as the sun is hitting you directly. But as soon as a cloud waves its way over the sun or the wind begins to stir you realize old man winter is trying his best to hold on just a little bit longer before he leaves for good.

The girls have been playing Bonaparte's Retreat/Groom's Tune for at least 3 or 4 years. The song is said to be the fiddle tune Henry played just before his death. Once we learned the story behind the song Chitter begin telling it everywhere we played. After making such a strong connection with the tune, we were all super excited to visit the place and let the girls play the song right there as sort of a remembrance to those who died.

Hiking in cataloochee haywood co nc to sing

As luck would have it, Chitter wasn't feeling well and she was pretty much miserable for the entire trip, but she'd tell you she wouldn't have missed it for the world and she's glad she went. She carried a blanket along and wrapped up in it every time we stopped to talk or to see a new sight.

A highlight of the trip for all of us was meeting Blind Pig Reader, Suzi Phillips. The Grooms event took place practically in her backyard and she was gracious enough to tag along with us and help point out things we didn't know.

Bonapartes Retreat or Grooms Tune

The girls brought skirts to wear because they wanted to look nice in the video. It was so cold we tried to convince them to wear their jeans or at least wear their blue jeans under their skirts but they weren't having none of that for the video. 

Grooms Tune Cataloochee NC

Once we started filming they had a hard time keeping their fingers warm enough to move and keeping their instruments in tune was almost impossible.

You'd think there wouldn't be much traffic on a cold April morning way back in the mountains of Cataloochee, but there was! Finally Don walked up to the next curve to hold traffic until we finished the song we were filming. 

The girls, mostly Chitter, were disappointed with the video. They wanted it to be perfect. 

The cold and Chitter not feeling well made for many mess ups. We finally made it all the way through the song and even though it wasn't exactly what we were hoping for, we called it done. I reminded the girls the reason they were doing it was for the men who died, not for their own perfection.

I thought the video turned out pretty good. It captured a day we'll never forget as well as gave remembrance to the men who died.

Grasshopper for good luck

 When Chatter went to put her guitar back in the case she found she had a little friend. 

Family cemetary Cataloochee NC

The girls put their pants on under their skirts and with Suzi's help we went on across the mountain to find the grave where the Grooms brothers and Mitchell Coldwell are said to be buried.

Sutton cemetary cataloochee nc

It seemed warmer down off the top of the mountain and we were all excited to see the graveyard.

Sutton Cemetary NC

Like many old cemeteries in Appalachia, the Sutton Cemetery is spread out along a small ridge line. 

I J White buried sutton cemetery cataloochee nc mt sterlingThe hand carved stones in the cemetery are among the prettiest and neatest I've ever seen. Most looked to have been crafted by the same hand. 

Mitchell Coldwell buried Sutton Cemetery NC

As you can see, we found what we were looking for. Certain historical records say the Grooms brothers and Coldwell were all buried in the same grave and at a later date, the family of Coldwell set the stone for him. 

The grave of henry and george grooms

We've played the song and told the story of Grooms Tune for so long that going to Cataloochee was like completing the circle for us. As silly as it sounds standing near the gravestone had a feeling of home or maybe it was more a feeling of kinship. Either way it was a good feeling and one that we'll never forget. 


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Additional Details about the Henry Grooms Story

George Grooms pension notation

Today I'm going to share more information surrounding the story of Grooms Tune that I posted last week here on the Blind Pig. Most of the additional information came from Intrepid Smoky Mountain Researcher Don Casada.

Deposition of Louisa Leatherwood, p1

Deposition of Louisa Leatherwood, p2


Don discovered a deposition from Louise E. Leatherwood, the wife of Henry Grooms, who is said to be the one who played the fiddle-at lease some folks say that. The deposition was posted on by Wilma Flowers. Louise E Leatherwood's testimony relates to a pension application by the widow of her brother-in-law, George. Her deposition has the date of the killings as April 27, 1864, not the April 10, 1865 date listed in the findagrave reference I shared last week.


