James Alexander Moseley was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 4, 1894, the son of James A. and Annie Conigland Moseley. He graduated from Yale University in 1915 with honors in English and a member of Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity (Reppy). After he graduated he was a member of the Frederick Zietor Achelis firm which dealt with products of some of the largest cotton mills in the area (“Lieutenant Moseley Killed in France”; #19). A few years later, he became involved in World War I. In January of 1918, he went to sea on the S.S. Mongolia where he spent a month until arriving in France (letters). From that early February he stayed there until July 28, 1918 and it was during this time that he attended a French Corps School. Because of his graduation from Yale and later military training, he was a 1st Lieutenant in Company C, 166th Infantry, 42nd Division of the American Expeditionary Forces (Reppy). On July 28, 1918, Lieutenant James Alexander Moseley was killed in the Battle of Ourcq, which is also known as the Second Battle of the Marne (“Lieut. James A. Moseley”; #19).
Archives at the University of Chapel Hill have a large number of letters which Moseley wrote to his mother as well as his girlfriend, Lucy Kent. These letters, as well as other documents, record how James Moseley felt and what he saw in World War I. He describes many of his surroundings and different environments such as his time at Yale to his journey on the S.S. Mongolia, and his experience in the trenches in France. A biography Moseley in a book of sketches on the Rainbow Division by Alison Reppy has this to say: “That contagious smile was one of the characteristics of that stout-heated officer, First Lieutenant James A. Moseley which those who served with him remember so well.” The book itself was given to Moseley’s mother with a written note lamenting her son’s death and how much admired he was on the battlefield. In it, it talks about his nickname—“Jim”—and his time in the battlefield. Finally, it mentions the receiving of the Distinguished Service Cross for his time in France.
Service in World War I
On the S.S. Mongolia
It is believed that James Moseley sailed across the Atlantic to France on the S.S. Mongolia. Letters written while at sea have the name of the ship cut out; however, later letters written in France have the name of the ship uncut from the paper (March 21, 1918; #18). Most of Moseley’s letters about the ship are about how boring it. He often makes jokes of the monotony saying things like “in the meantime we are in the so called War Zone-which looks very like the rest of the Atlantic Ocean” (at Sea 1918; #17). In another letter he talks about how one of the men fell overboard, how the ship circled back, but they could not find the soldier (late Jan. 1918, #17). These letters show an individual’s look on the ship’s day to day life. James Moseley takes about what kind of roommates he has on the ship (both are Roman Catholics like himself) and how there is really not much to do on the ship.
The history of the S.S. Mongolia before the war was a rather colorful one. An article by Robert Barde recounts the ship’s days as a vessel for smuggling people from Asia to America. In fact, on one occasion, 86 Chinese people were found on the liner and it was here that S.S. Mongolia had a sullied record (Barde). After being sold and moved around, it eventually was used to carry supplies and soldiers from American to France during World War I. They “took her to New York to begin a new life dodging U-boats and…When American neutrality ended in March 1917 with the United States’ declaration of war on Germany,…the Mongolia [was] put even more directly in harm’s way” (Barde). The ship would later even sink a U-boat “on April 25, 1917, the steamboat…had her moment of glory” (Barde).
Time in the Trenches
Moseley eventually had to go to French front line and fight in the trenches. His letters talk rather light-heartedly at times about what these conditions were like. “I have learned that I am too tall for trenches… They all have cross braces at the top to brace the sides apart and these are so low that they bang my helmet and cut my ears…when I walk, which is tiresome” (March 14, 1918; #18). He also says that he does not have to stay in the trenches the whole time and will go hundreds of yards behind them to eat and sleep after periods of time.
The Battle of Ourcq
Lieutenant James Alexander Moseley died in the battle of Ourcq, which is the name of the river which the battle was fought near. A newspaper article published at the time of the war said that the Germans were going to make a stand on the north side of the river but American soldiers broke the enemy’s positions in several areas and forced a retreat (James). The same article tried to convey the brutality of this battle writing,
“After half an hour of the bitterest sort of fighting we got deep into these positions, and the enemy broke…Never have the Americans done hotter fighting. Never did they show to better advantage. Never did the Hun fight nastier” (James).
Another New York Times articles praises the Rainbow Division for having “won the distinction of having defeated he famous Prussian Guard units” and classified the Battle of Ourcq as a victory for American and Allied Powers (“Rainbow Division n Ourcq Fighting”). A more historical report of the battle said that the Rainbow Division was assigned to fight in the “Baccarat Sector” in the Bosges Mountain near Lunenville” (Clarke, 17). Later, it recounts that by July 25th, a day after Moseley was killed, the division of the section was “past its usefulness” because of the large amount of losses and were finally given reinforcements (Clarke, 35). However, the Second Battle of the Marne brought the Allied Powers one step closer to the end of the war (Arnold-Friend).
Love Letters to Lucy Kent
His letters to Lucy Kent, are quite humorous and sarcastic, even in such a gloomy setting. The love letters show such a human side about the individuals who are fighting in the war. These letters also show how soldiers had to adapt to different country’s cultures (in this case France) when they went there to fight. In a letter dated February 2, 1918, James Moseley writes, “Dear Lucy Kent, Please pardon the [handwriting]...because I can’t write a letter with French ink any more than I could write in French” (February 2, 1918; #17).
On March 21, 1918, Lieutenant Moseley sent a pressed flower to Lucy Kent which he said was the first of the summer. The flower is still preserved at the Wilson Library archives collection. As the war raged on and Moseley spent more and more time in France he began to be frustrated with the postal services and even at Lucy because he was not getting any letters from her. In one letter he would complain that she never writes him and then in the next, apologizing because he just received two letters from her (July 12, 1918; #18). In his last letter to Lucy Kent, James Moseley writes from a dugout, saying that it might be the last time for a while that he will be able to write. At the end, he writes, “safely out and back with the germans I believe crushed along the entire front. Thank you for the much beautiful love of your heart dear little Lucy Kent” (July 18, 1918; #18). This last letter was written six days before his death.
Honors and Memorials
The archive at UNC Chapel Hill contains several newspaper clippings about the death and memorial service for James Moseley. The funeral for James Moseley was held two months after his death. One particular newspaper article detailed the his death, “struck by a shell fragment, was being taken to a dressing station by litter bearers when a low-flying enemy plane seeing the group, signaled the artillery and three shells followed, one of which struck Lieutenant Moseley, who died quietly within an hour…” (“Lieut. James A. Moseley”). He is buried at Chateau de la Foret, near Beauvardes.
For his bravery in France, General Pershing awarded James A. Moseley the Distinguished Service Cross. “For extraordinary heroism in action near Suippe, France, July 15th, 1918” when he carried a wounded Corporal of his platoon more than four hundred yards to safety (Reppy).
In 2011, a statue was dedicated to the sacrifice of the Rainbow Division in World War I. The memorial “honors the service and sacrifice of WWI servicemen of the 42nd Infantry Division” (“French Battlefield Dedicates Memorial to Troy-Based 42nd Infantry Division Soldiers”). The article states that this statues is to help remember US involvement in the war. The Rainbow Division was actually called so because of the geographic diversity of its soldiers who “stretch[ed] across America like a rainbow” (ibid).
Readings and other resources
Learn more about Jasmine&Belle1001
Each individual page may link to other North Carolinians involved in the war, or a suggested reading selection. For example:
- The Documenting the American South project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill