Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tackling a Mystery Almost One Hundred Sixty Years Old

The disappearance of Lt. Andrew Jackson Lacy

As I have detailed in my book, MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee's Confederate Cavalry, my great-great-grandfather disappeared in the middle of the Civil War and was never seen again. He disappeared after resigning his officer's commission. The most likely explanation for his disappearance is that he was bushwhacked by the enemy on his way home in Jackson County, Tennessee. The evidence strongly suggests this took place sometime in the beginning of August 1863, within twenty-five miles of home.

The companion volume to MISSING IN ACTION, 1863, titled Battlefront and Homefront: The Lacy Family's Civil War Documents, includes annotated transcriptions of all the family letters, to and from Lieutenant Lacy, during the Civil War.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I learned that transcriptions were published in someone else's book, with A. J. Lacy's photo on the cover!

A collection of Confederate diaries and letters

In 2006, Professor Howard Lytle Givens (who I believe is now deceased) published a collection of various letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers titled Tennesseans in the Civil War: Confederate Narratives from Battlefield and Home. While waiting for a copy of this book that my cousin Coby Lacy had sent me, I fantasized about discovering letters we'd never seen before. Or perhaps letters from other soldiers in Lieutenant Lacy's regiment that might shed light on the mystery of his disappearance.

But with the book finally in hand, my fantasies of learning something new about Lieutenant Lacy were dashed.

  1. Lieutenant Lacy's photo on the cover of the book is not a new one. It's actually a photo I had included when I had a website for Lacy many years ago.
  2. Chapter Eight includes Lacy's letters, with no annotation or discussion. Professor Givens reprinted the transcriptions of these letters, donated by my father to the Tennessee State Library & Archives, that are found on microfilm at TSLA. None of the other chapters include anything relevant to Lacy, his commanders, or his regiment.
  3. A short introductory paragraph for Chapter Eight mistakenly claims that Lieutenant Lacy served in Baxter Smith's Eighth Cavalry, instead of Dibrell's Eighth Cavalry. This mistake (one I've seen before) could have been avoided had the author done a little research.
  4. There is little to no evidence of any research on the part of the author except for some information gathered on the internet.
The Shawneetown letter - did Lieutenant Lacy survive the war as a Union officer?
(extracted from Battlefront and Homefront, copyright 2020 by Mark E. Lacy)

Lieutenant Lacy's only child, William Woolsey Lacy, was one of the first who tried to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance.

In the years since the end of the Civil War, W. W. Lacy, grew up, married, and had children of his own. But he must have entertained doubts that his father was a casualty of the war, and so he began asking questions.

We don't know how the two men got in touch with one another, but in the spring of 1893, thirty years after his father's disappearance during the war, W. W. Lacy received a letter from D. H. Jones of Medley, Missouri. This was not the first correspondence between the men. Jones had learned somehow of W. W. Lacy's search for his father, and passed along some information.

"... I think I made a mistake in the address of Mr. A. J. Lacy it is at Shoney Town Ills. I know thare is a man up thare by the name of A. J. Lacy for I am well acqanted with him. He marred a girl that was raised in the same neighborhood of my self. Her name is Miss Eison but she is dead now and he is a widower iff he has not marred sece last spring. He is a man of a bout 50 years of age 5-8 in hi lite complexion blue eyes and and was an officer in the Union Army and is from Tenn but I dont know what part."

No one knows that W. W. Lacy might have done with this information. But using modern tools and data unavailable to W. W. Lacy, it is clear that there are no records of a Union officer named A. J. Lacy in this timeframe (1890s) living in Illinois. Jones seemed to have confused A. J. Lacy with Royal R. Lacey, a former Union officer in the same area in southeast Illinois who had married a woman with the maiden name of Eison.

Final remarks

The mystery is still that: a mystery. A cold case to beat all cold cases. But I hold on to a hope that someday the right information will turn up to shed light on this mystery, if not to actually solve it.

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