"What is remarkable about this newly discovered report is its
immediacy and poignancy. You can sense the helplessness Leale and
the other doctors felt that night, but it does not have the
sentimentality or added layers of later accounts. It is truly a
first draft of history," said Daniel W. Stowell, director of the
Papers of Abraham Lincoln, the group conducting a monumental search
for documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln.
Papers of Abraham
Lincoln researcher Helena Iles Papaioannou unexpectedly came across
Leale's 21-page report while searching the records of the surgeon
general in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Leale, an army
surgeon, wrote out his story just hours after the president died,
but the text of that first report had remained undiscovered until
now. For nearly a century and a half, it had been tucked away in one
of hundreds of boxes of correspondence to the surgeon general The
newly discovered report is not in Leale's hand but is a "true copy"
written in the neat and legible hand of a clerk.
Leale's report details his actions on that fateful night --
arriving at Ford's Theatre around 8:15 p.m.; finding his seat in the
dress circle, about 40 feet from the president's box; seeing the
president and his party arrive a few minutes later; hearing the
shot; seeing John Wilkes Booth leap to the stage; the ensuing
confusion; getting to the presidential box; Mary Lincoln's pleas for
help; examining the unconscious president and finding his wound;
removing a blood clot from the head wound, which eased Lincoln's
breathing; conferring with other doctors who had arrived; moving the
president to the Petersen house across the street; and remaining
there until Lincoln died the following morning at 7:22.
Charles A. Leale was 23 years old in April 1865, and he had
received his medical license from the Bellevue Hospital Medical
College in New York only six weeks earlier. Despite his youth, Leale
was in charge of the Wounded Commissioned Officers' Ward at the
United States Army General Hospital in Armory Square in Washington.
Leale had been present outside the Executive Mansion a few nights
earlier, not far from John Wilkes Booth, when President Lincoln
delivered what became his final speech to a crowd celebrating the
surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Although a central participant in the drama of Lincoln's final
hours, Leale rarely discussed his role. In July 1867, he sent a
version of his report to Benjamin Butler's Assassination Committee
in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the cover letter, Leale
told Butler that the account was "principally copied from (a never
published) one written by me a few hours after leaving his death
bed." Not until 1909, the centennial of Lincoln's birth, did Leale
give a public, and somewhat embellished, account of his actions. In
a speech to the New York Commandery of the Military Order of the
Loyal Legion of the United States, Leale described that night 44
years earlier. The account was published and has become the standard
text of Leale's actions and role.
Leale's report may be viewed, among other recent finds, on the
Papers of Abraham Lincoln website,
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing
project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating
and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during
his lifetime (1809-1865). The project is administered through the
Presidential Library and Museum and is co-sponsored by the
Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois
Springfield and by the Abraham Lincoln Association.
Below is an exact transcript of Dr. Leale's report:
Report of Dr.
Charles A. Leale
April 15, 1865
Having been the
first of our profession who arrived to the assistance of our late
President, and having been requested by Mrs. Lincoln to do what I
could for him I assumed the charge until the Surgeon General and Dr.
Stone his family physician arrived, which was about 20 minutes after
we had placed him in bed in the house of Mr. Peterson opposite the
theatre, and as I remained with him until his death, I humbly submit
the following brief account.
I arrived at Ford's
Theatre about 8¼ P.M. April 14/65 and procured a seat in the dress
circle about 40 feet from the President's Box. The play was then
progressing and in a few minutes I saw the President, Mrs Lincoln,
Major Rathbone and Miss Harris enter; while proceeding to the Box
they were seen by the audience who cheered which was reciprocated by
the President and Mrs Lincoln by a smile and bow.
The party was
preceded by an attendant who after opening the door of the box and
closing it after they had all entered, took a seat nearby for
The theatre was
well filled and the play of "Our American Cousin" progressed very
pleasantly until about half past ten, when the report of a pistol
was distinctly heard and about a minute after a man of low stature
with black hair and eyes was seen leaping to the stage beneath,
holding in his hand a drawn dagger.
his heel got entangled in the American flag, which was hung in front
of the box, causing him to stumble when he struck the stage, but
with a single bound he regained the use of his limbs and ran to the
opposite side of the stage, flourishing in his hand a drawn dagger
and disappearing behind the scene.
I then heard cries
that the "President had been murdered," which were followed by those
of "Kill the murderer" "Shoot him" etc. which came from different
parts of the audience.
I immediately ran
to the Presidents box and as soon as the door was opened was
admitted and introduced to Mrs. Lincoln when she exclaimed several
times, "O Doctor, do what you can for him, do what you can!" I told
her we would do all that we possibly could.
When I entered the
box the ladies were very much excited. Mr. Lincoln was seated in a
high backed arm-chair with his head leaning towards his right side
supported by Mrs. Lincoln who was weeping bitterly. Miss Harris was
near her left and behind the President.
the President I sent a gentleman for brandy and another for water.
When I reached the
President he was in a state of general paralysis, his eyes were
closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his
breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous. I placed my
finger on his right radial pulse but could perceive no movement of
the artery. As two gentlemen now arrived, I requested them to assist
me to place him in a recumbent position, and as I held his head and
shoulders, while doing this my hand came in contact with a clot of
blood near his left shoulder.