Case of Sarah J Grooms, No. 166071
On this eleventh day of April, 1894, at Mt. Sterling, County of Haywood Stat of N.C., Before me, ? ? Gray , a Special Examiner of the Pension Office, personally appeared Louisa E. Leatherwood, who being by me first duly sworn to answer truly all interrogations propounded to her during this Special Examination of afore-said pension claim, aeposes and says:

My name is Lousisa E. Leatherwood, a housekeeper about fifty-one years of age and my postoffice address is Mt. Sterling N.C. I was born and raised in Haywood Co. Have lived on this place about eighteen years and never lived over fourteen miles from here. I was acquainted with the claimant Sarah J. Grooms from 1859 till the close of the war and with her husband George Grooms from 1859 till he was killed.

What do you know about his being engaged in recruiting for the Union army?

I had heard it talked that he was recruiting fro the Union army.

Did you ever see any of this recruiting papers?

No. I never did but he told a man in my presence that he had recruiting papers.

Do you think if he had such papers he would have shown them to you?

I do not know.

Was he ever in with or both armies?

I do not know positively but have always believed he served a while in the southern army and afterwards served a while in the Union army but am not sure of either.

What time in the year do you think it was that he came home from the Union army? And in what year was it?

I am pretty sure it was in the Fall of 1863.

Do you know when he was killed?

I do for I set down the date at the time. It was the 27th day of April 1864. The reason I set it down was because my husband was killed at the same time and he was a brother of the said George Grooms. You see Mr. Leatherwood is my second husband. Henry Grooms, George Grooms brother was my first husband and two of my boys are his sons and about twenty-five years ago I married my present husband E.A. Leatherwood.

Was George Grooms always in the blue uniform when you saw him?

I think I saw him but twice after he came home from the Yankee army before that time I saw him dead with my husband and he had on the Yankee uniform both times.

Do you remember the date or in what months you saw him in the blue uniform?

It was about a week before he was killed.

Did he have on the blue uniform when you saw him at the grave?

I do not think he did. He had no coat on at all and I do not remember whether the pants were blue.

Why do you think he had no coat on?

I do not know. It might have been taken by those who killed  him.

I have understood your questions and my answers are correctly recorded and I have no interest in this claim.

L.E. Leatherwood

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 11th day of April 1894 and I certify that the contents were fully made known before signing. ?? Gray
Special Examiner


Don also discovered the military record at the top of this post. The record belongs to George Grooms and is dated 1893 while the pension deposition is dated 1894. Don pointed out there's also a 5 day difference in the death date in the record and the deposition, but said that could easily be explained by the misreading of a 7 for a 2. 


Junior Ball map, indicating where Grooms, Caldwell boys were killed


In addition Don discovered a map drawn by Junior Ball which marks the location of the killings. The book Cataloochee: Lost Settlement of the Smokies written by Elizabeth Powers and Mark Hannah, quotes Sage Sutton to say "The men killed at the Indian Grave Branch was named Henry and George Grooms, and one named Caldwell. My father took an ox-sled and hauled their bodies out, and the were buried in the graveyard near Kim Sutton's place, where my father lived at the time."

Mitchell Coldwell

Don pointed out the discrepancy between the date on Mitchell Coldwell's (he was the third man killed that day) tombstone (1863) and the date Louisa Leatherwood gave in her deposition - in which she said she "set down at the time" as April 27, 1864.


Read this information sent to me by Cody Marie Phoenix to add even more confusion to the story:

"I just found your web page and read the story about the Grooms Tune. Some of the information is inaccurate as the 2 Grooms men were my mother's great great grandfather and uncle. The 2 Grooms men that were shot were George (our grandfather) who was the fiddle player and his brother Anderson Grooms. Henry Grooms and his wife Elizabeth Arrington Grooms were the parents of George and Anderson. They were all Unionist but didn't fight in the war. George and Anderson's brother Adolphus was in the Confederacy and friends with Teague but no one is sure if he was there that day when his brothers were killed. There is a book written about Haywood Co., NC that lists George and Anderson as the Grooms men but they have Anderson as the fiddle player. My great grandmother said they had it wrong too, it was George. ;-)"

Don's research shows us George for sure served-but who knows if what she says about the fiddle player being George is true? I mean it has been a long time!

