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100 Years Ago

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Feature Article on Jonathan Lewis. Topic: CIVIL WAR & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in April, 1995


Our history books tell us that one of the most tragic days in the history of our nation occurred 130 years ago this week. On April 15, 1865, the course of our country was irrevocably changed. As news of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln spread slowly out of Washington, an agonizing feeling of helplessness and grief gripped the psyche of the nation. Nothing like that had ever happened before. A special sense of loss was felt by a young soldier from Shelby County, Ohio. This is his story.

On June 2, 1848 a fine young son was born to Mr. and Mrs. William Lewis in Tuckert, New Jersey. They moved to Ohio when he was just two. When the Civil War began in 1860, Jonathan Lewis knew that he wanted to fight to preserve the union. Although just 15 years old, Jonathon signed up to fight the Rebs. On his enlistment papers, he stated his age as 18. He reported to Camp Dennison, Ohio on May 16, 1864. After mustering in, he became Private Lewis of Company F, 147th Regiment , Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

With virtually no training, the 147th left on May 20 for what was then known as Washington City. Most of the regiment was ordered to duty at Fort Ethan Allen. For reasons history unfortunately does not record, Private Lewis received special orders. He was assigned to duty as a bodyguard for the President of the United States. The main army unit charged with the responsibility of protecting President Lincoln was Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Lewis was specifically ordered to help safeguard the grounds of the White House . On the lawn was a well pump. A drinking cup was attached by a long chain. It was Lewis' job to guard the pump, and allow no one near it other than the President and other authorized persons. One can imagine the combination of awe and fear this 15 year old soldier must have felt. Lewis later recalled that Lincoln would stop daily when he was at the White House for a tin of water.

In his later years Lewis had forgotten most of Lincoln's statements. He did remember quite vividly one comment Lincoln made to him. "Son, you are too young to be a soldier." As he stood at attention in front of this powerful but soft-spoken man, Lewis must have surely wondered whether or not the President would report him for being underage.  At the end of his duty assignment, he received an Executive Order signed personally by the President. It expressed Lincoln's gratitude for his patriotic and valuable service. Jonathon Lewis considered it his most prized possession.

Toward the end of his enlistment, he accompanied the 147th to Fort Stevens, where it moved into the trenches in support of the First Maine and First Ohio Batteries. The soldiers saw no action and were mustered out of the service on August 30, 1864 after reporting to Camp Dennison. He had not been involved in any fighting, but no one could take away the memories he treasured of his president.

After going to New Jersey briefly after the war, he soon returned to Ohio and took up residence in Plattsville. Lewis became a farmer. On December 22, 1873 he married Elnora Frazier. They had only one child, a daughter, who died at a young age. After he retired from farming, Jonathon and Elnora remained quite busy. Several Green Township residents remember them. "Mrs. Lewis was a seamstress," Chester Middleton recalls. "She once made a blue satin dress for my mother." Others remember her wearing the black satin dresses she made as Jonathon and she walked slowly down the streets in Plattsville.

Besides being a woodworker, Jonathon Lewis served as the local medicine man. Mrs. June Staley grew up in the house next door. "He was fond of making patent medicines. My parents purchased the house from the Lewis' and found many bottles of his 'cure all' elixirs in the attic."

As the years passed, Jonathon enjoyed sharing his memories and his place in history. Walton Sarver recalls as a wide-eyed boy listening to Lewis telling stories to the men at Sarver's Grocery in Plattsville. Halloween was also a special time for the village children. A stop at the Loews house meant an invitation in to see pictures of his comrades in arms and a peak at his war souvenirs. On occasion the old soldier would don his uniform and walk slowly up the street, Pauline Brautigam recalls. He would walk with such dignity and purpose. The children in the village also knew how to get his attention. As he sat on his porch, they would pass singing the Star Spangled Banner, June Staley recalls. Lewis would always pop to his feet and salute. When his wife of sixty-one years died in 1934, Lewis was heart broken. The Sidney Daily News reported at that time that he was the oldest living bodyguard of President Lincoln in the nation. He moved to the Veteran's Home in Dayton. Comrade Lewis died on March 3, 1938.  What ever happened to his treasured Executive Order signed by the President Lincoln? Its current location is unknown. All his goods were sold at public sale.

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Jonathan Lewis


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