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Lincoln’s brother-in-law buried in Camden

Posted: December 11, 2012 8:28 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2012 5:00 a.m.
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Todd

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Midlands residents watching Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Lincoln, may not know that there is a Camden connection to the 16th President of the United States. The fact that his brother-in-law, Dr. George Rogers Clark Todd, is buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery is likely nothing new to long-time residents, however. With the debut of Spielberg’s movie, recollections of the past have reemerged, and Todd is part of that past.

Todd was a brilliant surgeon and a supporter of the Confederate cause. Unfortunately, his brutality and cruelty towards his fellow man during bouts of drunken stupor along with a loose tongue and sometimes questionable judgment overshadowed his accomplishments. A man who could have been an icon for the South became an eye-sore for many.

Although born to a prominent family from Lexington, Ky., Todd’s childhood was less than idyllic. His mother died the day following his birth, and the subsequent remarriage of his father, Robert Smith Todd, to Elizabeth Humphreys resulted in an upbringing mired with resentment and jealously.

It was a house divided -- with the children of the first marriage apparently receiving less favorable treatment than the children of Humphreys’. It would also become a house of divided political loyalties.

Not uncharacteristic of families from the Commonwealth of Kentucky at the time, the Todds had varying alliances to the North and the South. Most notably, his sister, Mary, became First Lady of the Union as the wife of Abraham Lincoln. Todd and his brother David, meanwhile, sided with the Confederacy.

Serving as a doctor for the Confederate army, Todd became the first surgeon to perform a successful amputation at the hip joint and pioneered a quinine treatment for pneumonia. He first served at the prison camps in Virginia, but his apparent brutality toward Union patients resulted in his transfer to a Georgia post. Todd was then arrested in Georgia for using “incendiary language,” and was later assigned to a hospital in Charleston.

Likely due to his continued mistreatment of Union soldiers, Todd was moved from Charleston to Camden. He was ordered by the Confederate States of America (CSA) surgeon general to head the “wayside hospitals” -- makeshift hospitals that had been established in Camden to accommodate the flux of incoming convalescing soldiers by rail from Virginia battlefields. The buildings used to house Confederate soldiers recovering from wounds and ailments were mainly on lower Broad Street around the Robert Mills Courthouse, but also included the Greenleaf Villa at Broad and Laurens streets.

While caring for patients at the Greenleaf Villa, Todd is said to have met Martha Lyles who he would soon after marry, a Camden native and daughter of a local physician. This would be Todd’s second marriage, as the first had ended in divorce on grounds of cruelty.

The couple moved to Barnwell after the war where Todd, with assistance from his new bride, opened a private practice. They are said to have lived happily in the South Carolina town until Mrs. Todd’s untimely death in 1889. The two had a child together, George Jr., who would later become estranged from his father.

According to Camden Archives records, after the death of his wife, Dr. Todd was prone to drink excessively and encountered legal difficulties in Barnwell. An article transcribed from the 25 May 1892 issue of The State newspaper published in Columbia describes an additional run-in with the law. The article reads as follows:

A Shocking Affair

A Prominent physician Arrested Upon a Serious Charge in Barnwell

Barnwell, S. C. May 23. – Special. On last Thursday Coroner Peacock was called upon to hold an inquest over the dead bodies of a young white woman (and her unborn infant) who it appears had been led astray by overtures of a young railroad contractor from the West … A jury was empanelled and several witnesses examined, including three highly intelligent and respectable physicians, and verdict was rendered to the effect that the deceased came to her death from the affects of a criminal operation performed by Dr. G. R. C. Todd, a prominent physician of this county.

Punishment for the crime was not found in archive records.

Dr. Todd was found dead on April 27, 1900, in his home due to a self-administered overdose of chloroform. He is buried at the Camden Quaker Cemetery beside his second wife.

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