Alabama Governors

Wager Swayne

image of Freedman's Bureau Commissioner Wager Swayne




Wager Swayne was born on November 10, 1834, in Columbus, Ohio. His father was Noah Haynes Swayne, a member of the United States Supreme Court. Wager Swayne graduated from Yale College in 1856 and then attended Cincinnati Law School, graduating from this institution in 1859. He returned to Columbus and began practicing law with his father. On August 31, 1861, Governor William Dennison appointed Swayne as major in the Forty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Swayne helped organize the regiment at Mount Vernon, Ohio and accompanied his men into battle in February 1862. The Forty-Third Ohio served under General John Pope and participated in several battles in 1862, including attacks on Island NumberTen, New Madrid, and Cornith, Mississippi. Swayne became a colonel in the Forty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry upon the death of his colonel at the Battle of Corinth.


During 1863, the Forty-Third Ohio served on garrison duty. Assigned first to Memphis, Tennessee, and then Prospect, Tennessee, Swayne served with the Provost Marshal's office. In late 1863, the Forty-Third Ohio received furlough back to Ohio. Most of the men quickly reenlisted, including Swayne.


During 1864 and 1865, the Forty-Third Ohio served under William Tecumseh Sherman and participated in the capture of Atlanta, Georgia, the March to the Sea, and Sherman's invasion of South Carolina. While the Forty-Third Ohio was crossing the Salkehatchie River in South Carolina on February 22, 1865, Confederate soldiers shelled the Union troops. Shrapnel from a Confederate shell struck Swayne in his right leg.


Surgeons amputated Swayne's leg above the knee. Swayne received the Congressional Medal of Honor for rallying his men and leading them in an attack of the Confederate position at Salkehatchie River. Two weeks before being wounded, Swayne had received appointment to the rank of brigadier-general. Because of his wound, Swayne did not see any additional combat in the Civil War, which ended two months following his injury.


Following the Civil War, Swayne remained in the United States Army. In 1865, General Oliver O. Howard, head of the Freedman's Bureau, appointed Swayne to oversee the agency's activities in Alabama. Swayne played a major role in establishing schools for African Americans, including high schools in Selma, Montgomery, and Mobile. He also helped organize Talladega College. He eventually was promoted to major general. He retired from the Freedman's Bureau and the army in 1870.


Upon completing his military service, Swayne established a law practice in Toledo, Ohio. He moved to New York City in 1881, where he established a prominent law firm, representing primarily telegraph and railroad companies. He died on December 18, 1902.


Source: Ohio History Central website (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=365)