[This biography is in part a condensation from, and in part the words of, a memoir of the late Dr. Turney, prepared by his friend, and professional brother, J. H. Pooley, of Columbus.—EDS.]
The subject of this sketch, the late Dr. Samuel Denny Turney, was born in Columbus, Ohio, December 26, 1824. He belonged to a family of French Huguenot extraction, and which has proved by the men it has produced for successive generations, that it was no mean race. We, as Americans, care little at heart, notwithstanding occasional foolish outbreaks of adulation that seem to speak otherwise, for the vain distinctions of rank and title; and yet we are not without our proper prided in good family connections, and freely endorse the sentiment, "other things being equal, give me blood." And many a fine strain of family, seeking freer outlook and fairer chance in the western world, has left its impress, indelibly and for good, upon our composite American race. Of all of these, non have produced worthier sons, or deserved better of the adopted country, that the French Huguenots.
Dr. Turney's father was a physician, who was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia, in 1786, and removed to Ross county, Ohio, in 1800. He commenced the practice of medicine in Jefferson, Pickaway county. He removed to Circleville about the time the town was first laid out, in 1810; removed from Circleville to Columbus in 1823, where he practiced until his death in 1827.
The following notice of Dr. Daniel Turney, published in one of the local papers at the time, deserves insertion here:
"The deceased was an eminent physician and surgeon, and for may years an arduous and successful practitioner in both departments. The distinguishing characteristics of his mind were firmness, and energy, and ardor in the practice of his profession. Confident in the resources of the healing art, and in his own mind, he never remitted exertions while life remained. His intimate acquaintance with the diseases peculiar to our climate, arising from a sound medical education, and long extensive practice; his energy, and promptitude, and resources, in alarming and complicated cases, as well as his great personal success, render his death a public calamity, which has caused the deepest sensibility. As a skillful and successful practitioner, Dr. Turney has left few, if any, superiors in the State. He was of plain, unaffected manners, generous and liberal as a man, and without the least tincture of avarice in his composition."
This sketch, meager as it is, is not without interest, as it shows whence came some of the traits of his son, which made him so eminently successful in the same arduous profession.
Youngest of a family of four, left an orphan when thus a mere infant, he grew up under his mother's fostering care without the paternal restraint, so wholesome in its influence, and without those means for a thorough education which he would probably have enjoyed had his father lived. Well for him he had a good mother; one of the many whom the world knows not, save as the results of their lives are seen in noble and worth sons who rise up in the after time to call them blessed. Her name was Janet Stirling Denny, daughter of General James Denny, an officer in the war of 1812, and one of the pioneer settlers of Ohio.
Even as a child—almost as an infant—the young Samuel showed strong indications of a character of his own. He was distinguished in the earliest days of his boyhood by his love for books and study, and showed the rudiments of that love for art and the beauty of nature, which was a strong characteristic in his mature years. He attended the common schools and the high school, and, after finishing the course at the latter, he went, through the kindness of M. J. Gilbert, esq., who owned a scholarship there, to Milner Hall, at Kenyon college, Gambier, for two years; at the expiration of this short course, being thrown upon his own resources, he became clerk in the drug store of Sumner Clark, in Columbus, working faithfully by day, and studying by night, being his own principal teacher—now, as always laboring for the much coveted knowledge that comes so easily to some, and is so little prized.
In 1840, the family moved back to Circleville, where he spent the rest of his life. He now entered, as clerk, in the store of Ruggles & Finley, and having determined upon his future profession, he read medicine assiduously, in all his spare time, at first without anybody knowing what he was about, latterly under the direction of Dr. P. K. Hull. He attended lectures at Starling medical college, during the session of 1849 and 1830 [sic.], and at the University of Pennsylvania during 1850-51, graduating from the latter college in April, 1851. He immediately entered into practice in Circleville, where he continued to exercise his profession to the end of his life, with the exception of the time spent in the army during the civil war, and a short vacation of a few months, spent in Europe. He was married, June 17, 1851, to Miss Evalina McCrea, who died in 1870, by whom he had two children, a daughter, who died in childhood, and a son, Harry, who lives to mourn his father's loss and emulate his virtues.
However popular he became afterwards, and no man could be more so, he found a young physician's life, at first, a hard struggle. He had refused a partnership with an older practitioner, proudly desirous of winning his own way. He won his way, professionally, by a hard and long struggle, and became one of the most trusted guides and advisers. He was in partnership before the war, first with P. K. Hull, and subsequently with Dr. A. W. Thompson.
Dr. Turney was never a politician, but he always had opinions, and the people among whom he lived always knew what those opinions were. He was an Abolitionist before the war, even a violent one. His ardent temperament and inborn love of liberty, could not tolerate even the thought of human slavery; and, though these sentiments were by no means popular then and there, he was not the man to flinch from them on that account, but rather the one to die for them, should occasion demand, and this his neighbors and fellow citizens knew right well.
