Seth R. Simons was born in 1828 in New York.
Seth was married to Louisa and they had at least two children.
He left New York and moved west, eventually settling in western Michigan by 1860 when he was working as a raftsman with and/or for a lumberman by the name of Henry Smith in Ravenna, Muskegon County.
Seth was 33 years old and probably working in the Muskegon County area when he enlisted in Company H on May 5, 1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers,” was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.) His family was reportedly living in Lenawee County after he enlisted.
Although the regiment left its encampment near Chain Bridge above Georgetown in the afternoon of July 16, 1861, apparently not all of the men of the regiment left with it as it advanced into Virginia. According to one source, a guard detachment remained behind in the camps of the Second and Third Michigan to proceed with the wagons and, reported one soldier, “Those of the men who cannot be moved on with the teams in the ambulances, will be taken to Georgetown, and kindly cared for until discharged; when they will rejoin the regiment or return home. There are but few men now on the sick list. “ Seth was quite probably one of those sent to Georgetown, although this is by no means certain.
In any case, on Saturday, about 11:00 p.m. along Jefferson Street in Georgetown, near the C & O canal, Seth was accosted by a free negro named William Woodward who, allegedly without any provocation, stabbed Seth in the neck. (For reasons unknown one local paper reported Seth’s name as Fred Swington, and that he was a member of Company A, Third Michigan infantry, while another noted just that the victim was a private in Company H, Third Michigan.)
“Woodward,” reported the Washington Star, “who is a notorious negro deliberately drew a knife with which he attacked [Simons], inflicting a severe wound on the side of his throat, of which he died from the loss of blood early yesterday [Sunday] morning. Woodward was pursued and captured and taken to the watch-house, and afterwards committed to the County jail for examination today [Monday]. Swingington was an estimable young man.”
Another account reported that Woodward had already served time in the penitentiary. “Some words,” wrote the Georgetown correspondent to the Star, “passed between deceased and Woodward when the latter drew his knife and fiercely attacking the soldier cut his throat, and continuing the assault, gashed the wounded man’s breast in a shocking manner. He (the soldier) was removed toi a house near by, but lived only a short time, and his body was then taken to the military hospital. [Union Hotel in Georgetown?] Woodward was arrested by Police Officers Brown and Robinson and committed to Jail this morning [Monday], and so great was the indignation of soldiers and citizens here that he had to be guarded on his way to prison by a squad of soldiers to prevent the crowd from taking summary vengeance on him. He assaulted the officers who made the arrest.”
On July 27, one J.A.F. reported to the Adrian Messenger, that
Seth Simons, a member of the Third regiment, from Michigan and formerly of Muskegon, met with an untimely end . . . at Georgetown, at the hands of a negro. He was stabbed in the neck and so severely that the knife reached through the blood flowing from the wound inflicted at both sides. We understand that Simons was entirely sober at the time he received the fatal wound. On the person of the negro, when he was arrested, was found quite an amount of gold coin, some of which no doubt was abstracted from the pocket of the deceased after the murder. From the funds found in his possession enough has been taken to buy a good coffin and defray the expenses of his burial.
The character of the negro in the vicinity of Georgetown is notorious, as that of a villain and robber, to which may be added the culminating point of all crimes, of murder.
Simons had won the good will and friendship of all the members of his company for his social qualities, as well as that of the officers, for his punctual discharge of all the military duties assigned him. He has died at the hands of an assassin, but will be remembered by his comrades in arms on every battlefield they may enter.
A wife and two children are left to mourn his untimely death in a strange city, when gone in defense of his country. Corporal R. C. Skeels with his guard attended the last sad rites of their lamented comrade.
It is thought that his family and friends live in Lenawee County.
On July 31 the Grand Rapids Enquirer reported that “Washington papers give an account of a quarrel that lately occurred between Fred Swingington, a member of company A, 3rd Regiment and a negro, in which the former was stabbed in the neck causing death.”
Woodward escaped from the jail at about 6:00 a.m. on August 6. It was reported that
when the guards were turning the colored prisoners into the yard to get water, one of them, Wm. Woodward, escaped the guards by way of the aisle running into the yard, where there is a low wall, which he jumped and escaped. Mr. Fayman, the newly appointed guard, was sitting at the guard-room door, having in his charge the key of the door to the cell range. In closing the door the spring did not catch in the lock, and thus the door was left ajar. Discovering this fact, a count of the prisoners was made and one of them, this man Woodward, found to be missing. Search for him was made directly, and the guards around the city notified to intercept him. Woodward was awaiting trail for the murder of a member of the New York Seventy-ninth (Highland) regiment. [Actually the Third Michigan.] He is well-known to be a most desperate dellow. His body and head have been well-marked in the conflicts he had with the old Auxilliary Guard fifteen years ago, so that most of them could easily identify him. We hear that the guard Fayman has been dismissed and Johnson Simonds appointed in his place.
On August 14 Woodward was recaptured by County constable John Gross of Georgetown.
That officer got the impression that Woodward was concealed in “Louseneck,” which we will state, for the information of our readers, is that part of Washington County lying between Tenallytown road and Rock Creek, and yesterday started to look for him. After a considerable search, he found the notorious “Bill” concealed in the stable of Mrs. Curran, on Rock Creek, north of Georgetown, and secured him and brought him back to jail, where he (the officer) received the reward of $50 offered for the apprehension of the escaped prisoner. It seems that Woodward, since his escape, has been hiding in the woods along Rock Creek, and only concealed himself when he found the officer on his track. After making his escape from the jail he wounded himself in the thigh when he was getting over a fence, and he is still suffering from that injury. Woodward says he escaped by raising the door latch from the inside, which can be done by inserting a knife or spoon into the latch cover. he has tried the same plan upon every guard for eight or ten days, but failed every time the door being locked until then.
On Saturday, August 24, Bill Woodward died while trying to escape from jail. According to one report “the wound he received while scaling the wall of the prison in making his escape was probably the cause of his death.”
In 1865 one J. McDowell who was probably living in Michigan, applied for a minor child pension (no. 77894). On April 17, 1869, the War Department reported Seth as “Murdered at Georgetown DC, July 22, 1861” in Simons’ military service record. In any case, the certificate was apparently never granted.
In 1890 Louisa Davis was living in Michigan when she applied for a dependent widow’s pension (no. 415552), but again but the certificate was never granted.