Found After 147 Years: Doctor's Report of the Lincoln Assassination

By Veronique Greenwood | June 7, 2012 3:58 pm


Dr. Charles Leale, an Army surgeon, was sitting 40 feet away from Abraham Lincoln when he was shot the evening of April 14, 1865. Rushing to the wounded president’s side, he found himself the first doctor on the scene. His account of what came next—all 22 pages of it—was discovered recently  by a researcher looking through boxes in the National Archives for yet-undiscovered letters written by or to President Lincoln. The report, though written in a formal style, gives an immediate glimpse into what happened that night after John Wilkes Booth fired his pistol:

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.

Keep reading the digitized report here, courtesy of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Chris

    Doctors had such nice handwriting back then.

  • Iain

    legible! Back when penmanship was important and part of an education. The style is Italic I believe and books teaching how to do it are readily available. I learned it in just a few weeks and it impresses the hell out of people.

  • Susan

    The handwriting is not the doctor’s. This is a “true copy” which means it is not the original, but was written out thereafter and verified, presumably by the doctor or another authority.

  • DMPalmer

    I believe that this was written by a scribe (scrivener? professional handwriter) and probably not by the Doctor. The last page indicates that it wasn’t the original manuscript when it says:

    True copy (redink)(signed)(/redink) Charles A Seale, MD

    So even in those days, the doctor would write you a prescription for leeches, the apothecary would misread it as loaches, and pretty soon your humors are even more unbalanced that when you started.

  • Roland

    Was this truly written in the doctor’s hand? It is possible that it was dictated to a scribe or secretary. The last page (#22) was clearly written in a different hand – perhaps that was the doctor’s?

  • Daniel

    Dr. Leale wrote out his report a few hours after Lincoln died. The best we can tell is that a clerk in the Surgeon General’s office made this copy from Leale’s original within a few weeks or months after the assassination. Leale still had his original document in 1867 when he sent testimony to Benjamin Butler’s Assassination Committee in the House of Representatives, and perhaps still in 1909 when he first spoke publicly about the events of that night. The location of that account written by Leale on April 15, 1865, is unknown, and it may not have survived.

  • Tanmoy Biswas

    the handwritting of the doctor is really nice :p


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