Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Four Ministers and a Confederate Colonel

In a recent post I explained how network science shows that any two arbitrary people in the world may be more closely linked, through a chain of social connections, than one might expect. In exploring the history of my great-great-grandfather Second Lt. Andrew Jackson Lacy's service in Tennessee's Confederate cavalry, I discovered a chain of associations among army chaplains, ministers, and the commander of Lieutenant Lacy's regiment.

The Needs of Body and Soul

In a letter he wrote a month after joining Tennessee's Confederate cavalry, Lieutenant Lacy spoke of going to church and hearing "Dr. Pendergrass" preach. The chaplain of Lacy's regiment, the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry, was Charles Wylie Witt, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. "Parson" Witt's nephew, Travis Witt Pendergrass, actually accompanied this regiment for several months, attending to the needs of both body (surgery) and soul (exhortation). Like his uncle, Pendergrass was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. His three younger brothers were all in the same company as Lieutenant Lacy. (1)

Reconnected in the Middle of War

A few months after Lieutenant Lacy heard Pendergrass preach, the Eighth Cavalry was sent to Florence, Alabama.  There Pendergrass was surprised to run into a fellow Cumberland Presbyterian minister, Thomas Fletcher Bates.  Then, to his further surprise, he encountered Rev. R. A. Young, a prominent preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, currently serving as president of the Wesleyan University in Florence.  Pendergrass had met Young in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1853, shortly before Young was reassigned to a pastorate in St. Louis, Missouri. (2)

A Confederate Colonel

In 1846, Reverend Young had met the "plain, quiet" son of his friend, Anthony Dibrell. That son, George Gibbs Dibrell, was now a colonel commanding the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry. Of Colonel Dibrell's religious convictions, Young said "When his [Dibrell's] chaplain preached to his command, standing between two tallow candles, one of his most devout listeners was the commander in chief."  The chaplain he refers to is most likely Charles Witt. (3)

And the Lacy Family Is Indebted to Chaplain Charles Witt

Before Lieutenant Lacy's regiment returned to Tennessee from Alabama, Charles Witt resigned as chaplain, complaining that the varicose veins in his legs made riding a horse very uncomfortable. Pendergrass signed off on a medical discharge for his uncle. When Witt left Florence for Jackson County, Tennessee, he delivered to Lacy's family an accounting that Lieutenant Lacy had kept of all the operations of the Eighth Cavalry up to that point. The family owns that document today. (4)


(1) Lacy, Mark E. MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee's Confederate Cavalry. 2019.

(2)Pendergrass, T. W. to Nancy Pendergrass, 15 March 1863. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pendergrass/pics/travis/pics_travis.html 

(3) Young, R. A. Reminiscences. Nashville, Tennessee: Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1900. https://readux.library.emory.edu/books/emory%3A7sv2p/pdf/

(4) Lacy, Mark E. Battlefront and Homefront: The Lacy Family's Civil War Documents. 2020.

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