What’s Up With That Cane?

26 07 2011

My current read, At the Precipice: American’s North and South During the Secession Crisis, by Shearer Davis Bowman, hepped me to a bit of information of which I was previously unaware, and prompted a trivia question for you, dear readers.

We all know that on May 22, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was brutally attacked in the Senate chamber with a gutta-percha walking stick in the hands of cowardly Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina.

Any idea why Brooks carried the cane? Here’s a hint: it wasn’t for show, and it wasn’t strictly for beating defenseless Yankees.

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16 responses

26 07 2011
Bob Huddleston

Wasn’t Brooks crippled from a previous duel? Another trivia about him: IIRC, a 1990s congressman from SC carried as part of his official bio that he was a descendent of Bully Brooks.

26 07 2011
Teej Smith

Wasn’t Brooks crippled from a previous duel

Yes, he was, Bob, by none other than Louis Wigfall.

Teej

26 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Bob and Teej,

Good job. Brooks was in fact shot through the hip in an 1840 duel with later Texas Senator Louis Trezevant Wigfall, on an island in the Savannah River.

28 07 2011
Andy Hall

Wigfall, who William C. Davis describes accurately as a “blowhard,” lies a moulderin’ in the grave a few blocks from my house. Pretty cool stuff, although his grave is mostly unknown except the serious buffs. Wherever he is now, Wigfall cannot be happy about that.

28 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Hi Andy,

Wigfall is prominent in Adam Goodhart’s “1861″. I either did not know, or had completely forgotten, Wigfall’s role in Anderson’s capitulation of Ft. Sumter. Wigfall rowed out to the fort during the bombardment to demand its surrender.

28 07 2011
Andy Hall

Wigfall was a crazy-ass wild man — seriously. He opposed the original version of the Homestead act because, he said publicly, 160 acres was too small an allotment to establish a proper plantation. Privately he is rumored to have complained that it “gave homes to the homeless, land to the landless, but no n____s to the n_____less.”

He was the original commander of the 1st Texas Infantry, and then the famous Texas Brigade, but he was a little too fond of the bottle and resigned his commission to enter Confederate politics instead.

26 07 2011
Susan

More trivia connected with Brooks. The little town where I am staying this summer in South Carolina called Manning has an intersection downtown called Brooks and Keit. Look Keit up .

Also the State Museum in Columbia has a ring made from the broken cane and a collection of canes that were sent to Brooks after his cane broke.

Funny what we latch on to as kids. That picture of Sumner being caned is one of my two earliest memories of studying history in school by the way the other one was of the Pilgrims signing the Mayflower contract. I guess I have always been a history Geek .

26 07 2011
Dick Stanley

I’ve always been interested that Rep. Wm. Barksdale of Mississippi is supposed to have stood by as some sort of “second” for Brooks during the caning.

26 07 2011
Ken Noe

I believe Brooks’ seconds were Lawrence Keitt (see above) and Henry Edmundson. I grew up near the old Edmundson place in southwest Virginia.

26 07 2011
Dick Stanley

Wikipedia’s entry on Barksdale says he “allegedly” stood by Brooks. I forget where I saw it, but it was in a Mississippi history of the war. Maybe more Southern reps than actually participated wanted in on the notoriety for their political “good.”

26 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

I think Ken is referring to Brooks’s seconds in the 1840 duel, while Dick is thinking of the caning. Yes, I have heard that Barksdale “stood by” Brooks during the later incident.

26 07 2011
Ken Noe

No, I was thinking of the caning, Harry. Edmundson went into the Senate with Brooks while Keitt jumped in and held off anyone who wanted to help Sumner. Keitt was censured, Edmundson was charged but not convicted, and Barksdale seems to have escaped notice.

26 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

OK, Ken – thanks for the clarification. I have seen references to Barksdale’s presence at the caning, but they are always couched in terms like “rumored” and “said to have been”.

28 07 2011
Harry Smeltzer

By the way, I’ve been notified by Westholme Publishing that their Fall 2012 catalog will feature a book on The Caning by Stephen Puleo.

29 07 2011
Dick Stanley

Presume it will present what Sumner had said on the floor of the House that led to his beating: IIRC “fighting words” about Southern slave owners routinely raping their female slaves. Sumner was a fire-breathing abolitionist.

31 07 2011
Will Hickox

It doesn’t take a fire-breathing abolitionist to acknowledge that slaveholders raped their female slaves.

Brooks’s immediate reason for the caning was that Sumner had made a speech in which he ungallantly referred to the embarrassing spitting habit of Brooks’s relative, Sen. Andrew Butler. Brooks claimed he was merely punishing Sumner for offending his kinsman’s honor.

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