Elijah Jonathan Smith – who answered by his middle name – was born in the year 1835, probably in Schuylkill Township, Chester County, and was the second of five children born to Elijah and Mary Smith. By 1850 had moved with his family to the village of Lumberville (now Port Providence), across Schuylkill River in Upper Providence Twp., Montgomery County. As a young man he took a job working on the Schuylkill Canal, and by 1861 had advanced to become the pilot of a canal boat called the Charles Lawrence. In that year, at the height of the “war fever” spreading through the countryside, 24-year old Jonathan enlisted in Co. K of the 4th P.R.V.C. Before leaving to join his unit, he took the American flag that flew on his canal boat and presented it to his friends to remember him by.
Jonathan joined up with the boys of Co. K on Aug. 19, 1861 in Baltimore; however, he would spend little time with the unit. Ten months later, during the tumultuous battle of Charles City Crossroads (June 30, 1862), fought as part of General McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign, he received a mortal gunshot wound to his groin and was left on the battlefield during the ensuing retreat. He may have died on the field, or in the Confederate field hospital, and was likely buried nearby with the other brave men who fell in action that day.
When word of his death got back to Lumberville, Jonathan’s friends took the American flag he had given them before enlisting, and created a public tribute to his life and service. The story of that tribute was recounted by his friends many years later to local reporters:
We procured a large pole, strapped and fastened the staff of the flag to it, which was hardly long enough for the place required, and George Decker climbed the highest cherry tree of the three that stood in front of the old house at home, and fastened the pole in the very top of the tree, where the flag waved high in the air against the blue sky of which it was a prototype. There it remained for years and until the flag was whipped to shreds by the winds of summer and the storms of winter, a reminder of the brave boy who fought, who fell in defense of the flag and what it represented. We often think of the cherry tree and the flag. As far as the vision reached and you could distinguish objects, there was the flag, like a beacon light. This lives only in memory, but that memory is cherished with the greatest reverence, never to be forgotten, nor can the remembrance of the great sacrifice of Jonathan Smith, who gave his life that liberty might live…be forgotten.
1840 U.S. Federal Census. Accessed through Ancestry.com.
1850 U.S. Federal Census. Accessed through Ancestry.com.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
- 2012 Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865. Record Group 19, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. ARIAS Digital State Archives website accessed October 2012. http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/bah/dam/rg/di/r19-65RegisterPaVolunteers/r19-65MainInterface.htm
Reading Times, May 25, 1901
Village Record, July 19, 1862
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.