Remembering Lt. Stephen Atkins Swails
Unfortunately we don’t see this particular image often enough. If a black Civil War soldier makes the news it is usually the result of an SCV chapter trying to make a point about loyal black Confederates. Well, perhaps a few happened to find themselves on the front lines given that thousands of black slaves supported the various Confederate armies in various capacities. In this photograph the descendants of Lt. Stephen Atkins Swails of the 54th Massachusetts stand alongside blue-clad reenactors along with a flag (on the far left) that belonged as much to Swails as it did any white soldier. With the help of amateur historian Billy Jenkinson, Swails’ remarkable story is now part of the history books. Following the war Swails remained in South Carolina and was eventually elected to the state legislature as a Republican. Michele Hewitt Webster, Swails’ great-great-granddaughter had this to say:
"I think that he’d have to be disappointed that what he had done in this country, that his history — the history of our people — were not included along with everything else."
His political career was over by 1877 following an assassination attempt and the end of Reconstruction. Swails secured a job in Washington, D.C. and died in 1900. With the help of the African-American Historical Alliance a five-foot tall blue granite memorial was recently unveiled at Swails’ grave-site.