The purported last Union officer killed in the War Between the States was a product of Harvard, shot down by a 14-year-old member of the Confederate home guard more than a week after Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.
Edward Lewis Stevens, Harvard Class of 1863, had enlisted as a private in the 44th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment on Sept. 12, 1862. The Brighton, Mass., native was 20 years old when he joined up.
He was later commissioned an officer in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African-American units and the subject of the 1989 film Glory.
Stevens was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 54th in April 1864, nearly a year after the regiment had attempted to take Fort Wagner near Charleston, SC, where Col. Robert Gould Shaw and 280 other members of the unit were killed, wounded or listed as missing in action.
Stevens was promoted to 1st lieutenant in December 1864 and as the war would down, the 54th and other Federal troops found themselves back in South Carolina.
The 54th Massachusetts arrived in South Carolina on April 1, 1865, landing at Georgetown, between Charleston and Wilmington, NC, from Savannah, Ga.
The unit was one of six infantry regiments operating under Maj. Gen. Edward E. Potter, with the 54th contributing 700 officers and enlisted men to Potter’s 2,700-man force.
By April 18, 1865, Potter was in Camden, a medium-sized affluent community a little more than 100 miles northeast of Georgetown. That morning, Potter left Camden and headed south. They had traveled 10 miles on the Stateburg Road and encountered no opposition until they reached a fortified Confederate position at Boykin’s Mill.
Boykin’s Mill was little more than a grist mill, church and small collection of homes, but its defense were enhanced by the presence of a millpond, along with streams and a swamp.