Artifacts of the Month: Ambrotype, medal, and pin of a Civil War soldier

“Be just and fear not.” With these words, David Ward Simmons, UNC class of 1861, signed a classmate’s autograph book. Three years later, Simmons died at the age of 23 of wounds sustained on the battlefield near Petersburg, Virginia.

Our August Artifacts of the Month, donated by a relative of Simmons, include an ambrotype of Simmons posing with a musket and two of his personal belongings: a Dialectic Society medal and a small pin.

ambrotype, medal, pin

Simmons was born on March 31, 1841 in Onslow County. As a young man, he entered UNC-Chapel Hill, where he studied law and joined the Dialectic Society. The Di Society is the obvious origin of the medal, the inscription of which reads “DIALECTIC SOCIETY.”

Dialectic Society medal

What’s less clear is the meaning of the pin. (If you can offer any insights, please share them in the comments.)


Measuring just about an inch in diameter, the pin bears the inscription, “UBI CONSULUERIS MATURE FACTO OPUS EST.” (Translation: When you have made your plans, you must act quickly.) And, at the bottom, a “D.S.” (David Simmons? Dialectic Society?) Is the insignia in the middle (L.I.S.?) from a fraternity?

Is there a clue on his autograph page?

autograph page

After graduating, Simmons served as a Lieutenant in Company B, 41st N.C. Regiment. The Siege of Petersburg began June 9, 1864, and lasted nine months. Simmons was wounded June 21, less than two weeks into the siege. He died four days later, on June 25, 1864.

It’s a rare and welcome occurrence that we receive artifacts related to a 19th-century UNC student; rarer still that they come to us with a beautiful photograph of the student himself. When viewed together, these three artifacts deliver a unique glimpse into a life that ended too soon. We’re honored to have them in the collection.

5 thoughts on “Artifacts of the Month: Ambrotype, medal, and pin of a Civil War soldier”

  1. As odd as it may sound I would check the old cemetery on campus at UNC, particularly in the Dialectic Society and Philanthropic Society sections, for similar emblems. There may be additional clues lurking on memorial inscriptions.

  2. Joseph,
    Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll check the old Chapel Hill Cemetery. We shared the pin with a friend of the NC Collection who’s well-versed in all things Di-Phi. But he was not familiar with the emblem. That said, we didn’t check the Di-Phi section of the Cemetery to see whether there are graves bearing the symbol.

  3. Knowing the two society plots well, there’s nothing of emblems on them, except for the gate. I’m thinking about the other, L.I.S. pin. My first thought is that it’s a relative of D.W.S. If so, the coincidence of D.S. on this medal is just that.

  4. I suspect the monogram in the center is “JLS” and likely stands for the initials of a Literary Society. For example, “Jackson Literary Society”.
    The “D.S.” at the bottom may stand for the school. For example “Dixon School”.
    I would check which prep. school he attended.
    This is all assuming that the pin in question belonged to Simmons. Is there any information on the back of the pin?

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