Supposing that he
had been stabbed there I asked a gentleman to cut his coat and shirt
off from that part, to enable me if possible to check the hemorrhage
which I supposed took place from the subclavian artery or some of
Before they had
proceeded as far as the elbow I commenced to examine his head (as no
wound near the shoulder was found) and soon passed my fingers over a
large firm clot of blood situated about one inch below the superior
curved line of the occipital bone.
The coagula I
easily removed and passed the little finger of my left hand through
the perfectly smooth opening made by the ball, and found that it had
entered the encephalon.
[to top of second column]
As soon as I
removed my finger a slight oozing of blood followed and his
breathing became more regular and less stertorous. The brandy and
water now arrived and a small quantity was placed in his mouth,
which passed into his stomach where it was retained.
Dr. C. F. Taft and
Dr. A. F. A. King now arrived and after a moments consultation we
agreed to have him removed to the nearest house, which we
immediately did, the above named with others assisting.
When we arrived at
the door of the box, the passage was found to be densly crowded by
those who were rushing towards that part of the theatre. I called
out twice "Guards clear the passage," which was so soon done that we
proceeded without a moments delay with the President and were not in
the slightest interrupted until he was placed in bed in the house of
Mr. Peterson, opposite the theatre, in less than 20 minutes from the
time he was assassinated.
The street in front
of the theatre before we had left it was filled with the excited
populace, a large number of whom followed us into the house.
As soon as we
arrived in the room offered to us, we placed the President in bed in
a diagonal position; as the bed was too short, a part of the foot
was removed to enable us to place him in a comfortable position.
The windows were
opened and at my request a Captain present made all leave the room
except the medical gentlemen and friends.
As soon as we
placed him in bed we removed his clothes and covered him with
blankets. While covering him I found his lower extremities very cold
from his feet to a distance several inches above his knees.
I then sent for
bottles of hot water, and hot blankets, which were applied to his
lower extremities and abdomen.
Physicians and Surgeons about this time arrived among whom was Dr.
R. K. Stone who had been the President's Physician since the arrival
of his family in the city.
After having been
introduced to Dr. Stone I asked him if he would assume charge
(telling him at the time all that had been done and describing the
wound) he said that he would and approved of the treatment.
The Surgeon General
and Surgeon Crane in a few minutes arrived and made an examination
of the wound.
When the President
was first laid in bed a slight ecchymosis was noticed on his left
eyelid and the pupil of that eye was slightly dilated, while the
pupil of the right eye was contracted.
About 11. P.M. the
right eye began to protrude which was rapidly followed by an
increase of the ecchymosis until it encircled the orbit extending
above the supra orbital ridge and below the infra orbital foramen.
The wound was kept
open by the Surgeon General by means of a silver probe, and as the
President was placed diagonally on the bed his head was supported in
its position by Surgeon Crane and Dr. Taft relieving each other.
About 2 A.M. the
Hospital Steward who had been sent for a Nelatons probe, arrived and
examination was made by the Surgeon General, who introduced it to a
distance of about 2½ inches, when it came in contact with a foreign
substance, which laid across the track of the ball.
This being easily
passed the probe was introduced several inches further, when it
again touched a hard substance, which was at first supposed to be
the ball, but as the bulb of the probe on its withdrawal did not
indicate the mark of lead, it was generally thought to be another
piece of loose bone.
The probe was
introduced a second time and the ball was supposed to be distinctly
felt by the Surgeon General, Surgeon Crane and Dr Stone.
After this second
exploration nothing further was done with the wound except to keep
the opening free from coagula, which if allowed to form and remain
for a very short time, would produce signs of increased compression:
the breathing becoming profoundly stertorous and intermittent and
the pulse to be more feeble and irregular.
His pulse which was
several times counted by Dr. Ford and noted by Dr King, ranged until
12 P.M. from between 40 to 64 beats per minute, and his respiration
about 24 per minute, were loud and stertorous.
At 1 A.M. his pulse
suddenly increasing in frequency to 100 per minute, but soon
diminished gradually becoming less feeble until 2.54 A.M. when it
was 48 and hardly perceptible.
At 6.40 A.M. his
pulse could not be counted, it being very intermittent, two or three
pulsations being felt and followed by an intermission, when not the
slightest movement of the artery could be felt.
now became very short, and the expirations very prolonged and
labored accompanied by a gutteral sound.
6.50 A.M. The
respirations cease for some time and all eagerly look at their
watches until the profound silence is disturbed by a prolonged
inspiration, which was soon followed by a sonorous expiration.
The Surgeon General
now held his finger to the carotid artery. Col. Crane held his head,
Dr Stone who was sitting on the bed, held his left pulse, and his
right pulse was held by myself.
At 7.20 A.M. he
breathed his last and "the spirit fled to God who gave it."
During the night
the room was visited by many of his friends. Mrs Lincoln with Mrs.
Senator Dixon came into the room three or four times during the
The Presidents son
Captn R. Lincoln, remained with his father during the greater part
of the night.
death had taken place, we all bowed and the Rev. Dr. Gurley
supplicated to God in behalf of the bereaved family and our
(signed) Charles A.
Leale M. D.
L. 262. S. G. O.
Chas A Leale
Report on death of
[Text from file received from
the Illinois Historic