Soldiers of Gettysburg: Christopher Swann, Powhatan Light Artillery

Private Christopher Swann, Powhatan Light Artillery

His name was Christopher Swann, and he was a private in the Powhatan Light Artillery. Wounded at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, Swann became a prisoner.

Born about 1842, this twenty-year-old enlisted on October 1, 1862, from his home in Powhatan County and mustered into the artillery battery in Richmond Virginia. Swann’s physical description reads “Complexion: Dark. Eye Color: Gray. Hair Color: Brown. Height: 5 ft, 11 inches.”[i]

The unit Swann joined had existed since July 1861. Captain Willis J. Dance commanded the Powhatan Light Artillery and led them in the defenses of Richmond and on the battlefields from Antietam to through the Appomattox Campaign. In the Gettysburg Campaign, the battery rolled in the Reserve Artillery called Brown’s Battalion, attached to Rodes’s Division in the Confederate Second Corps.[ii]

Swann had fought before Gettysburg and had been wounded earlier, as well. During the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, he was wounded. Swann got a furlough, dated February 20, 1863, but whether it was related to his injury recovery or connected to another reason remains unclear.[iii] He had come back after his furlough and was ready to work the cannons again when the Pennsylvania Campaign opened.

The Powhatan Artillery arrived late to the battle-land on July 1 and did not fire on that day. The following day, the artillerymen rolled their four 3-inch rifled cannons into position near the intersection of Fairfield Road and West Middle Street, not too far from Lee’s headquarters at the time of the battle. Here, they opened fire in the late afternoon of July 2, targeting Union artillery batteries on Cemetery Hill. On July 3, they stayed in relatively the same position and fired in the cannonade prior to the mass attack (Pickett’s Charge). Though the Powhatan Artillery fired 308 rounds during the battle, they also lost 20% of the 78 men fighting at Gettysburg.

Private Swann was wounded on July 3, probably near one of the rifled cannons. Details of his injury have not surfaced yet, but apparently he retreated with the Confederate army, likely in an ambulance jolting over the muddy, rutted roads or possibly walking wounded if his injures were less severe. Union cavalry attacked wagons of the Confederate Second Corps near Waterloo, Pennsylvania.[iv] There, Swann was captured. Over the next weeks, his captors moved him to and from different hospitals and prisons and the records may point to a lengthy recovery. [v] He remained a prison until he took an oath of allegiance on June 7, 1865.[vi]

Swann returned home to his family in Powhatan County, but he lived only two years after the war, dying on June 14, 1869.[vii] Since he passed away at age twenty-seven, it is reasonable to guess that he had poor health throughout his life or he may have died as a result of war injuries or illnesses exacerbated in prison.

While Swann’s story has more recorded pieces than many of the other soldiers fighting on the fields at Gettysburg, it usually lies forgotten—overshadowed by the officers and legend writers from Gettysburg. One of the artillerymen firing 308 rounds of ammunition on the blazing hot July days, his life—like so many others—was altered by his experiences near the crossroads town in Pennsylvania.


[i] Christopher Swann in the U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Accessed via Ancestry.

[ii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 27, Part 2. Return of Casualties for the Army of Northern Virginia.

[iii] Christopher Swann in the U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Accessed via Ancestry.

[iv] Kent Masterson Brown. Retreat from Gettysburg (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). 140-141.

[v] Christopher Swann in the U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Accessed via Ancestry.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Swann Family Genealogy Research Database.

4 Responses to Soldiers of Gettysburg: Christopher Swann, Powhatan Light Artillery

  1. According to our family records, Christopher died in a boat fire in Texas in 1869. No exact date is indicated. It seems he and his cousin went to Texas after the war. The Mittie Stephens paddle boat had a terrible fire in February of that year, but his name is not on the list of casualties. Additionally his death date is listed here as June 1869. I wish I could fill in the blanks and finish his story.

  2. I will also mention that Christopher’s brothers Gus, John, and Porterfield were also a part Dance’s Powhatan Artillery. That’s four boys from the same family. Fortunately, the other three brothers were not injured to my knowledge and lived full lives.

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