Lewis (Michael A.) Papers, 1913-1919

Descriptive Summary

Title
Lewis (Michael A.) Papers, 1913-1919
Creator
Lewis, Michael A., 1891-1970
Extent
The 60 items occupy.25 linear feet
Finding Aid Author
Processed by Archives Staff; machine-readable finding aid created by Michele Lai-Fook
Repository
University of Louisville

Collection Overview

Biography / History
Michael Aloysius Lewis was born June 5, 1921 in the western Kentucky town of Earlington. He was the first of five children born to Rebecca and Harrison Thomas Lewis, a switchman for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. When Michael was nine years old, his father gave up "public work" and moved his family to a farm near Glendale, Kentucky.
The Lewis children attended a parochial school until the move. Michael finished the eighth grade at Star Mills School in 1908 and continued his education as a boarding student at nearby Elizabethtown College (later High School) the next year. In 1909 he returned to the farm to help his father. From childhood Michael had aspired to be a rural mail carrier. In 1913 he took a correspondence course designed to prepare students for Civil Service examinations. He took the examination the following year, but failed to secure the local route.
Lewis moved to Louisville and took a job at the Kentucky Wagon Works before becoming a streetcar conductor--his job when he was drafted in December 1917. The following February Lewis joined fifty Hardin County draftees reporting to Camp Zachary Taylor outside Louisville for basic training. After a month, they were ordered to Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina to join the new First Pioneer Infantry. The mission of the Pioneers was to perform light field construction and road repair, at the same time remaining combat-ready for service in emergencies. An epidemic of measles and mumps slowed the regiment's training and put Private Lewis in the base hospital for several days. Finally in June, 1918, they boarded a train for Camp Mills, Long Island, where equipment was issued and final preparations made for the voyage to France. On July 8 Michael Lewis boarded the Mount Vernon. After an eventful eleven-day crossing, the Pioneers docked at Brest, arriving just as American reinforcements peaked in number.
As part of the Third Army, the Pioneers reached the front in time to participate in the successful Second Battle of the Marne early in August. They advanced rapidly toward Germany in the weeks to follow, rebuilding shelled roads, burying the dead, and guarding captured ammunition dumps. Company G was usually a day or two behind the action, but as much subject to air attack, snipers, gas bombs, rain, cold, short rations, and disease as the troops at the front. "You understand that our lives are not in perfect safety at all times," Lewis told his parents in a September letter.
When peace came in November, the Pioneers marched to the Rhine to serve in the Army of Occupation near Coblenz. Lewis enjoyed a week at Aix les Bains in March, revelling in the luxury of daily Catholic masses, movies, and tours of historic sites. The regiment departed from France in June and Private Lewis resumed civilian life back home in Hardin County after seventeen months as a doughboy.
He bought a farm, married Laura Young in January 1921, and together they raised a family of nine children. In 1928 Michael Lewis realized his earlier ambition. For the next thirty years he carried the mail for the Glendale area. Lewis died in 1970 at the age of seventy-nine.
Scope and Content
The Michael A. Lewis Papers, 1913-1919, focus on the Kentuckian's seventeen months of active duty with the American Expeditionary Force. Only two items relate to any other period in the life of this civil servant and farmer. Both are educational records from the pre-war years.
Lewis kept a pocket diary from the day he reported for duty (February 23,1918) until he returned to the family farm near Glendale, Kentucky on July 16, 1919. He did not write every day, but seldom skipped more than a few days even in the uneventful period of occupation. Entries are factual, allowing the reader to trace the movements of Company G across France. Lewis and his widow saved a copy of The Story of the First Pioneer Infantry, United States Army (1919), by Chester W. Davis, which provides useful supplementary information about the unit's role in the last months of the war. Photocopies of pertinent sections are part of this collection.
Some thirty-five letters home to his parents, sister Alice, and brothers have survived. In them, Lewis allowed himself to comment more colorfully on events, conditions of daily life, the terrain, and also expressed his plans for the future and gave his younger siblings advice about theirs. The letters are arranged chronologically.
The collection contains Lewis's draft card and a handful of communiques from the Hardin County draft board as well as a dozen photographic souvenir post cards.

Contents of the Collection

Miscellaneous

Education Records, 1913

  • Box 1, folder 1
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Hardin County Draft Board Notices, 1917-1918

  • Box 1, folder 2
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Diary, Feb 23, 1918 - July 16, 1919

  • Box 1, folder 3
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Correspondence

Correspondence, July 28, 1918 - Dec 15, 1918

  • Box 1, folder 4
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Correspondence, Jan 6 - July 9, 1919

  • Box 1, folder 4
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Photographs in the University of Louisville Archives Collections

Contains two Polaroid copies of a uniformed Lewis.

  • Box 1, folder 5
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Memorabilia

"The Story of the First Pioneer Infantry"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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Postcards issued during World War I by The Chicago Daily News; G.H. Kavanaugh, War Postal Card…

1) "A flock of fighting English tanks ready for action with American troops - France"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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2) "American heavy artillery moving into action - France"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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3) "Yanks in front line trench watching No Man's Land - France" (the men have gas masks on)

  • Box 1, folder 6
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4) "Americans front line trench - France" (men wearing masks)

  • Box 1, folder 6
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5) "Barbed wire cut, Americans creeping on the Germans with hand grenades - France"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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6) "Giving the Germans gas, French officers, American Infantry - France" (men using flame throwers…

  • Box 1, folder 6
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7) "Cold Steel, U.S. Marines first hand battle- painting by George Scott, eye witness - France"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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8) "Salvation Army making doughnuts under bombardment of German guns, front line - France"

  • Box 1, folder 6
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9) "Notre-Dame d'Hautecombe, Abbaye d'Hautecombe" (Carte Postale)

  • Box 1, folder 6
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10) "Frestung Ehrenbreitstein a Rhein" (Verlag Viktor Ullmann, Coblenz. Nr. 26) drawing?

  • Box 1, folder 6
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11) "Coblenz a Rhein die Schiffbrucke" (inscribed on back by M. Lewis - "This is the pontoon bridge…

  • Box 1, folder 6
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