James P. Simms was born on January 16, 1837 in Covington Georgia. He was an attorney in Covington before the war and served in the Georgia militia. He married Mary Lucy Bates on April 20, 1860. They would have two children, James and Alice Lee.

James P. Simms

James Simms in the Civil War

On October 21, 1861 Simms became a second lieutenant in the 6th Georgia Militia. By April of 1862 he was in the 42nd Georgia Infantry Regiment. When the 53rd Georgia Infantry Regiment was created in May of 1862 Simms helped recruit the  “Newton Anderson Guards” from Newton County, which became the regiment’s Company E. He was elected the company’s captain. On June 4 Simms was elected major.

The regiment was sent to Virginia, where it became part of Semmes’ Brigade of McLaws’ Division. The 53rd Georgia saw its first action in the Seven Days Battles from June 25 until July 1.

They then fought at Crampton’s Gap in the Battle of South Mountain on September 14. Three days later they fought in the battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam. The regiment was engaged in the Cornfield, one of the deadliest fights in the Civil War, losing 12 men killed and 63 wounded out of the 276 engaged.

The 53rd Georgia’s Colonel Leonard Doyal resigned on October 8, and its Lieutenant Colonel Sloan had been mortally wounded at Sharpsburg. Simms was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. He was in command during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and the Battle of Salem Church (part of the Chancellorsville Campaign) in May of 1863.

At Gettysburg Simms and his regiment fought on July 2nd around the Rose Hill and the Wheatfield, another of the most bloody fights of the war. They lost 89 of the 422 men they brought to the field.

In September of 1863 Simms and his Georgians went west with Longstreet and the First Corps. They arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Chickamauga but fought in the Chattanooga Campaign and the Knoxville Campaign. Simms was wounded on November 29, 1863 in the Confederate attack on Fort Sanders at Knoxville.

One account has Simms returning from his convalescence to command his regiment through the Overland Campaign in May of 1864, while another does not have him returning until September. Both sources agree he took command of his old brigade as senior colonel after Brigadier General Goode Bryan resigned on September 20 due to medical reasons. The brigade joined Jubal Early’s army in the Shenandoah Valley in the fall, fighting at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19.

On December 8, 1864 Simms was promoted to brigadier general and given permanent command of his brigade. The brigade had returned from the Shenandoah Valley to Lee’s main army. . He would lead it throught the remainder of the fighting around Petersburg and Richmond. During the retreat of Lee’s army to Appomattox Simms was captured with a large portion of the army on April 6, 1865 at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek. Unlike the rest of the army who surrendered at Appomattox and were parolled a few days later, Simms and many of the officers from Sayler’s Creek were imprisoned at Fort Warren in Massachusetts. Simms was finally paroled and released on July 24, 1865.

After the War

Simms returned to Covington, Georgia and resumed his legal career. He was twice elected to the Georgia State Legislature, serving for the term of 1865-66 and from 1877 until his death. His wife, Mary, would die in 1894.

James Phillip Simms died on May 30, 1887, and is buried at Covington in Southview Cemetery.