Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Harry A. Simmons Journal and Sketchbook, 1861-1862

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, January 2011

Summary Information
Title: Harry A. Simmons journal and sketchbook
Creator: Simmons, Harry A., b. ca. 1826
Inclusive dates: 1861-1862
Extent: 2 volumes
The Harry A. Simmons journal and sketchbook contain diary entries and sketches relating to the Union Navy service of Simmons onboard the schooner Sophronia , particularly his involvement in the New Orleans and Vicksburg campaigns.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1991. M-2720 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Harry A. Simmons Journal and Sketchbook, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection contains two parts: the journal, which is unbound and arranged chronologically, and the sketchbook.


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Harry A. Simmons journal contains 58 pages of entries, and his sketchbook includes 117 individual sketches on 57 pages. The journal, which is entitled "Journal of a Cruise on the U.S. Schr. 'Sophronia'," contains lengthy and informative entries covering December 30, 1861-July 30, 1862. Simmons sent it home in several parts to his wife, in order to keep her abreast his activities and wartime experiences. The journal describes Simmons' adjustment to life on the sea, his duties on the ship, various locales in Florida and Mississippi, and several naval engagements, including participation in the New Orleans and Vicksburg campaigns.

Early entries reflect Simmons' initiation into life on the sea and his interest in the marine life that he and his shipmates encountered. On February 7, 1862, he wrote that he lacked "acquired or even instinctive 'sea larnin'," but noted the "fine qualities" of the Sophronia . A few days later, he described fishing for kingfish and seeing dolphins, coral, and sponges from the ship (February 11, 1862). He also described the hardships of life on the sea, including the sky-high prices of produce, eggs, and milk, which the sailors bought from sea-faring merchants (June 10, 1862); the dangers caused by drunken shipmates (February 19, 1862; March 15, 1862); and several outbreaks of illness. In another entry, he noted that he was glad to see a group of dolphins because they made good food, but unlike his shipmates, refused to eat sharks because he held a "prejudice" against them (July 27, 1862).

Simmons also wrote entries concerning the Sophronia's movements and engagements. On February 19, 1862, he noted that "gradually our end of the harbour is filling up" as the ships gathered to form a mortar flotilla under Captain David Dixon Porter near Key West, Florida. On their way west, the crew captured a southern ship with 400 bales of cotton and took a frightening-looking prisoner onboard (March 16, 1862). Around this time, Simmons also noted an overwhelming feeling among his shipmates that "we are the victims of a system of poor generalship" and commented that many of them spoke of resigning from the service (March 23, 1862). By the time the Sophronia reached the Mississippi River, engagements became increasingly common. On April 16, 1862, Simmons described a Confederate "fire raft," which had been filled with combustibles and sent downstream "to drift against our vessels & if possible encircle some of them in a warm embrace." Several days later, he gave an account of the bombardment of Forts St. Philip and Jackson, noting the glow in the sky from widespread burning and estimating that the flotilla had fired a total of 2000 shells (April 18, 1862). The next day, he described seeing a shell hit the Winona and several men die from the explosion. Simmons also described his participation in the Siege of Vicksburg, including rumors of raging fires (June 28, 1862), skirmishes and picket fighting (July 2, 1862), and his being constantly on guard. On July 6, 1862, he noted that he had grown so accustomed to the sound of firing that he no longer noticed it.

Simmons gave detailed descriptions of a number of locales. On March 21, 1862, he described Pilottown, Louisiana, as generally deserted, but noted that one house contained a family claiming to be loyal to the Union. Shortly after the bombardment of Fort Jackson, he and a few other officers were able to observe the wreck of Fort Jackson, which he called the "most terrible destruction." On a second visit to Ship Island, Mississippi, he noted that it had grown, with many new storehouses, workshops, and hospital sheds (May 8, 1862).

The diary also provides insight into the duties of a surgeon's steward and the medical issues that arose onboard the Sophronia . These included the difficulty of obtaining certain kinds of medicines (February 16, 1862), the problem of treating outbreaks of illnesses (July 13, 1862), and a description of a funeral and the burial of a sailor at sea, wrapped in his hammock (July 22, 1862). By July 29, 1862, Simmons noted that 15 of the 32 crew members, including himself, had become ill and he reluctantly tendered his resignation and went to the hospital. The diary closes with an entry noting that he had arrived at home with his family and that he hoped "to recover my lost health" (August 26, 1862).

Accompanying the journal is Simmons' sketchbook, containing 57 pages and 117 individual pencil and watercolor sketches. Subjects include ships he encountered, military activities, southern scenery, sailors, civilians, and buildings. The locations that Simmons drew include plantations and homes in Baton Rouge, numerous views of Vicksburg, Fort Adams, and the U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. In several drawings, he depicted African Americans, including a contraband escaping from Vicksburg by riding a log down the Mississippi, a dog and a soldier playing together (labeled "Cuffee & Sambo"), a man in a sailor suit, and a group of women laundering clothes over a fire in Baton Rouge. Simmons also drew numerous military scenes, frequently teeming with detail. He depicted "fire rafts," a shelling by the Union Navy, the Sophronia "in fighting costume," an interior view of Fort Jackson, and the entrance to Fort St. Philip. Pasted into the sketchbook is a printed version of a sketch by Simmons, entitled "Attack on Vicksburg, Miss., by the Gun Boats and Mortar Fleet…"

Subject Terms

    • Fort Jackson (La.)--History--Siege, 1862.
    • Mississippi River--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • New Orleans (La.)--History--Capture, 1862.
    • Seafaring life.
    • Ship Island (Miss.)
    • Sophronia (Ship)
    • United States. Navy--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States. Navy--Sea life.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Naval operations.
    • Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Sketchbooks.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Harry A. Simmons diary and sketchbook [series]
    Diary,  1861-1862
    Sketchbook,  undated    [Note: Sketchbook is housed in the Graphics Division]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The Harry A. Simmonssketchbook is housed in Graphics Division.