Then there's this blog post on the website Ruminations from the Distant Hills published in April of 2007:

"For whatever reason, Henry Grooms, his brother George and his brother-in-law Mitchell Caldwell, all of north Haywood County, North Carolina, were taken prisoner by the Home Guard. The group traveled toward Cataloochee Valley and Henry Grooms, clutching his fiddle and bow, was asked by his captors to play a tune. Realizing he was performing for his own firing squad Grooms struck up Bonaparte's Retreat. When he finished the three men were lined up against an oak tree and shot, the bodies left where they fell. Henry's wife gathered the bodies and buried them in a single grove in Sutton Cemetery No. 1 in the Mount Sterling community, the plain headstone reading only "Murdered."

Now this account of the story was attributed to a Geoff Cantrell article in the Asheville Citizen-Times (February 23, 2000). Grooms family member Bettie Tanana, however, tells the story differently:

George was forced to play Bonaparte’s Retreat (later called Groom's Tune which can be found on the internet). Mitchell, according to Archives records, was an idiot and was told to put his hat over his face before he was shot. All three men were buried in a common grave. George was my great great great grandfather. My great great grandmother signed an affidavit stating that when she found her father's body his fiddle was found at his feet.

Some of Teague's men were also deposed verifying how the murders occurred. (I have copies of these records.) Most of the men in Teague's Homeguard were older men and neighbors of the men they shot. They even continued to live as neighbors after the war. Incidentally, another great great great grandfather, Henry Barnes was also found several miles away killed by Teagues Homeguard. His daughter, Amanda, married George Groom's son.

I had no idea that this scene was going to be in the movie Cold Mountain. I wanted to stand up and cry through my tears that that was my family being killed."


Dolly parton

The last tid-bit I have to share with you surrounds the fiddle. I think I mentioned before that Dolly Parton is said to be a descendant of the Grooms men and that the fiddle from the event is now on display at Dollywood. Last week Doris Noland Parton left this comment with the image above on the Blind Pig and The Acorn Facebook page:

"I am the person who figured out that the fiddle in Dolly's museum is probably this fiddle. Her family calls it the Solomon Grooms fiddle. It came down from Grooms to Messer to Owens on her line. It may or not be the exact fiddle, but I think it is likely. Here is how Dolly is related to Henry Grooms. She joins in Henry's parents. The two Grooms brothers who were killed had a brother Solomon Grooms so I am guessing that he got the fiddle after they were killed."


The event is such a compelling story that one can see how the exact particulars of the story may have been mixed up or changed slightly between when they happened and now-over 150 years. I'm sure some of you researchers may have other records or information to add to this post-if you do please leave a comment and let us know what you found. 

Be on the look out for the post about our trip to the Cattaloochee Turnpike where we believe the event took place.


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Henry Grooms

Grooms Tune is the same as Bonapartes Retreat

I first shared portions of this post back in June of 2012. I grew up hearing the tune called Bonaparte's Retreat, but never gave the song much thought until C. Ron Perry, a Blind Pig reader, sent me an email containing the story the song played in the Civil War and the chain of events which resulted in Bonaparte's Retreat being called Grooms Tune in Haywood County NC. Since I'm nearing the end of my WC Penland's Civil War Letters Series I wanted to share the story with you again. 

Bonaparte's Retreat

After Ron sent me the email, I googled around and found the same story C. Ron had told me on the Find A Grave website. Ronald Halford graciously allowed me to share the story here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn.

