Leale's account is one of many eyewitness accounts of the assassination
collected in book form
The account below was written in 1867, but was based on notes Leale wrote
"a few hours after leaving his death bed," i.e. in April 1865.
[I am at a loss to explain Leale's unusual grammatical constructs.]
On the evening of the 14th April 1865 while engaged with the execution
duties of the United States Army General Hospital "Armory Square"
Washington I was requested to visit Ford's Theatre, being told that the
President Lincoln, General Grant and Staff were to be there.
I arrived at the theatre about 8 1/4 pm and endeavored to procure a seat
in the orchestra but it being so densely crowded I left it for the dress circle
where I found a vacant seat on the same side and within 40 feet of 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, the
play ceased for a short time and as soon as they were seen by the audience
they were cheered which was responded by the president with a smile and
a bow. The President as he proceeded to the box looked expressively
mournful and sad.
The door of the box was opened by an usher who proceeded them but
who after they had all entered closed the door then took a seat near by for
himself. All parts of the theatre were well filled and the play of our
American Cousin was progressing very pleasantly until about 5 minutes
past 10 when on looking towards the box I saw a man speaking with
another near the door and endeavoring to enter, which he at last succeeded
in doing after which the door was closed.
I again looked roward the stage and was pleased with the amusing part
then being performed, but soon heard the report of a pistol, and about a
minute or two after I saw a man with dark hair and bright black eyes, leap
from the box to the stage below, while descending he threw himself a little
forward and raised his shining dagger in the air, which reflected the light
as though it had been a diamond, when he struck the stage he stumbled a
little forward but with a bound regained the use of his limbs and ran to
the opposite side of the stage soon disappearing behind the scenes.
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 remained in my seat [not?]
believing it until I saw some one open the door of
the box, and heard him call for a Surgeon and help.
I arrived at the door of the box, and upon saying that I was a surgeon
was immediately admitted.
When I entered the box, Mr. Lincoln was sitting in a high backed
armchair with his head leaning towards his right-side and which was
supported by Mrs. Lincoln who was weeping bitterly. Miss Harris was at
her left-side behind the President, Major Rathbone was at the door of the
While approaching the President I was told that he had been murdered,
and I sent for some Brandy and water.
Upon Mrs. Lincoln being told that I was a Surgeon she said, "Oh
Doctor do what you can for my dear husband" "do what you
can for him and for Dr. Stone." [sic]
I told her that I would do all which was in my power to do.
When I reached the President he was almost dead, his eyes were closed
he was parallel [sic]. I placed my finger on his right radial pulse,
but could feel no movement of the artery. His breathing
was exceedingly stertorous there being long intervals between
each inspiration and he was in a most profoundly comatosed condition.
With the assistance of two gentlemen I immediately placed him in a
recumbent position while doing this and holding his head and shoulders
my hand came in contact with blood on his left-shoulder, the thought of
the dagger then recuffed to me, and supposed that he might have been
stabbed in the subclavical artery or some of its branches. I asked
a gentleman near by to cut his coat and shirt off that shoulder to
enable me if possible to check the supposed hemorrhage, as soon as his
arm was bared to a distance below the shoulder, and I saw that there was
no wound there, I lifted his eyelids and examined his eyes,
the pupil of which was dilated. I then examined his head and soon
discovered a large firm clot of blood situated about one inch below the
superior curved line and an inch and a half to the left of the median
line of the occipital bone.
The coagnin which was firmly matted with the hair [was] removed [I]
passed the little finger of my left hand directly through the perfectly
smooth opening made by the ball, he was then apparently dead.
When I removed my finger which I used as a knife an oozing of blood
followed and he commenced, to show signs of improvement.
I believe that he would not have lived five minutes longer if the
pressure on the brain had not been relieved and if he had been
left that much longer in the sitting posture.
The Brandy and water, now arrived and I put a small quantity into his
mouth which was the only thing that passed into his stomach from his
assassination until his death.
Dr. C. S. Taft and Dr. A. F. A. King now arrived, and after a moments
consultation we agreed to remove him.
While in the theatre, I was several times asked the nature of the wound
and said that the ball had lodged in the encephalens and that it was a
We now commenced to remove him carefuily descending the steps first
while supporting his head and shoulders as soon as we arrived at the door
of the box, I saw that the passage was densely crowded by those coming
towards that part of the theatre.
I called out twice "Guards clear the passage" which was so rapidly
done that we proceeded without a moments delay towards the stairs leading
to the hall which is entered from the street, when we arrived at the
head of the stairs we turned around those holding his lower extremities
There was an officer present who rendered great assistance in making
the passage through the crowd.
When we arrived to the street I was asked to place him in a carriage and
remove him to the White House this I refused to do being fearful that he
would die as soon as he would be placed in an upright position. I said that
I wished to take him to the nearest house and place him comfortably in
We slowly crossed the street there being a barrier of men on each side
of an open passage towards the house. Those who went ahead of us
reported that the house directly opposite was closed.
I saw a man standing at the door of Mr. Peterson's [sic] house and
beckoning us to enter which we did and immediately placed him in bed,
all of which was done in less than twenty minutes from the time that he
had been assassinated we not having been in the slightest interrupted
while removing him. ...