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By Suzy Barile*

Suzy Barile is the author of Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General,  a captivating, true story about the meeting, courtship, and marriage of Miss Ella Swain and Union General Smith D. Atkins at the close of the Civil War. Ella Swain was daughter of David L. Swain. Contact Suzy at and follow her blog at

39th North Carolina and the Governor's Son

Richard C. Swain was a native of Raleigh, N.C., a graduate of the Medical College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., and the only son of David L. Swain, a former N.C. governor and the president of the University of North Carolina (UNC) for 30 years, and Eleanor Hope White Swain, the granddaughter of the state’s first Revolutionary War governor, Richard Caswell.
A History
North Carolina Governor David L. Swain's son (Ella's brother) was Richard C. Swain, an assistant surgeon with the 39th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. After the war, he relocated to Shannon, Illinois, near Freeport, Illinois, where his sister and brother-in-law lived, and established a medical practice. He died there in a train accident several years later and was buried in the Freeport Cemetery. His gravesite was lost for many years, then rediscovered last summer. This July 23, 2011, a dedication ceremony will be held in Freeport -- Swain is the only Confederate buried in this cemetery, alongside soldiers who served the Union.
Amongst the many soldiers’ graves in Freeport City Cemetery is an unlikely name: Richard Caswell Swain, an assistant surgeon who served with the Confederate States Army.

Named for his maternal great-grandfather, Swain was a smart young man who graduated at the age of 20 from UNC in 1858 and headed to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, PA., to begin his medical studies medicine. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election as president prompted a parade of southern states to secede from the Union and necessitated Swain’s transfer to the Medical College of Charleston (S.C.), before an impending war forced him to leave school prior to graduation. In 1861, he became a physician’s apprentice in Weldon, N.C.

Weldon was a busy town located along the railroad, with war supplies flowing daily from the capital of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA., to Raleigh and other strongholds south. Swain probably treated numerous soldiers injured in battle and sent to military and civilian hospitals.

In the spring of 1862, shortly after his bride of less than a year died unexpectedly, Swain left Weldon for his father’s hometown of Asheville, N.C., in Buncombe County, and volunteered with the 39th North Carolina Regiment. He served as assistant surgeon from August 1862 until his discharge in May 1863, treating soldiers at the military hospital in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Over the next two years, Swain tried to establish practices in both Shelbyville, where he became enamored with and married a Shelbyville girl, and in his hometown of Chapel Hill. But the aftermath of war, and the effects of what today would probably be diagnosed as post traumatic stress syndrome, made it difficult for him to find success.

At the urging of his brother-in-law, General Smith D. Atkins of Freeport, Swain moved to Shannon in Carroll County in early 1868. The soon-to-be-chartered village had a growing population in need of a physician.

The opportunity to move to Illinois with his wife, Margaret Steele Swain, and their daughter Eleanor Louise, allowed Swain to open “an extensive practice in medicine and surgery,” according to the Freeport Weekly Journal.

A letter from his sister, Ella Swain Atkins of Freeport, to their parents in Chapel Hill described his busy life: “ … [he is] attending to his business and plenty business to do . . . He has written us quite often of late but has only been to see us twice since . . . and tho we are ever glad to see him . . . he is where he should be at his post attending to his profession.”

That service to his community was cut short when he was killed in a railroad accident. According to a news item in the February 17, 1872, Medical and Surgical Journal weekly, Swain was attempting to board a moving westbound train on January 29, 1872, when he slipped and fell under the train, and died of his injuries. In published obituaries, both the Freeport Weekly Journal and the local German newspaper noted his “generosity” and “kindly sympathy … to all with whom he came in contact.”

Swain’s remains were sent to Freeport and he was buried in the City Cemetery beside William Eddy, a Union soldier.

Upon the death of Swain’s mother in 1883, and according to her wishes, a monument was erected: “Sacred to the memory of Richard Caswell Swain, son of Hon. David Swain, and Eleanor, his wife, of NC. Born Raleigh, 11/28/1837. Died by accident on railroad neat Shannon, Ill., Jan. 29, 1872. Erected by his affectionate EHWS of Raleigh, NC.”

Over time, however, the headstone was lost. A 1932 cemetery census conducted by the Freeport chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution noted only his name and a portion of the inscription remained.

But that documentation and his CSA records are what his descendants needed to request a new marker from the Veterans Administration. During a 3 p.m. Saturday, July 23, 2011, ceremony, the marker will be placed at the site of Swain’s grave by his descendants.

2011 Suzy Barile. All Rights Reserved.
*Suzy Barile is the 3rd-great niece of Richard C. Swain, and she is the author of the award-winning Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, Eno Publishers (2009), which is about her great-great grandparents, Ella Swain and General Smith D. Atkins. Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General won a Silver Medal IPPY from Independent Publisher in the 2010 awards competition. It competed in the South East Region Non-Fiction category. It has also been recognized by the N.C. Press Club (1st Place - non-fiction) and the National Federation of Press Women (Honorable Mention - Non-fiction), as well as a Willie Peace Award from the N.C. Society of Historians.

Recommended Reading: Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, by Suzy Barile. Description: When a brigade of General Sherman's victorious army marched into Chapel Hill the day after Easter 1865, the Civil War had just ended and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Citizens of the picturesque North Carolina college town had endured years of hardship and sacrifice, and now the Union army was patrolling its streets. One of Sherman's young generals paid a visit to the stately home of David Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and a former governor of the state, to inform him that the town was now under Union occupation. Continued below...
Against this unlikely backdrop began a passionate and controversial love story still vivid in town lore. When President Swain's daughter Ella met the Union general, life for these two young people who had spent the war on opposite sides was forever altered. General Smith Atkins of Illinois abhorred slavery and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. Spirited young Ella Swain had been raised in a slave-owning family and had spent the war years gathering supplies to send to Confederate soldiers. But, as a close friend of the Swain's wrote, when Atkins met Ella, the two "changed eyes at first sight and a wooing followed." The reaction of the Swains and fellow North Carolinians to this North-South love affair was swift and often unforgiving. In Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle and a Yankee General, author Suzy Barile, a great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain and Smith Atkins, tells their story, separating facts from the elaborate embellishments the famous courtship and marriage have taken on over the generations. Interwoven throughout Undaunted Heart are excerpts from Ella's never-before-published letters to her parents that reveal a loving marriage that transcended differences and scandal. Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General has received a Silver IPPY Award for Best Regional Non-Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. About the Author: After a 25-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor, Suzy now teaches English and journalism at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, N.C. She is a graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and earned a master's degree from North Carolina State University. An award-winning writer, Suzy has contributed to the North Carolina Encyclopedia (ed. William S. Powell) and the Book of American Traditions (ed. Emyl Jenkins). Her articles have appeared in the Cary (NC) News, Triangle (NC) Business Journal, News & Observer, among other publications. In 2001, Suzy Barile won a Paul Green Multi-Media Award from the N.C. Society of Historians for her presentation of "The Governor's Daughter and The Yankee General." She is co-editor of "The Papers of Richard Caswell" (N.C.’s Revolutionary War-era governor) for the N.C. Office of Archives & History. She resides in historic Harmony, N.C, and is available for speaking engagements. Contact Suzy at and follow her blog at

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