Tradition has it that George Grooms Jr. and his brother Henry Grooms were working in their field in Cataloochee on April 10, 1865. A group of raiders from Teague's Company came into the field and captured George and Henry. They marched them to the Tennessee Line, nearly 8 miles away where they met up with other raiders who had captured Henry's brother in law, Mitchell Coldwell. The raiders decided to shoot the three. The story continues that George cursed the raiders as they shot him tied to a tree. Mitchell Coldwell was said to have been a kind and simple minded individual and the raiders made him pull his hat down over his face. They did not want to kill a man that was smiling at them. Henry who was a fiddle player asked to pray before he was shot. The raiders agreed that they would let him pray but he would have to play them a tune on his fiddle. Henry played them Bonaparte’s Retreat, said to be his favorite tune. Afterwards, he also was shot. All three were left in the road beside the bullet scarred tree where they were tied and shot. Henry's wife Elizabeth Coldwell Grooms (sister to Mitchell) and a Sutton boy, probably a relative, went to the site later and took the three bodies back on a sled pulled by an ox. All three were said to have been buried in a common grave in this cemetery and all three in one large pine box (coffin). The story continues that the actual fiddle belonging to Henry Grooms is on display at Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. The song Bonaparte’s Retreat is known locally as the Grooms Tune. This information was gathered from several sources including information on display at the Theme Park. Accuracy and truth of this account is unknown by the writer. Note the photo of the grave stone is inscribed Mitchell Coldwell but by tradition it is the burial place of Henry, George, and Mitchell.

written by Ronald Halford


If you've heard the Blind Pig Gang or The Pressely Girls perform live, you've most likely heard our version of Bonaparte's Retreat aka Grooms Tune and you've probably heard Chitter tell the story above in her own unique fashion. After Ron shared the story she started telling it to every audience that was listening to her. 

Almost a year ago Don Casada, discovered more information about Grooms Tune and the story that took place in the Cattaloochee section of Haywood County. He even found a map that helped him locate the approximate location of the event. One thing led to another and before you know it we realized this past April would be the 150th Anniversary of the Grooms brothers' death and we decided it would be pretty cool to go find the spot and let Chitter play her fiddle right there where we think the incident took place. 

I'll be sharing the video we filmed that day, but before I get to it I'd like to share some of the other research Don discovered as well as research from some other folks. Be on the lookout for more about this fiddle story. 


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A Civil War Letter from W.C.'s Fellow Solider

Civil war names mentioned in wc letters

Back in June I told you about Don Casada taking the time to write down all the names mentioned in W.C. Penland's Civil War letters. The list contained family members as well as members of W.C.'s company of soldiers. In the Civil War most soldiers signed up and served with their neighbors. This made it a certainty that W.C.'s family knew the men he wrote about in his letters.

During Don's research he came across a letter written by one of W.C.'s fellow soldiers on the Charles Thompson Families family tree on The letter was written by William H Coalman (also Coleman) which was sent from Knoxville on October 8.

Don pointed out-it was sent four days before WC Penland's first letter. W.C. mentions Coleman being sick in this letter

Don transcribed the letter for us-he did insert periods and capitalized the first letter of sentences to make it easier to read. Don's transcription was not from the original, but from another transcription. The Charles Thompson Families family tree on noted that the letter was found at the Price home.


Knoxvile Tennessee Oct 8, 1862

Dear father and Mother and family

I now take the pleasure of droping you a few lines to inform you that we are in common health at this time with the exceptions of my old complaints, and my head nearly kills me at times. Howell is well and there is not a siveler man in camp than he is and I hope these few lines may come safe to home and find you all as well as common and doing the best you can fur we have a hard time here fur we don’t git more then half a nuff to eat nur far our horses. There between 75 and 100 thousand soulgiers where at this time we are campt west of Knoxville and north of the Clldeghill Hospittl and we drill in full view of the hispittle and in view of town. Tell father that we drill in the very field that he thought we would drill in rite to the rite of the hospittles and we use water out of the spring thay use out of. There is 3 and fifty sick soulgers in the colledg hill and there is about 25 hundred in all of the hospittles in this place. There is six companies where and there is 9 that has diserted but they were a east tennisee company. We are the best company in the Battalion the commander in this place says that John Morgin can’t beat us. We have had the praise deare Father and Famly and friends. I can say that I am trying to do the best that I can I have prairs in our camp and we had prair meeting last nite and if we never meet in this world hope and pray that we will meet in heaven where parting of friends will be no more. I want you all to pray fur me fur I can’t think of you all but what I am all most ready to cry. So no more at present fur the time is short that is given as I want you to write to us soon as you git this letter and as soon as you can fur we don’t know how long we will stay where. You must direct your letter Thus William H. Coalman in the ceare of Captian William P. Moore 7 Battalion V Cavely.

