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Notes on Col. William Swiggett


 

From "The Leader & Star Register"
Seaford, Sussex County, Delaware
20 January 2000

 

Two Seafordians were leaders on both sides of Civil War
By Wright Robinson
Editor Emeritus

It is surprising how many young Seafordians left their native community here and went on to find fame and fortune elsewhere. From time to time in coming weeks I plan to write about the careers of many of these men and women. They grew up here, left their home town, and made outstanding successes in other places and in unusual fields.

Surely one of the very earliest success stories in this series might start with Col. William Swiggett, a member of Seaford's pioneering Swiggett family. Col. Swiggett was a grandson of one of Seaford's very first settlers, Aaron Swiggett, who had moved to Seaford in 1813 from Kent County, Md.*

Old Mr. Swiggett opened a general store on Water Street in partnership with George Hazzard, who had come here from Lewes. The two men became successful. Both married and had families. Mr. Swiggett's oldest son, William, married here and soon became the father of William Jr., who was born in 1841.

When William Jr., was 5 years old his parents moved to Georgetown. And it was from our county seat that the Swiggett name eventually became a part of the history of this nation.

It all began when Fort Sumter became the focal point of our nation's entry into the Civil War. President Lincoln called for volunteers and young Swiggett was among the first in Georgetown to respond. He signed as a Private.

Quickly he was promoted to a second lieutenant as his unit was mustered in as Company G, First Delaware Volunteers. This regiment was enlisted for 90 days. Most of that time was spent guarding the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad.

At the end of that time, when the new First Delaware was organized for three years service, Swiggett was made first lieutenant of Company C. At the battle of Antietam Swiggett led his company in a charge across the fields of the Roulette Farm and was only a short distance from the main Confederate defense line in Bloody Lane when he was struck down by two bullets. When the First Delaware was forced to retire two men of his company carried the unconscious Swiggett from the field.

Swiggett rejoined his regiment as Captain a few weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg, but his wounds had not healed sufficiently for him to undergo rigorous service. He was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps at Meridian Hill. He was mustered out of service on April 6, 1864, and returned to Delaware.

Although still weak, he was anxious to return to service and helped organize the 9th Delaware Regiment. He was appointed major when that outfit was mustered in that Fall. A later promotion made him a lieutenant colonel, but his tour of duty took him away from battle action when his regiment was assigned to guard prisoners at Fort Delaware. When the war ended he was still at that post.

Upon return to civilian life, Col. Swiggett did not return to either Seaford or Georgetown. He accepted an appointment as mail agent for the Delaware Railroad, with his offices in Wilmington. Finally, in 1882, President Chester Arthur appointed him postmaster of Wilmington and he served in that capacity until 1886. Finally, he resumed his former position with the Delaware Railroad and was a frequent visitor to his native Seaford as a part of his work schedule. He died in 1896.

And lest we forget, Seaford sent one of it's citizens to the Confederacy at the same time that Col. Swiggett was a Union officer. And that particular Seafordian attained an even higher rank than Col. Swiggett. He became a general in the rebel forces.

Shortly before the beginning of the Civil War, Leonadas (sp?) Polk was a teacher in a private school in Seaford. That school stood on ground that is now a part of Odd Fellows Cemetery. Its students were the children of most of our town's leading families, and its small faculty had been carefully selected for the teaching roles. Mr. Polk must have been a graduate of a southern military college before coming here, because at the onset of the war between the states he resigned his post here and traveled to Georgia to accept a commission in the Confederate forces there.

At the height of the war, an entire division of Confederate forces was placed under the command of Gen. Leonadas Polk. His command saw action in various southern engagements. His fame as a leader was acclaimed throughout the South. Now, I never was one to spend much time studying the military side of this nation's terrible civil insurrection; so I never got greatly involved in military celebrities.

But once, many years ago, I had a visitor in my office who came to Seaford to look up information on Leonadas Polk. She was writing a biography of the distinguished general. She had come to Seaford to learn something about his life while he was here as a teacher in our private school.

I was sorry to have to tell her that I knew almost nothing about the man. A Seaford Episcopal minister, the Rev. Dr. John Crosby, had come across some sketchy information he had found in his church's records that indicated that young Polk had indeed, been a teacher here- and that he had resigned to accept a commission in the Confederate Army.

The lady left here without adding much to her biography. But she convinced me that indeed, Gen. Polk, of Civil War fame, had once taught school here, and deserved a place in our town's Hall of Fame if we ever had one.

 

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This Page Belongs to E. Parker Todd.