Colonel Seneca G. Simmons, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves

Colonel Seneca G. Simmons in 1861

SENECA GALUSHA SIMMONS, Colonel of the Fifth Reserve regiment and Major of the Fourth United States Infantry, was born on the 27th of December, 1808, in Windsor county, Vermont. He was the son of Alfred, and Deborah (Perkins) Simmons. His boyhood was passed for the most part upon a farm, he receiving only such advantages of education as could be obtained from a country school. At the, age of fourteen he left his native state, and entered the military school of Captain Partridge, then located at Middletown, Connecticut, in which he remained several years, accompanying that school on its removal to Georgetown, District of Columbia. While there, he received from President Jackson, the appointment of cadet at West Point. He graduated with distinction in 1834, and was assigned to the Seventh Infantry. In the following August he married Miss Elmira Adelaide Simmons of Harrisburg.

Previous to joining his regiment, in the autumn of that year, he was assigned to topographical duty, under Major McNiell, and assisted in the survey of the harbor of Apalachicola, Florida. During the summers of 1835-36, he was engaged under Colonel Long upon surveys in the State of Maine; first on the coast, and then on a contemplated line of railway between Belfast and Quebec, Canada. In the winter of 1837, he joined his regiment, and shortly after received the appointment of Aid to General Arbuckle, then in command of the Department of the Southwest. He was also made Assistant Adjutant-General, which position he held for several years, retaining it after General Taylor assumed command, and until relieved by Colonel Bliss, the General’s son-in-law. His regiment was then, the spring of 1842, serving in Florida, and thither he immediately repaired. At the conclusion of the Florida war, his regiment was detailed for duty in garrisoning Gulf posts, and he was stationed at Fort Pike, Louisiana, where he remained during the years 1842-43, transacting in addition to the duties of his position in his company, those of Commissary and Quartermaster to the Post. When his turn came for being detailed on recruiting service he was ordered to Syracuse, New York, and was engaged in that duty until the opening of the Mexican war. On his arrival in the enemy’s country, he was immediately assigned as Assistant Commissary and Quartermaster at Matamoras. During the year 1847, he remained at his post; but on being promoted to Captain he rejoined his regiment then en route for the city of Mexico.

Colonel Seneca G. Simmons, 5th Pa Reserves.

At the close of the war, and the return of the troops, his regiment was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. A portion of the command, including his own company, was ordered for special duty to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While here he received a severe injury, which seemed for a time likely to prove fatal, and from which he never entirely recovered. One knee was frightfully crushed, and the wound, after some years of intense suffering, resulted in permanent lameness; but not to such an extent as to unfit him entirely for duty. While yet upon crutches, he was, in 1857, sent upon recruiting service to Pottsville. While here he so far recovered as to attend to active duty, and was sent to take command of Fort Arbuckle, upon the frontier. His regiment was soon afterwards sent to Utah. As the labor was likely to prove too arduous for him in his crippled state, he sought and obtained a furlough, and joined his family in Harrisburg, where he was living at the outbreak of the Rebellion. When troops were called, Captain Simmons was made mustering officer for Pennsylvania volunteers.

Upon the organization of the Reserve Corps, he was chosen Colonel of the Fifth regiment, though personally unknown to any of the officers of that body. His first service was to march, in connection with the Bucktail regiment and some artillery, to the support of General Wallace in West Virginia, and thence to Washington, where he drilled his regiment and prepared it for service in the division. In September of this year, he was promoted to Major of the Fourth Infantry, but preferred to remain with the volunteer troops. He was at Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines’ Mill, in both of which desperately fought battles, he escaped unhurt. At Charles City Cross Roads, on the 30th of June, 1862, while leading the First brigade with unexampled valor, he fell in the thickest of the fight, breathing his last upon the field of honor. No braver man drew sword in any cause. In person, he was nearly six feet in height, of strong and robust frame, florid complexion, brown hair, heavy beard, light-blue eyes; his face presenting ordinarily a calm and benevolent expression; but when excited, every feature seemed to flash fire, and woe to the man who, having disregarded his orders, attempted to persist in an improper course of conduct. To him, however, who was willing to acknowledge his fault, the Colonel at once relaxed his sternness, and received the offender as though no offense had been committed.