Please let Father see this letter. Tell him that I would rite to him in a few days if havt time the coin that I send is fur Elzabeth. Tell hur that se had better tak good ceare of it. We hant sent our saddles but we will in a few days by Patten to the Fort Hembree and you had better go as soon as you hear of them. So I must close.

Remain your son,

William H Coalman

Howel Curtis to Mr. Madison Curtis


A hard letter to read even though a full century has passed since he wrote it. 


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Camp Evenazer Knox Co E Tenn August 14th 1863 - Letter 14

Cedar Mountain, Va. A Confederate field hospital

Cedar Mountain, Va. A Confederate field hospital - Library of Congress

August 14th 1863

Camp Evenazer, Knox Co, E, Tenn

Dear Father

I now proceed to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living hoping that these few lines may come safe to hand and find you well   I have not been well now for five or six days but I feel some better this morning   the talk in camp at this time is that we are a going to leave this place  it is said that we are a going to Big Creek Gap   but I do not know whether that is so or not   we are a looking for our boys to come to camp that are at home    we have heard that they was to leave home last tuesday   Cousin R V Alexander is still at Wattsburg   John W Sherman is still on the sick list I do not know that he is any better than he was when I wrote to you before   James P Cherry and David P Queen are a going to start to the Hospital this morning   I think that I will get well without having to go to the Hospital myself   I haven't had a letter from home since Samuel H Allison come to camp   If you have not started my saddle just keep it and do not send   I bought me a saddle this morning   it is the saddle that Little Abb Moore  that John M. Owenby brought into the service   I concluded that I had rather have a saddle at home than to have the and that my saddle was too good a saddle to ride into camp and ruin it   I will bring my few lines to a close   Direct your letter to Knoxville Co B 7th Battalion of N C Troops   Write soon and please excuse my bad writing and spelling for I wrote this in a hurry   So no more at present but remain your son as ever

W C Penland

To H M Penland


This letter makes me sad that WC is sick and leaves me wondering how far away the hospital he mentions was from his location. Also interesting is his continued mentioning of men who his family are familiar with. 


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1915 Civil War Monument


Excerpt from the WCU Digital Collection - Taking the Train Sylva, NC

On September 18, 1915, a crowd estimated at 3,000 people arrived in Sylva to attend the dedication of the Civil War monument, located prominently on the steps of the new Jackson County Courthouse. The size of the gathering was made possible in part due to the railway passenger service. The Jackson County Journal (Sylva, N.C.) newspaper observed in its September 24 issue that,

"The whole order of the day was surcharged with interest and thrill from beginning to end. Early in the forenoon the crowds began to gather and the streets of the little `gem of the mountains’ were alive and astir. Every train brought crowded coaches, and long processions of wagons, buggies, carriages and automobiles, flanked and re-inforced by riders on horseback, could be seen converging upon the capital city of the county."

As seen in the photograph, the monument ’s supporters wanted to honor surviving veterans of the Civil War, whose numbers were diminishing yearly by 1915. At the time of the dedication, the Great War – World War I – had already raged in Europe for a year, and the United States’ involvement was barely a year and a half away. The ceremony also sought to celebrate the hopes for economic growth and an optimism for the future. The Jackson County Journal summed up the outlook by declaring that,

". . . . the citizenship of Jackson County and of Sylva received new inspiration to look forward to the brighter and better days yet to dawn."



*Source: Travel Western North Carolina Western Carolina University Digital Collection.

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W.C. Penland's Fellow Soldiers

Civil war names mentioned in wc letters

The first time I ever read the Civil War letters written by W.C. Penland several things jumped out at me.

