Stephen Atkins Swails Photo

Stephen Atkins Swails

Born: Feb 23, 1832

Death: May 17, 1900

Birthplace: Columbia

Nationality: United States

Stephen Atkins Swails

Date of Birth : Feb 23, 1832
Date of Death : May 17, 1900
Birth Place : Columbia

Stephen Atkins Swails was a soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although originally enlisting as a private, he was the first African-American soldier promoted to noncommissioned officer rank in that conflict, as evidenced by the U.S. War Department's initial refusal of that promotion due to his "African descent." Swails was a free black who was so light in coloring that he was often mistaken as white. He was single and employed mostly as a waiter in Cooperstown, New York at the start of the Civil War, and although he fathered several children by Sarah Thompson, he never married her.. His enlistment papers state he was employed as a boatman in Elmira, New York when he joined the army. In 1863, he answered Frederick Douglass' call to arms and joined the 54th Massachusetts when it began forming, and served in that regiment, eventually being commissioned as an officer, until the end of the war. After the war, he settled in South Carolina and later Washington, D.C., becoming a lawyer and politician.

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