The poet N. P. Willis, in writing to the Home Journal, from a visit to the camps of the army, said: “I had never before thought that water could embellish a soldier. As we sat in our hack, at the outer edge of the encampments, watching an incipient rainbow, and rejoicing in the prospect of holding-up, a general officer rode past with his aid and orderly, on the return to his tent, just beyond. Of a most warlike cast of feature, his profuse and slightly grizzly beard was impearled with glistening drops, and, with horse and accouterments all dripping with water, he rode calmly through the heavy rain like a Triton taking his leisure in his native element. It was the finest of countenances and the best of figures for a horseman. He looked indomitable in spirit, but unsubject, also, to the common inconveniences of humanity – as handsome and brave when tired and wet, as he would be when happy and dry! I was quite captivated with the picture of such a man, and did not wonder at the comment which was appended to the reply, by a subaltern officer of whom I inquired his name, ‘General Simmons,’ said he, ‘a man whom anybody would be glad to serve under.'”1


     SIMMONS, COL. SENECA G., was born on December 27, 1808, in Windsor county, Vt. The son of Alfred Simmons and his wife Deborah Perkins. He was brought up on his father’s farm, receiving the limited education obtained at the country school. At the age of fourteen he entered the military school of Capt. Alden Partridge, then located at Middletown, Conn., subsequently accompanying the school on its removal to Georgetown, in the District of Columbia. In July, 1829, he entered West Point, by the appointment of President Jackson, from which institution he graduated with distinction, in 1834, and was assigned to the Seventh U. S. infantry, as brevet second lieutenant, July 1, 1834; promoted to second lieutenant on the 31st of December following.

     Previous to joining his regiment he was assigned to topographical duty under Major Wm. G. McNeil, and assisted in the survey of the harbor of Apalachicola, Fla. During the summers of 1835 and 1836 he was engaged, under Col. Stephen H. Long, upon surveys in the State of Maine; first on the coast and then on a contemplated line of railway between Belfast and Quebec, Canada. He was promoted to first lieutenant January 19, 1837, when he joined his regiment, shortly after receiving his appointment as aid to Gen. Matthew Arbuckle, then in command of the department of the Southwest. He was also made assistant adjutant general, which position he held for several years, retaining it after General Taylor resumed command, and until relieved by Colonel Bliss, the General’s son-in-law. His regiment was then, the spring of 1842, serving in Florida, and thither he immediately repaired. At the conclusion of the Florida war his regiment was detailed for duty in garrisoning posts on the Gulf of Mexico, and he was stationed at Fort Pike, La., where he remained during the years 1842 and 1843, transacting, in addition to the duties of his position in his company, those of commissary and quartermaster to the post. When his turn came for being detailed on recruiting service, he was ordered to Syracuse, N. Y., and was engaged in that duty until the breaking out of the war with Mexico. On his arrival in the field, he was immediately assigned as assistant commissary and quartermaster at Matamoras. During the year 1847 he remained at that point, but on receiving his commission as captain, to date from February 16, 1847, he rejoined his regiment, then under Scott, on the way to the Mexican capital, and distinguished himself at the battle of Haumantla, on October 9, that year.

     At the close of the war he was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., a portion of his regiment, including his own company, having been ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on special duty. In 1849 and 1850 he was sent to Florida, owing to the hostile attitude of the Seminole Indians. In 1850 he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, and while there received a severe injury, which for a time placed his life in a critical condition, and from the effects of which he never fully recovered. Lame, and on crutches, he was, in the year 1851, ordered to Pottsville, Pa., on recruiting service. While stationed there he so far recovered as to attend to the duties of active service, and was sent to the command of Fort Arbuckle upon the frontier. His regiment was soon afterwards ordered to Utah. Here he remained four years. During the years 1858 and 1859 he was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and at Newport Barracks, Ky., but unable, through the disability referred to, to perform the active duties required of him, Captain Simmons sought and obtained a furlough, and joined his family at Harrisburg.

     He was here when the slaveholders’ rebellion commenced; and when the first call was made for troops, Captain Simmons was made mustering officer for the Pennsylvania volunteers. To him more is due than he has generally been given credit for – the organization, the discipline and the efficiency of that notable body of volunteers, the Pennsylvania reserves. From April to June, 1861, notwithstanding the physical infirmity from which he suffered, he labored most assiduously, and such was the high appreciation in which he was held by the men of that brave organization, that he could have had the command of any one regiment. That of the Fifth was unanimously tendered him, although personally unknown to any of the officers of that body. His commission as colonel bears date June 21, 1861.

     Colonel Simmons’ first service was to march, in connection with the celebrated “Bucktail” regiment and some artillery, to the support of General Wallace in West Virginia, and thence to Washington City, where he drilled his command and prepared it for service in the division (General McCall’s.) During the remainder of 1861 he continued at the National Capital, engaged in covering its approaches.

