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First Lt. Swails was a member of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment; enlisting and rising through the ranks to receive a commission.
After the war, he worked as an agent for the Freedman's Bureau, became a lawyer and stayed in the South, becoming active in the political life of South Carolina, where he had fought during the war. He became the mayor of Kingstree, a state senator (1868–1878), and a member of the U.S. Electoral College. He also edited a newspaper, the Williamsburg Republican.