In the opening scene of the movie Cold Mountain, a battle scene is depicted based on the real life events of July 30, 1864 when Union forces attempted to penetrate the formidable Confederate earthworks surrounding the besieged city of Petersburg, Virginia. The breach was created by igniting explosives within a tunnel dug under the Rebel earthworks by Pennsylvania miners turned soldiers who were among the Union troops of Burnside’s 9th Corp. Following the explosion, Union troops poured into the huge crater that was created but were hampered in their progress to pass beyond the Confederate lines by the debris field and the overall lack of field coordination by the assaulting columns. Many Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner of war by Confederate troops who rallied to the breach in time to turn back the assault. This engagement later became known as the Battle of the Crater.
Among the first of the Union soldiers to enter the crater were the men of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals.” These troops managed to negotiate through the crater and scale the remnants of the Confederate earthworks where others behind them could not and, according to General Burnsides, “advanced some 100 yards beyond the crater” before they were forced to fall back, “unsupported.”
Within the ranks of the “Provisionals” in the early morning hours of that assault stood a 36 year-old private named John Drake Simpson from Wayne County, Pennsylvania. John carried into battle the hopes and prayers of his parents, Jonathan and Mary (Cramer) Simpson, his numerous siblings, and his wife, Angelina and 3 year-old daughter — little “Lottie.” He stood his post; he did his duty. Though the fighting was desperate and deadly — the carnage “fearful,” he found himself among a couple of dozen soldiers from his regiment cut off from the rest and forced to throw down their arms and surrender. According to the regimental history, these men included: “Capt. John Norris, David Ruckel, Clarence Wilson, David Faulkner, James Gibson, John L. Bailey, David R. Pringle, Isaac J. Miller, Joseph Albright, Samuel F. Blair, William McCauley, Irving T. Hartman, David Samberger, James Luke, George Davidson, Abraham Cussman, John F. Collom, William B. Wood, and [last but not least] — John D. Simpson.”
Pvt. Simpson was eventually taken to Andersonville Prison in Georgia where he died on 15 September 1864, less than eight months after entering the service. To obtain a pension, his widow was required to obtain testimony from those who knew her husband while in the service and, particularly, those who could attest to his death at Andersonville. She was able to find three soldiers who knew her husband.
The first to testify was Lieutenant John Kellow who swore under oath that he was acquainted with Pvt. Simpson of Company C, having known him before the war as well as having served in the same regiment together. Lt. Kellow stated that he was, at the time of the battle of July 30, 1864, serving as the First Lieutenant of Company B and that he and Pvt. Simpson were among the “sixty-one officers and men of the regiment taken prisoners by the enemy” that day. He added that they were “all taken first to Danville, Virginia, and remained there about four days and were then sent to different Rebel prisons.” [Kellow, it appears, was sent to Richland Jail, Columbia, South Carolina, as he was reported to be there in December 1864].
Testimony was also taken from John Burns Walker [Co. G, 141st PA Vols.] and Julius Lord [Co. H, 56th PA Vols.] who stated that “while being in Andersonville prison, they knew John D. Simpson of Co. C, 112th Regt. PA Vols. [also known as 2d PA H. A.] and saw him die with scurvy and dysentery either the last of September or the first of October 1864.”
Information learned about Pvt. John Drake Simpson and his family:
John Drake Simpson (1837-1864) married Angelina H. Welch (1839-1915) on 8 December 1859. Ceremony performed by Rev. Horatio R. Clarke, Methodist minister. Daughter Charlotte (“Lottie”) A. Simpson (1860-1933) was born 11 November 1860.
John’s father, Jonathan Drake Simpson (1792-1860) served in the Army during the War of 1812 with the 3rd New Jersy Militia from 01 Sep 1814 to 02 Dec 1814. He married Hannah Spinning, daughter of Benjamin Spinning 1816. He left Hannah, moved to Honesdale, PA, obtained a divorce and married Mary Cramer (1809-1867), daughter of Enos and Anna (Schoonover) Cramer in 1827. He is buried at Glen Dyberry Cemetery.
Pvt. John Drake Simpson, Co. C, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery “Provisionals”; enlisted 27 February 1864 at Honesdale, Wayne, PA. Died 15 September 1864 at Andersonville, GA.
Enlistment papers state that Pvt. Simpson stood 5 feet, 8 inches; had light complexion; Brown hair and blue eyes.
There is very little information about John Drake Simpson in Ancestry.com and what is there fails to recognize his service and/or his death at Andersonville. No record of his burial exists at Andersonville though he undoubtedly was laid to rest there in one of the many unknown graves.
Note: His name may have been Jonathan like his father, but service records show his name as John.