     On the 9th of September he was promoted major of the Fourth infantry, but preferred to remain with the volunteer troops. He participated in the action at Drainesville, December 20, 1861 2, and until May of the year following his command was performing guard duty on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, the subsequent months on picket near Fredericksburg, Va. In the Seven Days’ fight before Richmond he took a decisive part, especially in the action at Mechanicsville and Gaines’ Mill. At Charles City X Roads, or as frequently termed, White Oak Swamp, on the 30th of June, 1862, while leading the First brigade with true Spartan valor, he fell in the thickest of the fight. General McCall, who was captured on the evening of the battle just spoken of, while reconnoitering, sent to Mrs. Simmons the following account of her brave husband’s death.

Lt. Col. Henry J. Biddle, Assistant Adjutant General on McCall’s Staff. Biddle and Simmons lied beside each other in the hospital – both severely wounded. Biddle would succumb to his wounds as Simmons did.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA,
TOBACCO WAREHOUSE PRISON,
July 15, 1862.

     My Dear Madam: It is not to say that I mourn the loss of a friend that I write to you, although twenty years’ knowledge of his worth and very many most estimable qualities, had truly endeared your husband to me; nor is it to attempt to offer consolation in your bereavement, which One above alone can give you. I write to inform you that after Colonel Simmons, who, on the 30th of June, commanded the First brigade of my division, was wounded, he was captured by the enemy, carried to their hospital, and laid by the side of Captain Biddle, of Philadelphia, my assistant adjutant general, who was also severely wounded and a prisoner. During the night of the 1st of July, as I am informed, the colonel sank under the effects of his wound, and calmly expired at Biddle’s side. This I have from Biddle himself, who is here in the hospital.

     I have only to add that the Colonel’s body has been brought to this city and is interred here, where it may be conveyed to his friends at the proper time.

     Believe me, dear madam, very truly and sincerely, your friend and obedient servant,

GEO. A. McCALL,
Brigadier General, U. S. A.

To Mrs. Seneca G. Simmons, Harrisburg, Pa.

     Twenty years after, in October, 1882, an officer in the Confederate service, Capt. R. L. Lewis, of Pickens county, S. C., wrote Mrs. Simmons, giving her the following reminiscence:

“It was on the 30th of June, 1862, in one of the fights around Richmond, that our brigade was called on to make a charge on a battery of twelve pieces, supported by a brigade from Pennsylvania, commanded by Colonel Simmons, acting as brigadier general. M. Jenkins was our colonel, of a South Carolina regiment, and was also acting as brigadier general. Colonel Simmons’ brigade was stationed in a field to the right of the battery, his right resting on or near a house. The place was called Frazier’s Farm, or Glendale. Our brigade marched right across the field, with fixed bayonets, against his. We did not fire a gun until we were within twenty or thirty paces. When Colonel Simmons’ brigade gave away or broke ranks, he sat on his horse trying to rally them until he received a fatal wound and fell from his horse. We gained the field and took the battery, but suffered severely. Our loss was heavy; I had twenty-five men wounded, six killed and one lieutenant wounded. Some companies lost more. After the fight I went to the battlefield to look after my men. I found your husband lying where he had fallen from his horse. He told me who he was, that he was badly wounded, and then asked me to help him. I called some of our ambulance corps, and had him carried to a vacant house near by. I took off his spurs and sword, which he gave to me, placed him upon a bed, and gave him all the help I could. He asked me who was commanding the fight. I told him Gen. R. A. Anderson. He said, “I know him. I was with him in the Mexican war.” He then asked me to tell the General that he would like to see him. I conveyed the message to General Anderson, but he said he could not see him. The next day I called to see how Mr. Simmons was doing, but found him in a comatose state. He could not communicate anything. When I placed him upon the bed, I noticed he had on a watch, I think a guard or chain made of hair, but it was gone. Someone had taken it. As I had to go out to the Malvern Hill fight, I saw no more of him, but made inquiries concerning him, and was told that he was carried to the field hospital, where he died. Dr. Gaston, our brigade surgeon, took from his person three medals, one for services in the Mexican war, one from the State of Pennsylvania, and one from the United States for gallant services. Colonel Sims, our adjutant general, said he took a pin from his shirt, marked with the letter “G”. I presumed it was a Masonic emblem. I gave the Colonel’s sword to Gen. M. Jenkins. He was killed in the battle of the Wilderness on the 6th of May, 1864, and with it on. I presume his family have it.”

Col. Micha Jenkins, of South Carolina. Posed here sometime between 1861 and July 1862 – quite possibly with the sword of Col. Simmons, of the 5th PRVC. Although there is no proof to support that statement – pure theory.

