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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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…”
“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
October 27th 1863
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.