At the opening of the war he was the first surgeon to tender his services to the State, and, until it ended, he was in continuous and active service. He was first attached as surgeon to the Thirteenth regiment of Ohio volunteers, June 1861; commissioned assistant surgeon of volunteers by the United States, February, 1863; surgeon of volunteers, March, 1863; and lieutenant-colonel by brevet, for faithful and meritorious services, in 1865; and he was medical director on the staff of General H. P. Van Cleve, division and post medical director of hospitals at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and held other high and honorable positions which bore the amplest testimony to his patriotism, devotion to duty, and professional efficiency. The surgical history of the war, that noble monument of life and limb-saving surgery, bears ample testimony among that of others, to the labor and skill of Dr. Turney. Had he been so disposed, he might have recorded many more cases, as treated by him, in that treasury of American military surgery; but he was ever reticent of trumpeting his own fame, either by tongue or pen. The cases given in the "Surgical Volume," so called, parts I and II, sufficiently establish his skill as a surgeon and physician.
At the close of the war he returned to Circleville, and, in partnership with Dr. A. W. Thompson, resumed his practice, which in a few years became the largest and most lucrative ever enjoyed by any member of the profession in Pickaway county. It was particularly in the department of surgery his services were, during this period, demanded, so much so that nearly, if not quite all, of this business passed into his hands, and the important operations of lithotomy, tracheotomy, ovariotomy and amputation, necessary within the circuit of his practice, were all performed by him. An intense student, keeping pace with all the reforms in diagnosis and practice, his ideal of resources of the medical art, was never attained; and yet when baffled, such was his infinity of resources, that, instead of ever surrendering to his enemy, disease, he nobly sustained the strife, and yielded only in the presence of the conqueror, Death himself.
Dr. Turney was made surgeon-general of the State of Ohio, in 1868, by Governor Hayes, and again, in 1872, by Governor Noyes—compliments well deserved by his eminent ability and public services during the war. He was appointed professor of physiology and pathology in Starling medical college, Columbus, Ohio, in 1867, but only lectured during one season—that of 1867-68—his large practice precluding the possibility to further devotion to this department of duty. He was very diffident, too, and seemed to have but little confidence in himself as a speaker, but, at a later period, he resumed professorial functions with great success. His partnership with Dr. Thompson was dissolved by mutual consent, January 1, 1874. Retaining a large practice, and devoting himself to it, his incessant labor began to tell upon his health. In June, 1875, warned that he must either take a vacation or soon desist altogether, he went to Europe. He remained abroad until 1876—not a sufficient length of time to thoroughly recuperate—and, on his return, immediately entered practice. He was first in partnership with Dr. C. A. Foster, but in 1877, went into partnership with Dr. A. P. Courtwright, with whom he was associated until his death. In the fall of 1876 he was appointed professor of diseases of women and children, in Starling medical college, which chair he filled with great and increasing acceptance to the close of his life. He was only spared to give one completed course of lectures, and a part of another.
Dr. Turney was, in every sense, a cultured physician—diligent, conscientious, generous; and many kind professional charities endear him to the memory of that class of patients unable to pay fir their doctor's services. As an operator he was fearless, quick, and characteristically nervous and impatient of delay or negligence on the part of an assistant. He was extremely modest, and had a repugnance to professional or other display. In person Dr. Turney was of medium size, rather slender, but of symmetrical proportions, and endowed with great muscular strength and agility. As the portrait which accompanies this sketch will shows, his face was handsome and expressive, and yet, so constantly and quickly did it change that no picture could show it at its best.
Dr. Turney was not a member of any church, but that he was of a deeply religious nature, none who knew him thoroughly could doubt. In this connection, and as a fitting conclusion to this sketch, we reproduce the following extract from a letter of Rev. James F. Franklin, Episcopal rector of St. Stephen's church, Middlebury, Vermont, formerly of St. Phillip's, Circleville:
"Having just learned, and that with great sorrow and grief, of the death of Dr. S. D. Turney, I ask the privilege of expressing my sense of his worth and of our loss. It was with joy and pride that I called him friend, and it is with a deep sense of bereavement that I write. The fast-falling tears of many who loved him are a tribute to his worth. It was my happy lot to know him intimately, and I loved him dearly. His was not a cold, impassive nature—sparks of righteous anger and indignation were showered upon the objects of his scorn and wrath; but I can testify to an amiability, a tenderness, a sweetness, a love of all things beautiful, rare amongst men. His wide charity many will witness to, and his marked skill and usefulness all will acknowledge.
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