'The Veteran'

"The Veteran”, a painting by artist H.R. Lovell of Petersburg’s Birt Moses (Mose) Buchanan, a World War I veteran.

Congressman Scott DesJarlais will be on hand at the Lincoln County Courthouse Tuesday of this week, April 16, to unveil “The Veteran”, a painting by artist H.R. Lovell of Petersburg’s Birt Moses (Mose) Buchanan, a World War I veteran whose life continues to inspire others.

Tuesday’s unveiling will be held at 10:30 a.m.

Mose’ service was honored posthumously Feb. 23 on the 100th anniversary year of his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army with the dedication of an official military marker on his grave at Pleasant View Cemetery here in Fayetteville.

It was during a reception which followed the dedication that the acclaimed artist donated the painting to be hung in a place of prominence in the Lincoln County Courthouse.

A fascination with Mose’s life and his military service began when his photo was republished in a 2015 edition of The Elk Valley Times. Many people submitted information about Mose to County Mayor Bill Newman, who then shared what he had learned with Sherrie Tomerlin, director of the Lincoln County Archives and regent of the Kings Mountain Messenger Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, to aid in further research. Tomerlin assembled the information, examined the 1900 and 1910 census records, military service records and located his obituary.

Since the publication of another Times’ article in March 2017 more information came to light. Mose was born on Jan. 29, 1896 to Pryor and Polly Buchanan of Petersburg. He was registered for the draft in June 1917 at the age of 22 and by March 1918 was ordered to report to Camp Meade, Maryland, for training. Because of institutional racism, the U.S. Army wasn’t prepared to provide equal treatment to African American soldiers, who were the subject of segregation, discrimination and abuse in training camps. Following his training, he was assigned to Company “D” of the 521st Engineers, then later assigned to the 523rd Engineers, and finally, to the 20th Service Company of the 20th Engineers on June 24, 1918.

About 40,000 African American troops were sent to the European Theatre and assigned to segregated units. On July 10, 1918 Mose was shipped out aboard the USS Martha Washington to cross the ocean and eventually dock at Brest, France. The 20th Service Company of the 20th Engineers harvested timber, operated saw mills, built port facilities, bridges, railroads and other structures that were essential to moving war materials to the battle front. The Allied lines of communication depended upon massive amounts of timber, and the front lines required lumber for dugouts, shelters, trenches, entanglements, prisoner compounds, coffins and much more. Without the efforts of the engineering battalions to supply the great need of lumber and timber for the war effort, the American Expeditionary Force could not have been successful.

With the signing of the Armistice in Compiegne, the guns of war were silenced on Nov. 11, 1918. Buchanan departed from France, bound for the United States, on June 27, 1919 aboard the troop transport ship USS Siboney. His departure was one day before the official end of the war, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. Despite the harsh treatment that Pvt. Buchanan likely experienced, he was honorably discharged from the military.

Upon his return to Petersburg, Mose continued to farm and work in various building trades. Tomerlin believes that he may have married his first wife in 1913, but she may have died before the 1920 census. Records show that he married his second wife, Roberta Gaunt, a widow with children, on Jan. 12, 1933.

He was active in the community, a member of the Elk River Lodge No. 100 and was a trustee and treasurer of the Caldwell Methodist Church. Mose had a stout frame and was medium height, and was known as a humble, hardworking man.

At least three decades before the picture of Mose ran in The Times, artist Harold R. Lovell of Cheatham County noticed Mose sitting in front of a feed store as he drove through Petersburg’s town square. Captivated by Mose, Lovell braked the car and knew then that he wanted to paint the man’s portrait.

Lovell drove back to Petersburg the following day and asked Mose permission to paint his portrait. While talking to Mose he learned that he was a WWI veteran and a very humble man. Mose was about 91-years-old at the time, according to Tomerlin’s research.

Although Lovell had been an artist for many years, Mose would be Lovell’s first portrait. He titled the painting, “The Veteran.” Lovell worked on the painting from April of 1987 to April of 1988, and while working on it, heard that Mose had been admitted to the VA Hospital in Rutherford County. Mose passed away at the age of 95 in the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro on May 21, 1991. Through the years the painting has remained one of Lovell’s most beloved paintings.

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