Shown wearing an officer's epaulettes on his uniform coat.
Wisconsin Historical Society, Iconography, ID 90274
|Name at Enlist||Thor Simonson|
|Lived||ca. 1838 - 4 Mar 1903|
|Residence at Muster-In||Christian County, IL|
|Company at Enlistment||F|
|Rank at Enlistment||Private|
|Muster Date||20 Dec 1861|
|Burial Location||Oak Ridge, Springfield, IL|
|Spouse Lived||19 May 1840-19 Aug 1926|
Thor Simonson was mustered into Federal service as a Private (Menig) in the 15th WI on December 20, 1861, at Camp Randall, near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was 24 years old and not married. His residence was listed as Christian County, IL. At the recommendation of the 15th's commander, Colonel Hans C. Heg, Simonson was commissioned as the 1st Lieutenant (Løytnant) of Company F on January 15, 1862, with rank from January 11, 1862. He was mustered into Federal service at that rank on January 14, 1862, at Camp Randall, near Madison, Dane County, WI. The men of Company F called themselves "K.K.'s Protectors" in honor of the 15th's first Lieutenant Colonel Kiler K. Jones. “F” was also known as the Valdres Company because a large number of its members hailed from the Valdres region of Norway.
After several months at Camp Randall learning to be an officer, Lieutenant Simonson left there on March 2, 1862, with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until October 1862 he was listed as "present." As such he would have participated in the successful siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in TN, and the surprise raid on Union City, TN, in March and April 1862. Starting June 11, 1862, he and his company left Island No. 10 with most of the 15th to take part in a summer campaign through TN, MS, and AL.
In August and September 1862, Lieutenant Simonson would have participated in the grueling 400-mile retreat led by U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell up to Louisville, KY, with the last 2 weeks being on half rations and short of water. Lieutenant Simonson would also have been present at the October 8, 1862, fighting at Perryville, Boyle County, KY, which is also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills. While this was the 15th's first big battle, it emerged without any fatalities. Shortly thereafter he became sick and on October 18, 1862, he was "sent to Gen. Hospt." [General Hospital] at Danville, KY, from the 15th's camp at Crab Orchard, KY.
Sometime in November or December Lieutenant Simonson returned to the 15th and was again listed as "present" with it until May 1864. In late December 1862, he would have participated in the 15th's desperate charge upon a Confederate artillery battery at Knob Gap, TN, just south of Nashville. There the 15th captured a brass cannon. He was then present at the long, cold, wet, and bloody Battle of Stones River, TN, also called the Battle of Murfreesboro, in late December. It was there that the 15th first suffered serious battle casualties, and was cited for bravery. One of them was Lieutenant Simonson who was "wounded in thigh" on December 30, 1862.
The 15th camped in the Murfreesboro area for the next 6 months, except for 2 weeks in February when it was sent to Franklin, TN. It is not precisely clear when Lieutenant Simonson returned to the regiment after being wounded. It is believed that he was back with it before June 23, 1863, when the regiment left Murfreesboro to take part in the Tullahoma campaign led by U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans. On July 3, 1863, the 15th went into camp at Winchester, Franklin County, TN, for 6 weeks.
On August 17, 1863, the 15th departed Winchester to participate in General Rosecrans' Chickamauga campaign. Lieutenant Simonson is believed to have been present at the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led. He was then present at the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA, the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. He survived the vicious fighting around Viniard's Farm on the first afternoon of the battle. He also survived the near capture of the regiment near Brotherton Field around midday on the 20th during Longstreet's Breakthrough. Some 63% of the 15th's soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Lieutenant Simonson took command of Company F after Captain Charles Gustaveson was taken prisoner on the 20th. In the 15th's official after action report Lieutenant Simonson was cited as showing...
"...more than ordinary courage and bravery during the battle."
Lieutenant Simonson would have then served with the regiment during the Confederate siege of Chattanooga, TN, which began right after the battle. The siege resulted in severe shortages of medicine, food, and firewood which, together with cold, wet weather, caused much suffering, sickness, and death. The siege was finally broken by the Union Army's victorious charge up Mission Ridge on November 25, 1863, which the 15th took part in.
Starting right after Mission Ridge the 15th was engaged in almost non-stop marching and counter-marching all over eastern TN throughout the winter of 1863/1864. By many original accounts, this was the worst period of the regiment's 3-year term of service. Poor rations, inadequate clothing and shelter, and unseasonably cold weather made these months nearly unbearable.
