Biography of General Samuel McGowan

A son of Irish-Presbyterian immigrants to the United States, Samuel McGowan, though often wounded, excelled as a brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Born in Laurens District of South Carolina on October 19, 1819, McGowan attended and graduated from South Carolina College in 1841. Subsequently, he studied law in Abbeville and was admitted to the bar. McGowan's antebellum career was filled with good public service.

He served thirteen years as a member of the state house of representatives. When War with Mexico broke out, McGowan joined the fighting as a private in the Palmetto Rifles, being commended for gallantry near Mexico City and rising to the rank of staff captain. A major general of militia, McGowan commanded a brigade during the reduction of Fort Sumter in 1861.

In 1862, McGowan was appointed to be colonel of the 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment. This regiment was assigned to Maxcy Gregg's brigade in A.P. Hill's Light Division. After Gregg was killed at Fredericksburg, McGowan was promoted to brigadier general (to rank from January 17, 1863) and took command of the brigade. Except for when wounded, McGowan commanded this brigade for the rest of the War, surrendering with it at Appomattox. Warner's Generals in Gray claims that "McGowan's career and reputation were not excelled by any other brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia."

McGowan was wounded four times during the Civil War. The first time was at "Cold Harbor" during the Seven Days on June 27, 1862 -- he was bruised in the right side by grapeshot and disabled for a time. He was back in command by Malvern Hill, however.

McGowan's second wound occurred at Second Manassas, a battle that was a "hard day" for South Carolina. Although wounded in the thigh, McGowan was with the brigade at Sharpsburg. He was wounded severely at Chancellorsville while standing on top of some works. A minie ball severely injured McGowan's leg below the knee. It was not until February of 1864 that he was able to return to the Army and his brigade command. Even by this time, however, he still needed a cane to walk. McGowan was wounded yet again at Spotsylvania on May 12, this time in the right forearm. This wound was far less serious and he was able to return on August 15 after a brief furlough.

After distinguishing himself in the War, McGowan returned to South Carolina and to politics and law. Returning to Abbeville, he was elected to Congress but refused his seat. McGowan became a leader in the fight against "Carpet Baggers," being elected to the legislature in 1878. In 1879, he was elected as an associate justice of the South Carolina supreme court, a position he held until defeated for reelection in 1893. McGowan died in Abbeville on August 9, 1897 and was buried there in Long Cane Cemetery.

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