One Casualty

Merritt J. Simonds joined the 42nd Illinois Infantry on August 4th, 1862. He enlisted in Company K, a new recruit among old hands. His first combat was Stone’s River, where the 42nd lost 161 men out of about 350 engaged.

Merritt J. Simonds - prewar

Merritt J. Simons - 1863

Here are two pictures of Merritt, one taken before his enlistment and a second taken in the summer of 1863. the strains of war and campaigning are clearly evident in the latter.

At Chickamauga, the 42nd first entered action late on September 19th, attacking through Vinyard Field only to be repulsed with heavy loss. At about Noon on September 20th, the 42nd – along with the rest of Sheridan’s Division – was moving northeast past the Widow Glenn house, hurriedly moving into action. They were struck by Hindman’s Division, and faced another desperate engagement. Within a short time, the Federals were driven from the field. Again their losses were fierce: 143 lost out of 305 engaged.

Merritt Simonds was one of those casualties. Below are his diary entries for the days following his wound.

Sunday 20th
“In the morning we are relieved and go back about a mile on a high hill Stay here until about 11 O’clock when we have to go into the fight on the double quick. the fight rages with fury. I am struck on the right leg just above the knee, shatters the bone some. I try to get off the field but cannot…I lay here until night the rebs promise to take me off but do not.”

Monday 21st
“The rebs carry Off their wounded and bury their dead, but do not take us off. We lay here suffering from the sun and for water, the rebs give us some blankets and water, We lay here all day suffering a great deal.”

Tuesday 22nd
“We passed a restless night do not know whether our enemies intend to take us off or not. God help us to endure it. His will be done whether we live or die.”

Wednesday 23rd
“We have lain here now three nights and nearly four days and no signs of relief although the rebs continue to promise us. We have to lie on our backs all the time which makes it very hard on the rough ground but we will put our trust in God and abide the consequences…”

Thursday 24th
“Some of our men and a Doctor come to see us today. We are removed away from the dead bodies around us. I learn with sorrow that Sherwin [King]was killed. Shot through the head while at the post of duty. I hope to God he was prepared. My leg is very swollen and painful.”

Simonds laid there two more days, until he was finally removed to a Confederate field hospital the next Saturday, the 26th of September. On Wednesday the 30th, Simonds was allowed to return to his own lines with hundreds of other badly wounded men, transported in an improvised ambulance train to Union hospitals in Chattanooga. He was in desperate condition. On October 8th he wrote a note to his father, describing his ordeal and his condition, but still expecting to recover. His leg took a turn for the worse, however.

“Gen. Host. No. 2
Chattanooga Tenn
October 27th 1863

Dear Father

Since I last wrote I have been growing worse, my leg is now mortifying above the knee and the Dr’s say I cannot live more than two days at the longest. You must not take this to heart but look to a higher source for comfort, for it is God’s will and I feel resigned to my fate. ”

Merritt died on October 29th, as a subsequent letter from messmate George Wright revealed. He was buried in Chattanooga.

Dr. William Glenn Robertson has taken many classes of soldiers to the regimental marker for the 42nd Illinois, there just north of the Wilder Tower, in the course of his staff rides. It is worth a moment to reflect, as we discuss tactics and generalship, revere one commander or revile another, on who pays the price when armies collide.

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12 Responses to “One Casualty”

  1. Tim Maurice Says:

    dave,
    I had the good fortune to listen to you read those diary entries a few years ago at the spot where Merritt was wounded. It was powerful and sobering and something I will never forget.

    Thanks
    Tim Maurice
    Columbus Ohio

  2. Scott Says:

    Great post Dave. Sometimes we forget the real face of war. As you pointed out, if you look carefully at Merritt’s face in those photos, the changes are quite striking. These simple but true stories in my opinion are what make a visit to the battlefield so powerful. It was very likely if he could have made it to a field hospital, either Union or Confederate, a simple amputation would have saved his life. Another great stand on Dr. Robertson’s staff ride is the one where he describes the priorities of the Confederate Medical Service who were left to deal with the massive casualties left on the field after the battle. Unfortunately for Merritt, they were overwhelmed and did the best they could with what they had.

  3. Phil Says:

    Many thanks for that moving piece.

    Is the diary published, or is it only in manuscript form?

  4. Harvey Says:

    Hey Dave,

    Both you and Jim Ogden have made it a point to remember Private Merritt Simonds’ unfortunate demise. We most likely would never have known the suffering he endured had it not been for his diary. It is amazing how significant those few pages are, 146 years later, as they give today’s reader a short but touching glimpse into the life of just one wounded soldier. I sometimes wonder how many more personal accounts were written during the war, but were either destroyed or have yet to be discovered!

    As webmaster for the Chattanooga Civil War Round Table, I have cross-referenced Jim Ogden’s 2007 Chattanooga National Cemetery Torchlight Tour and your 2009 Study Group Tour, to a “copy” of your blog containing the Simonds’ entries. Those links are shown below. I think it fitting that we should keep telling and re-telling Simonds’ story. Thank you for doing so in your blog.

    http://www.chattanoogacwrt.org/2007TorchlightTour1.htm#simonds
    http://www.chattanoogacwrt.org/MerrittSimonds.htm
    http://www.chattanoogacwrt.org/studygroup2009b1.htm#simonds

  5. davidpowell334 Says:

    Thanks guys.

    Phil,

    the diary is held at Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL. The only place I have ever seen it published was in an edition of Military Review, back in the 1980s, and I am sure it was written by an officer who had discovered it via Dr. Glenn Robertson, at the Combat Studies Institute.

    • Donna Lewis Says:

      David,

      I’m a descendant of Merritt Simonds, and as a matter of fact my own father was named after him. A number of family members including myself have copies of the diary (both the handwriten and the typed versions), and those photos you posted; along with our family genology which was published probably sometime in the late 1960’s. I don’t know if the diary was ever published, but would be interested in knowing. I very much appreciate the inclusion of this entry in your blog.

      • Dave Powell Says:

        Donna,

        I do know that the diary – or at least part of it – was published in The Military Review. I don’t have an issue or date, however.

        Dave Powell

      • Donna Lewis Says:

        Dave, thanks. I did a search on the Military Review website, and didn’t find it. Oh well, I know it’s in DeKalb for sure! (and I have a fragile, typed, oilskin copy of my own)

      • Dave Powell Says:

        Donna, Yeah, I can’t seem to find the actual issue either. I have a photocopy of the pages of the magazine, from a file at (I think) the park, but the photocopy does not include the necessary citation info. Dekalb’s regional history center has the diary, the typescript, and the pictures of Merritt. A friend of mine, Scott Day, is a pathologist in Birmingham, and he says the second picture shows very specific physical manifestations of physical stress and poor diet.

      • Donna lewis Says:

        The portion of the diary that i have starts on 5/1/1863 (although he enlisted 8/2/62). In agreement with your friend Scott Day’s assessment from the photos, the diary specifically says that Merritt suffered from pleurisy, and we assume also dysentery. Many, perhaps even most, of the entries talk about both the weather conditions that day and of his health (whether good or not), and he seems to have also been given medicine that ruined his appetite for even the food that was available to them.

  6. Sharon Says:

    I have “adopted” this soldier as I have visited Chattanooga often. I put a flag and flowers on his grave whenever I go there. His story touched me so much that I have been to DeKalb to the library and to his family’s gravesite. I am honored to take care of my “boy”, as I have been known to call him.

  7. John Mogren Says:

    Very interesting reading. My ancestor was William Mott who was also injured in the battle of Chickamauga. He survived. He was in the same company as Merritt Simonds.

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