Starting in May 1864, the 15th participated in the famous campaign to capture Atlanta, GA, which was led by U.S. Major General William T. Sherman. This campaign was marked by almost daily marching and/or combat for 4 months. Lieutenant Simonson lead Company F during the opening phase of the campaign. This included the fighting at Rocky Face Ridge, GA in early May; at Resaca, GA on May 14-15; and on May 27, 1864 at the Battle of Pickett's Mill, GA, which is often referred to as the Battle of Dallas or New Hope Church.
At Pickett's Mill the 15th was ordered forward at about 4:00 PM to capture the enemy's entrenchments. They charged right up to them, but were unable to get in. They then lay down as close as 15 yards away and exchanged fire with the Confederates for nearly 5 hours until they ran out of ammunition. When it got dark around 9:00 PM, the surviving 15th soldiers began to withdraw, but the enemy suddenly charged upon them. Unable to effectively resist, 29 of the regiment's soldiers were captured, including Lieutenant Simonson. The story of Lieutenant Simonson's capture was recounted in Ager's 1916 history of the 15th WI by Sergeant Otto Steen of Company K.
"We kept up fire until it was dark and then we took some of the wounded back to the ravine with us. I met Major Wilson [who commanded the 15th at Pickett's Mill] and asked if we were to remain there all night. He answered "No, we are expecting to be relieved any minute." (This was after the battle was over). Lieutenant Ellend Erickson of Co. K, Lieutenant Simonsen and I sat down to discuss what had happened and who had been killed and wounded, when we heard a noise ahead of us. We knew that none of our men were there, and fired. Soon after, a man sprang into view. He wore our uniform, but he was a Rebel. He said "For God's sake, don't fire on them, you are shooting at your own men." I had just loaded the gun and had my fingers in the box of percussion caps. I looked up and there was a Rebel regiment before us with bayonets pointed a couple of feet from our chests. We were forced to surrender and we did."
According to Prisoner of War records, Lieutenant Simonson was held for a time in SC. He was paroled by the Confederates to Union forces at Rough & Ready, GA on September 28, 1864, a few weeks after the Union Army's capture of Atlanta. When Lieutenant Simonson returned to the regiment it was guarding a railroad bridge at Whitesides, TN, near Chattanooga. Some of the 15th's soldiers felt the time at Whitesides was the easiest duty of their war service.
Unfortunately, Lieutenant Simonson's health was poor, and at the beginning of November 1864, he applied for a 30 day medical leave. The 15th's Surgeon A.F. St. Sure Lindefelt examined him and wrote a medical certificate in support of his leave application. It stated that Lieutenant Simonson had suffered "scorbutus" [scurvy] while a prisoner and also noted "he labour under lumbago." Simonson's leave was approved and began on November 10, 1864. He returned to the regiment in early December 1864.
Lieutenant Simonson was mustered out of Federal service along with most of the other surviving members of Company F on January 13, 1865, at Chattanooga, TN, upon the completion of his 3 year term of service. He and his men were then transported back to WI and released to return to their homes. A little over 2 months later the war ended with the formal surrender of the remaining Confederate armies.
After the war Simonson was commissioned by the Governor of WI as Captain of Company F on February 25, 1867, to rank from February 21, 1865, but was never mustered into the Army at that rank. Buslett's 1895 history of the 15th WI includes the following about Lieutenant Simonson.
"When the officers were in active service, they weren't so fussy about their finery. They might even leave their epaulettes behind in their quarters, and therefore their rank wasn't so easy to know. One day 1st Lieutenant Simonson of Company F had guard duty at a picket station together with another officer from another regiment, and he didn't know this man's rank. So he called him "Captain," very politely, and asked him for instructions regarding the various aspects of the duty. Simonson soon found out that the man wasn't a captain, and with a grim face he went right up to him and asked, "My friend, what is your rank?" "Second lieutenant," came the answer in a timid voice. "Really?" said Simonson with contempt and loathing in his face. "So go to hell then with your rank!" And with that he took over command."
Thor Simonson married Elizabeth Hoff. She was born on May 19, 1840 in Jacksonville, IL, the daughter of Eli M. Hoff and Catherine Connover (both born in NJ). They were living in Menard County, IL in 1880 with their children, Albert B. (1871), Malcolm E. (1873), and Catherine (1880).
Sources: Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers], Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Oberst Heg og hans gutter [Colonel Heg and His Boys], Waldemar Ager (Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1916); Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1885); 1880 Census, Roll: 236, Family History Film: 1254236, Page: 242D, Enumeration District: 140, Image: 0268; Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903; Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947, FHL Film #1613441.