Simons, Frank (Private)

Born in April 1840 in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Frank Simons was a son of Michael Simons. He married Mary Martha Bercaw in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania on 20 February 1864. A native Pennsylvanian, Mary was born in May 1844.

Their son, George W. Simons, was born on 13 October 1864, and was baptized in Easton on 1 January 1865, according to the records of St. John’s Lutheran Church of that city.

Civil War Military Service

Frank Simons enrolled for military service at Easton, Pennsylvania on 25 January 1865, and mustered in there that same day as a Private with Company E, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He joined up with his regiment from a recruiting depot on 5 February 1865 – just in time to become an eyewitness to a period of history which still deeply touches the hearts of Americans.

His regiment – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – having been assigned in February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Union’s Army of the Shenandoah, had been ordered to move, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C., where its members helped to defend the nation’s capital.

* Note: By this point in the regiment’s history, the soldiers who had served with the 47th Pennsylvania since its founding in August 1861, had already helped to defend the nation’s capital in the Fall of 1861 before participating in the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida (1-3 October 1862), fighting in the intense, bloody Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (21-23 October 1862), strengthening the Union Army’s infrastructure in and around Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, Florida (1862-1863), serving as the only Pennsylvania regiment involved in Union General Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign across Louisiana (March to June 1864), fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Maryland under General David Hunter (mid-July 1864), and fighting in legendary Union General Philip Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, including taking on Rebel troops in the Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill (September 1864) and the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia (19 October 1864).  

On 19 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once again called upon to help to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, the longer-serving men were resupplied and given new uniforms.

Matthew Brady's photograph of spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

Matthew Brady’s photograph of spectators massing for Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, next to crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial.

As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also marched in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I also advanced to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central staff during this time.

During the final weeks of May 1865, Private Frank Simons and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to pack up in preparation for another significant phase of service.

Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, SC, 1865. Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (111-B-4667, public domain).

Charleston seen from Circular Church, 1865.
Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (111-B-4667, public domain).

Sent on a final southern tour, Company E and the other members of the 47th Pennsylvanian called Savannah, Georgia home from 31 May to 4 June. Assigned to serve with Dwight’s Division, they were part of the 3rd Brigade, U.S. Department of the South. Taking over for the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they quartered in Charleston, South Carolina at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. Duties at this time were largely Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related (rebuilding railroads and other parts of the region’s infrastructure which had been damaged or destroyed during the long war).

Finally, beginning on Christmas day, most of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, including Private Frank Simons, began to muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January of 1866. After a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City. They were then transported to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.

After the War

Following his honorable discharge from the military, Frank Simons returned home to his wife and children in Easton, Pennsylvania. On 24 May 1866, they welcomed daughter Ida Elizabeth Simons (1866-1930) to the world. Born in Easton on 24 May 1866, she was shown in later records as “Lizzie.”

Daughter Susan (1867-1953) followed on 11 November 1867. (Susan later wed, and took the married surname of “Gangwer,” also spelled in various records as “Gangwere.”)

In 1870, Frank Simons resided in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania with wife Mary, and their children, George, Ida and Susan. He supported his family through employment as a boatman.

Son Frank Simons arrived at the family home in Easton on 21 February 1875, and was baptized at the Lutheran church in his hometown on 8 November of that same year. Another son, Frederick, was born on 30 March 1878. (Also known as “Freddie,” he lived well into the new century, passing away on 29 January 1949  in Allentown, Lehigh County.)

Son Harry C. Simons made his appearance sometime after the New Year, arriving in January 1880. The Simons family still resided in Easton, and father Frank Simons continued to support his brood as a boatman. Son John opened his eyes in Easton for the first time in September 1887.

At the dawn of the new century, still in Easton, the Simons household included husband and wife, Frank and Mary, and their children: Ida, Frederick and Harry (now a dressmaker, paperhanger and  boatman, respectively), and John, who was still in school at this time.

Just three years later, Frank Simons was gone, passing away from paralysis in Wycombe, Bucks County, Pennsylvania on 20 October 1903. His obituary in the 22 October 1903 edition of The Allentown Daily Leader recalled his military service and life as follows:

DEATH OF 47TH  VETERAN.

Frank Simons, who resided at Easton, died at Wycombe, Bucks County, of paralysis. He was 64 years old. He was a boatman the greater part of his life, and ran the Ella from Easton. Besides his wife he is survived by the following children: George, Lizzie, Frank, Fred, Harry and Russell Simons, and Mrs. Harry Gangwere, all of Easton. He is also survived by one brother, Mathias Simons, also of that place. Mr. Simons was a member of the 47th Regiment, Penn’a Vols., during the Rebellion. His boat was tied up at Bristol during the recent flood, and during his run home Mr. Simons was stricken with the fatal ailment.

He was interred at the Easton Cemetery in section/plot R141 on 24 1903.

* Note: Although the Pennsylvania Veteran’s Burial Index Card for Frank Simons states that he died on 21 October 1903, the burial ledger entry for him at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Easton states that he died on 20 October 1903, and was interred on 24 October 1903.

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.

2. Burial Ledger, Baptismal and Marriage Records, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania

3. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

4. Death Certificates (Frederick Simons, Ida Elizabeth Simons, Susan Gangwer). Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

5. Death of 47th Veteran, in The Allentown Daily Leader. Allentown: 22 October 1903.

6. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.

7. U.S Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1870, 1880, 1900.

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