  • I was struck by the knowledge that he lived and walked in places I know intimately.
  • My heart was torn by the longing for home that weaved it's way through every last letter he wrote.
  • I was beyond impressed by his skillful handwriting.
  • My eyes and mind were pricked by the abundance of surnames in the letters that are still common in this area 150 years later. 

Don Casada took the time to write down all the names mentioned in W.C.'s letters. The list contained family members as well as members of W.C.'s company of soldiers. The image at the top of this post is a screen shot of the list. Don has noted if the individual was a fellow soldier of W.C'.s or a family member. He also listed the cemetery where the individual is buried. 

In the Civil War most soldiers signed up and served with their neighbors and friends. This made it a certainty that W.C.'s family knew the men he wrote about in his letters. 

W.C. mentions Big Jason Ledford in more than one of his letters. The first time I read the name I thought to myself "Hmmph I bet there's a Big Jason Ledford living in Clay County right now." The Ledford surname is beyond common in both Clay and Cherokee County North Carolina today. 

While researching, Don discovered there were actually 2 Jason Ledfords serving with W.C. And a total of 10 Ledfords in the company. 

Big Jason Ledford

Jason Ledford, 34 years old

Jason W Ledford, 27 years old

In Don's own words:

"It turns out that there were two Jason Ledfords who served in William Patton Moore's company. Both enlisted in Hayesville on the same day (July 5, 1862). Jason W. Ledford was 27 years old, while Jason Ledford was 34. There are a couple of records for 34-year old Jason which list him as Jason Big Ledford or Jason (Big) Ledford. The use of "Big" was apparently a standard convention to distinguish the two." 

Jason W. Ledford on left; Elisha Mac Ledford on right from Paul Sink

Paul Sink posted this photo on Find A Grave. It's of Jason W. Ledford on left; Elisha Mac Ledford on right. Don's research also showed Jason W. Ledford came back home, married Harriet Hogsed in 1881 and moved to Colorado.

More from Don:

"At least four of the Ledfords who were in the company are buried at Old Ledford Chapel Cemetery. Elisha Mac, mentioned above has Confederate States marker as does Daniel M. Ledford. At least two, David and Jason "Big" Ledford apparently switched sides. Their grave markers both have them in the 2 NC Mounted Infantry, which was a Union outfit. Several genealogies in have Jason "Big" as a brother to David. Center Ledford, definitely a brother of David (per census records), has a Confederate marker (Company F, 65th NC Regiment - which is the WP Moore company) on his grave, which is at Philadelphia Baptist Church Cemetery in Hayesville."

Big Jason Ledford Civil War Soldier Clay County NC

A few months ago, the girls and I tagged along with Don and his wife as they tried to document a few of the graves from the list at the top of this post. We found Big Jason Ledford, right where he was supposed to be in the Old Ledford Chapel Cemetery. 

David Ledford Civil War Soldier Clay County NC

David was there too-even if he's not Jason's brother he's surely related in a close manner.

Jason David Ledford and Nancy Elizabeth original settlers of clay county nc

Also in the same cemetery is the beautiful rugged marker above. Jason David born 1798; died 1889 - Nancy Elizabeth born 1807; died 1890 - Original Settlers. 

Jason Ledford, David Ledford. The names were in Clay County in the 1700s, and  the 1800s, and the 1900s. One of my closest friends is married to a David Ledford and they reside in Clay County today. And I'm positive if I searched all over Clay County surely I'd find at least one Jason Ledford. So I can add the 2000s to the list. 

That's a lot of years for a family to live in the same general location. The story of Big Jason Ledford no doubt has to include the horror of the Civil War, but for me the brightest part of his story is the longevity of his family line. I like to think about all those generations passing down the traditions and culture of Appalachia. 


Appalachian festival

p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing this Saturday, June 13 at 2:00 p.m. in Waynesville, NC at the Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration. If you make it to the festivities please find us and say HELLO! We'd love to meet you!

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