Jesse T. Lewis: “For the protection of our loved ones”

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 5, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of a series of articles about Polk County veterans of WWI whose names are listed on the Doughboy Monument in Columbus.

On Tuesday, June 5, 1917, “Army registration day,” 22-year-old Jesse Thorn Lewis reported to draft Registrar J. B. Dalton in Mill Springs. Lewis was the grandson of a Polk County Confederate soldier, First Lieutenant J. A. Thorn, 54th North Carolina, and was the great-grandson of Sergeant Charles Crawford Lewis, a Revolutionary War veteran. Jesse Lewis’ parents were Mill Spring residents James Madison Lewis and Beatrice M. Thorn Lewis. 

Jesse T. Lewis

Jesse Lewis wrote on his registration card that he was born on May 28, 1895, in Darlington, N.C. which is now in the Green Hill community of Rutherford County, N.C. He had gray eyes and black hair, was of medium height and build, and was an unmarried self-employed merchant. He claimed an exemption from the draft for the reason that he was the “only merchant” in the town of Mill Spring.

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Jesse Lewis was drafted into the Army, and reported to Tryon on October 4. He took initial training at Camp Jackson, S.C., then was transferred to Camp Sevier, between Taylors, S.C. and Greenville, S.C. where the 30th “Old Hickory” Division was formed. The Polk County News for March 8, 1918 reported that “Jabe Lawter, Ziba Wilson, Jesse Lewis, and Grover and Lee Thompson, visited Mill Springs from Camp Sevier.” Lewis was quickly promoted to private first class, then to corporal, a leadership position.

Jesse Lewis went to France with the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division. He was assigned to Company G, while his friend, Ziba Wilson from Sunny View, served in Company E.

In the November 1, 1918 edition of the Polk County News, portions of a letter that Corporal Lewis wrote to his mother were published under the headline “Letter from ‘Over There,’…Polk County Boy Writes a Very Interesting Account of Life in the Army.” He wrote from “somewhere in France: …Don’t worry about me, I am all right. If anything happens to me it cannot be helped. It is our duty for the protection of our loved ones…I long to see victory and a peace we can depend on…The boys are out in the sunshine catching lice…I have just found one…I have not seen the Polk County News in a month…With lots of love, Jesse. P.S., the Polk boys are all well.” 

Grave marker, Corporal Jesse Lewis, Arlington National Cemetery.

A few days after he wrote to his mother, Corporal Lewis was killed in action at the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, where the “Old Hickory” Division earned distinction by breaking the German Hindenburg Line, near Bellicourt, France. On that same Sunday morning, September 29, 1918, Private Ziba Wilson was reported “missing in action” on another part of the battlefield.

Corporal Jesse Lewis’ remains were buried in France close to where he fell. At the request of his family they were later removed to Arlington National Cemetery, overlooking Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1921. He is memorialized by a marker that stands in the cemetery of the Mountain Creek Baptist Church near Rutherfordton, N.C. where his parents and other members of the Lewis family are interred.

In its report of happenings in Mill Spring, the Polk County News for November 15, 1918 related that Reverend James Madison Barber had delivered a farewell sermon in honor of Corporal Lewis. On January 9, 1919, it was reported that “Resolutions of Respect” had been passed, that read in part, “In his death Mill Spring Baptist Church loses one of its most faithful members, and the community one of its most useful citizens. We extend to the bereaved family our deepest sympathy, and share with them as best we can, the loss of this brave soldier, son and brother.”

– article submitted by Alan Leonard