Clovis Moomaw is a Washington and Lee hero, though this status has little to do with his work as a law professor. Born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1886, Moomaw received both B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Virginia. He attended the Washington and Lee School of Law from 1910 to 1912 earning an LL.B. degree. When Professor Abram Staples died in September 1913, Moomaw helped conduct classes through the fall term. Moomaw was named acting professor for the remainder of the year. The following year he was elected an associate professor of law, a position he held until 1917.
But it is Moomaw’s exploits before and after his tenure as a law professor for which he is revered. A very popular student, he was captain of the W&L football team and hero of the 1910 game against North Carolina. He was president of Junior Law Class, vice-president of the Athletic Association, and a member of the Cotillion Club, Pi Kappa Alpha, and of the Sigma Ribbon Societies. After graduation from law school, Moomaw stayed on as an assistant football coach.
The United States entered World War I during Moomaw’s time as a law professor. Washington and Lee established an unofficial officer’s training corps. Though intended for students, several of the younger professors participated. As a member of the Church of the Brethren, Moomaw could have avoided military service as a conscientious objector but he decided to actively join in the war effort. After completing U.S. Army Officers’ Training School, he went to France as a second lieutenant. On September 29, 1918, early in the Argonne offensive, Lt. Moomaw was struck by a bullet and killed.
In Lexington the local chapter of the Knights Templar is named after Moomaw. At W&L an annual football award was established in his honor and the 1920 edition of the Washington and Lee University yearbook, The Calyx, was dedicated to him.
From the Dedication, The Calyx, 1920:
LIEUTENANT CLOVIS MOOMAW, killed in battle October 5, 1918. This simple inscription on the monument of any American soldier at once excites our pride and admiration. To the mere passer by it is an impersonal tribute to courage and patriotism. The date fixes the great world war as the scene of action, into which America was forced to enter simply for the sake of humanity. But the name, Clovis Moomaw, identifies to his loved ones a devoted son, who honored his father and mother, an affectionate brother who stuck close to his loved ones and a loyal and sincere friend, without guile and without reproach. These are sacred precincts into which we may not enter. Washington and Lee pays her tribute to his virtues as a man, as an American citizen, faithful and efficient in the discharge of the duties that devolved upon him, and who esteemed virtue as its own reward and patriotism as dearer than life itself. It was these virtues which made his life worth the living and his example worthy of imitation. The proclamation of war found him a full professor in the Law Department, enjoying the entire confidence of his associates, and the affection and admiration of his students. He was happy and contented in his work, and was beyond the age of the draft. His work was so successful that the University could ill afford to lose his services, and when it became known that he was about to resign and volunteer for service in the army, trustees and friends of the University besought him to change his mind, but there was always the same unanswerable response: "I have no one dependent upon me for support, and I feel that it is my duty to go." So he entered the training camp, was commissioned first lieutenant and sailed to France. In the army his devotion to duty, his courage and his manly bearing inspired the confidence of his superiors and greatly endeared him to his followers. This sense of duty was the impelling motive of his life and the guide of his conduct. It led him from a bed of ease to a field of hardship, from a home of comfort to a camp of privation, from a place of safety to the battlefield, and to death. His love of country, his sense of obligation to it, was greater than his love of life. His Alma Mater delights to honor his memory, and places his name among that galaxy of her sons who have offered up their lives in the faithful discharge of duty, and to his memory we affectionately dedicate this volume.
On Veterans Day 2005, 87 years after his death, Moomaw was recognized with military honors due him in a memorial service at Washington and Lee's Lee Chapel.
A note on Clovis Moomaw's date of death:
Washington and Lee law professor Charles V. Laughlin, who wrote a biography of Clovis Moomaw for Legal Education in Virginia, 1779-1979 (University Press of Virginia, 1982), recorded the date of Moomaw's death as September 29, 1918. This date appears to have been confirmed by Professor Laughlin in an interview with the last person to have seen Moomaw alive, a fellow soldier who was an attorney in Roanoke when Laughlin interviewed him. That date is confirmed by alumni records of the University of Virginia. The October 5, 1918 date of death contained in the Dedication to The Calyx (1920) is consistent with the "Roll of Honor" in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. XXVII, Nos. 3 & 4. which was in turn based on the Adjutant General's report, although the editor of the "Roll of Honor" concedes that it probably contains errors.