“I look upon them simply as flesh wounds.”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

Having gone around with Southerners and Northerners of various stripes, we ought to come back to Charles Sumner himself. We left him in his bed, marveling that such a thing as his caning could happen. Dr. Cornelius Boyle, who stitched Sumner up just outside the Senate chamber, called on him at home an hour thereafter. Boyle told the House committee that the bleeding stopped as soon as he closed the wounds. On his housecall, he found Sumner “doing very well.”

Howell Cobb asked Boyle’s impression of Sumner’s injuries:

I look upon them simply as flesh wounds.

Another member, unnamed in the report, pressed on the point and Boyle repeated himself. Not quite satisfied, the committee asked how long Sumner would likely convalesce:

His wounds do not necessarily confine him one moment. He would have come to the Senate on Friday, if I had recommended it. […] He could have come with safety, as far as the wounds were concerned.

Yet Sumner did not appear. Boyle told the committee that friends advised Sumner not to turn out the following Monday. The committee asked if any doctors gave advice contrary to Boyle’s. The doctor didn’t know of any and blamed Sumner’s continued absence on his many non-medical friends, who fussed after the Senator and convinced him that he had a fever.

Sumner’s brother George, who came down from Massachusetts in a hurry, stands prominent in Boyle’s testimony. Nevermind the doctor’s twice daily visits, George Sumner

said he ought not to come out, and cited a great many cases that had come under his observation in Paris, where death had taken place in six weeks from blows of the head. His brother is not a medical man.

True enough, Boyle advised Sumner against going to the Senate on Friday. The very next day from the caning, he believed Sumner physically capable but appearance unwise “on account of the excitement.” But really, Sumner could have gotten in a carriage and gone to Baltimore. He could have stuck a hat on his maimed head, even. By this point the committee seem suspicious, inquiring about Boyle’s political inclinations. He declared himself “an old-line Whig” and that his politics did not dictate how he treated patients.

It does sound, on the balance, like Sumner bounced back in the initial few days after the caning. He might not have quite reached the level of vigor that Boyle expected, and remained mostly in bed, but Sumner didn’t visibly get worse. A rich Republican, George L. Stearns, dispatched Dr. Marshall S. Perry from Boston to ensure his Senator got the beast treatment. Boyle must either have not known of Perry or not known of his medical education. The Massachusetts doctor arrived on May 25 and discovered one of the wounds healed. The other still looked loose and he detected “a pulpy feeling”. Perry advised Sumner to keep quiet and rest.

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