A Civil War Biography

Wagner Swayne

Swayne was born 10 November 1834 in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Yale in 1856, and from the Cincinnati Law School in 1859. Admitted to the bar he began to practice law in Columbus with his father, Noah Haynes Swayne, who in 1862 was named an Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court.

Wagner Swayne entered the Union Army on 31 August 1861 as a major in the 43rd Ohio Volunteer infantry. He took part in the operations against New Madrid and Island # 10. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 14 December 1861 and, along with the 43rd, moved on Corinth, Mississippi after the Battle of Shiloh. He performed gallantly during the 4 October 1862 Battle of Corinth and was promoted to colonel on 18 October. The 43rd, with Swayne in command, would spend the next year and a half doing garrison duty at various points in Tennessee. In May 1864 the 43rd was attached to Brigadier General John W. Sprague's 2nd brigade in the 4th division, XVI Corps and took part in all the major engagements during the Atlanta campaign. Prior to Sherman's March to the Sea, he reorganized his army and the 43rd became part of the 2nd brigade, 1st division, XVII Corps. Swayne was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on 5 February 1865. On 22 February, at the crossing of the Salkenhatchie River in South Carolina, he was hit by a shell fragment and lost his right leg to amputation above the knee. He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on 8 March.

Following the war Swayne remained in the volunteer service. In late 1865 he was appointed by Oliver O. Howard to be Chief of the Freedman's Bureau, directing operations in Alabama. On 1 May 1866 Swayne was promoted to major general of volunteers, to rank from 20 June 1865. This was the last such appointment made during the Civil War era. On 28 July 1866 he was a commissioned a colonel in the newly formed 45th US Infantry. On 2 March 1867 he was brevetted brigadier general in the regular army for gallant and meritorious services in the action of Rivers Bridges, South Carolina, and major general for services during the war. He mustered out of the volunteer service on 1 September 1867. When the Army was reorganized in 1869, the 45th was consolidated with the 14th US Infantry and Swayne was left without a command. He was placed on the retirement list on 1 July 1870. He is best known for organizing an extensive system of common schools for colored children, and establishing high schools at Montgomery, Selma. He also helped establish Talladega College.

After retiring from the military Swayne practiced law in Toledo, Ohio. He moved to New York in 1881 where he maintained a large lucrative practice counseling railroad and telegraph corporations. On 19 August 1893 Swayne was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Corinth. The citation reads, "Conspicuous gallantry in restoring order at a critical moment and leading his regiment in a charge." He died in New York on 18 December 1902 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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