     On the 3d of May, 1882, Dr. O. M. Doyle, of Toccoa, Ga., in a letter to Mrs. Simmons, gives the following interesting information:

“At the time of the battle referred to, I was regimental surgeon, and with others of the brigade, in charge of the field hospital. I was told that Colonel Simmons fell in front of our part of the line, and as our line advanced he was taken up and brought to the field hospital by my ambulance corps. He was wounded by a minie ball, through the liver and lung, and died, I think, the second day. I treated him in the best manner possible under the circumstances, and had him buried as decently as could be done there at such a time. He was reported by our officers as acting conspicuously brave on that sanguinary field, as being the cause, in their opinion, of that part of the Federal line standing as long as it did. That report did much toward stimulating a greater desire on our part to do all that was possible for a brave but fallen foe. Before death he thanked us sincerely for our attentions. He gave to some one of our party (I do not recollect in whose hand he placed them) a gold watch, a picture of his wife, and I think $60 in gold coin, with the request that the watch and picture (I do not think he included the coin) be sent to his wife. I have one knowledge or recollection of a Masonic pin or badge. If I had seen one, I am sure I would recollect it from my association with the order. These articles were placed in possession of Dr. Gaston, our brigade surgeon (now dead), with the request made by Colonel Simmons (coin and all). A few days after this occurrence there was a Federal surgeon at our quarters, temporarily in our lines. We were all together, this surgeon, Dr. Gaston and myself. Dr. Gaston told me that he had turned those articles of Colonel Simmons over to this surgeon, to be sent to his widow. I suppose I heard the name of the Federal surgeon when I met him, but I have no recollection of what it was. Such is a hasty account of what I know of your husband’s death.”

     The foregoing is all the information gained concerning that intrepid officer. No braver man drew a sword in defense of the Union. No nobler life was sacrificed in that fratricidal strife. Strict in discipline, amounting to sternness, he had a generous spirit. His face presented ordinarily a calm and benevolent expression, but when excited every feature seemed to flash fire. He had a big heart, and was a grandly lenient as he was severely rigid. In person he was nearly six feet in height, of strong and robust frame, florid complexion, brown hair, heavy beard and light blue eyes.

     Colonel Simmons was married at Harrisburg, Pa., in 1834, to Elmira A., daughter of Caleb and Content (Le Barron) Simmons, early residents of Harrisburg, whose earthly remains are interred in the Harrisburg cemetery. Colonel and Mrs. Simmons had four children: Charles F., born in Augusta, Me., December 21, 1835, he was a civil engineer in the service of the Reading Railroad Company, and died at Pottsville, Pa., March 16, 1856; Frederick Douglass, born at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, also a civil engineer in the service of the Reading Railroad Company, and died at Harrisburg, Edward Courtney, born in Indian Territory, and died at Governor’s Island, Fort Columbus, New York Harbor; Elmira Adelaide, wife of Daniel J. Attick, born at Fort Pike, La., December 27, 1842.

     Mrs. Simmons was born January 2, 1808, and died February 6, 1886. As wife and mother, she had few superiors. Those who know her best, appreciated her goodness and nobleness of heart. She was a member of St. Stephen’s Protestant Episcopal church. Her funeral services were conducted by her rector, Rev. R. J. Keeling, D.D., who paid a loving tribute to her life and services. Her remains were taken to Pottsville, Pa., for interment, Post No. 116, G.A.R., acting as a military escort, and many distinguished citizens of Harrisburg attending as pallbearers and as mourners. At the grave the impressive burial service of the Episcopal Church was followed by that of the Grand Army of the Republic; and floral tributes of affection and respect were laid upon her casket by the comrades, they delighting to honor one who, among her many endearing benevolent traits, had always shown herself the constant and devoted friend of the soldier.

     Daniel J. Attick, of the firm of Attick & Bros., manufacturers and dealers in lime and stone, was born in Swatara township, Dauphin county, Pa., in May, 1856. He is a son of Daniel and the late Mary A. (Mepford) Attick. He grew up on his father’s farm, receiving a public school education in his native township. He was a farmer, and flour miller; in April, 1895, he engaged in his present business. Mr. Attick was married in Harrisburg, December 23, 1886, to Elmira A., daughter of Col. Seneca G. Simmons and his wife, Elmira A. (Simmons) Simmons. He is a Democrat in politics. Mrs. Attick is a member of St. Stephen’s P. E. church.3

  1. Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania by Samuel P. Bates. Philadelphia: T. H. Davis & Co., 1876. Pg. 406-409, Part II, Chapter I.
  2. Common misconception. People who wrote about the Pennsylvania Reserves after the war often attribute the entire PA Reservee Corps to have fought at Dranesville, but only one brigade out of the division did. Neither the 5th PA Reserves or Col. Simmons participated in the fighting at Dranesville.
  3. Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County, Containing Sketches of Representative Citizens, and Many of the Early Scotch-Irish and German Settlers. Chambersburg, Pa.: J. M. Runk & Company, 1896, pages 291-295.