Less Traveled 2012

Ernie Wiggins



Stephen A. Swails House Historical Marker

Posted 10/3/2011 2:46:00 AM

I was not familiar with the inspiring story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers (Colored) until I saw the movie Glory, which was released in 1989. The story of the first all-black volunteer company in the Civil War, much of the motion picture, including the final battle, was set in South Carolina. It was a moving story, made more so because so many of the film’s most important moments took place here.

Though he’s not not mentioned in the movie, Stephen Atkins Swails, a free black man from Pennsylvania, was a member of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers and fought at the battle of Fort Wagner, a pivotal battle at which many members of the 54th died. Swails, one of about 100 black officers during the Civil War, was wounded twice in battle but survived. He was commissioned by Massachusetts Gov. John Albion Andrew in early 1864 and eventually rose to the rank of first lieutenant.

After the war, Swails made his home in South Carolina, became an agent for the Freedmen’s
and a lawyer in Kingstree. He served as mayor of Kingstree, a state senator and as president pro tempore for three terms. He was also editor of the Williamsburg Republican newspaper.

A historical marker at the site of a house in Kingstree in which he lived from 1868-1879 was erected by the Williamsburg Historical Society in 1998. The marker is at the intersection of Main Street and North Brooks streets in Kingstree. Swails is buried in the Humane and Friendly Cemetery on Cunnington Avenue in Charleston. In 2006, a five-foot granite marker was erected on his previously unmarked grave.