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May 28, 1865

First Responder Leale: The Eyewitness Account of Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination By The Doctor Who Treated Him at the Scene

Autograph Letter Signed
8 pages
SMC 1004
On the most important night of his life, Charles Augustus Leale – age 23, six weeks out of Medical School, and an Army Assistant Surgeon of Volunteers for all of seven days – went to Ford’s Theatre to see President Lincoln. He had heard that Lincoln would be attending the April 14th performance of "Our American Cousin" and wanted, he said, to behold the face of the “Savior of his Country.” He was delighted, then, when Lincoln passed by him on his way into the Presidential Box. “His face was perfectly stoical; his deep-set eyes gave him a pathetically sad appearance,” he recalled years later. “The audience seemed to be enthusiastically cheerful, yet he looked peculiarly sorrowful, as he slowly walked with bowed head and drooping shoulders toward the box. I was looking at him as he took his last walk.”

Leale’s crucial role in the terrible events which followed is exhibited here, in pages taken from his eyewitness account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. They detail how on hearing a shot, followed by calls for a doctor to come forward, he vaulted over the seats as he made a direct line through the excited crowd to the President’s Box, the first physician to arrive:

saw the President sitting in the arm chair with his head thrown back. On one side was Mrs. L. and on the other Miss Harris. The former was holding his head and crying bitterly for a surgeon while the others . . . were standing crying for stimulants, water, etc., not one going for anything . . . I sent one for brandy and another for water, then told Mrs. L. that I was a surgeon, when she asked me to do what I could. He was then in a profound coma, pulse could not be felt, eyes closed, stertorous breathing…


Young Leale immediately took charge, but could tell at once that the President was as good as dead. “His wound is mortal,” Leale pronounced. “It is impossible for him to recover.”
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