Harry (Henry) A. Simmons was born around 1826 in Massachusetts. A pharmacist by trade, he was living in New York City with his wife Elizabeth and their children (Frank b. ca. 1854; Samuel b. ca. 1857; and Lewis b. ca. 1859) in 1861. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he attempted to enroll in a New York infantry regiment, but suffered health problems, and had to defer his enlistment until December 1861, when he joined the U.S. Navy. He was appointed a surgeon's steward on the U.S. schooner Sophronia , a ship of the mortar flotilla under the command of Captain David Dixon Porter. In January 1862, the Sophronia went into commission and in February, it sailed south from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to Key West, Florida, where the flotilla assembled and set sail for Ship Island, Mississippi. By mid-April, the flotilla had moved to the vicinity of Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, and began a mortar attack, helping to secure the fall New Orleans on April 25 and both forts on April 28. In May, the flotilla returned to the Gulf of Mexico, but the next month it went back up the Mississippi to support Admiral David Farragut's operations against Vicksburg, Mississippi. Soon after Simmons became ill and was in the hospital briefly, before receiving a medical discharge on August 25, 1862.