Abraham Lincoln: Eyewitness Account of his Shooting (Taft)


assassination & resuscitation
 
The bullet from the assassin's gun entered behind the left ear and lodged behind the right eye. When Dr. Charles Leale arrived in Lincoln's box at Ford's Theater, he found the President without a radial pulse and breathing laboriously, still sitting upright in his chair. Leale, just two months out of medical school 1a, laid Lincoln onto the floor, and resuscitated him using various "physiological" techniques.

Eyewitness accounts of the shooting and its immediate aftermath are available from Dr. Leale MORE and from Dr. Charles Taft SEE BELOW.

An autopsy was performed in the White House (restricted to the head only), as was the embalming 2a.


More...
Taft's account is one of many eyewitness accounts of the assassination collected in book form 3. The account below was published in Century Magazine in February 1893, but was based on notes Taft wrote the day after Lincoln's death, i.e. in April 1865.
The notes from which this article is written were made the day succeeding Mr. Lincoln's death, and immediately after the official examination of the body. They were made, by direction of Secretary Stanton for the purpose of preserving an official account of the circumstances attending the assassination, in connection with the medical aspects of the case.

On the fourth anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter, the beloved President, his great heart filled with peaceful thoughts and charity for all, entered Ford's Theater amid the acclamations of the loyal multitude assembled to greet him. Mr. Lincoln sat in a high-backed upholstered chair in the corner of the box nearest the audience, and only his left profile was visible to most of the audience from where I sat, almost under the box, in the front row of orchestra chairs, I plainly saw that Mrs. Lincoln rested her hand on his knee much of the time, and often called his attention to some humorous situation on the stage. She seemed to take great pleasure witnessing his enjoyment.

All went on pleasantly until half-past ten o'clock when during the second scene of the third act, the sharp report of a pistol rang through the house. The report seemed to proceed from behind the President's box. While it startled every one in the audience, it was evidently accepted by all as an introductory effect preceding some new situation in the play, several of which had been introduced in the earlier parr of the performance. A moment afterward a hatless and white-faced man leaped from the front of the President's box down twelve feet to the stage. As he jumped, one of the spurs on his riding-boots caught in the folds of the flag dropped over the front, and caused him to fall partly on his hands and knees as he struck the stage. Springing quickly to his feet with the suppleness of an athlete, he faced the audience for a moment as he brandished in his right hand a long knife, and shouted "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" Then, with a rapid stage stride, he crossed the stage, and disappeared from view. A piercing shriek from the President's box, a repeated call for "Water! water!" and "A surgeon!" in quick succession, conveyed the truth to the almost paralyzed audience. A most terrible scene of excitement followed. With loud shouts of "Kill him!" "Lynch him!" part of the audience stampeded toward the entrance and some to the stage.

I leaped from the top of the orchestra railing in front of me upon the stage, and, announcing myself as an army surgeon, was immediately lifted up to the President's box by several gentleman who had collected beneath. I happened to be in uniform, having passed the entire day in attending to my duties at the Signal Camp of Instruction in Georgetown, and not having had an opportunity to change my dress. The cape of a military overcoat fastened around my neck became detached in clambering into the box, and fell upon the stage. It was taken to police headquarters, together with the assassin's cap, spur, and deringer, which had also been picked up, under the supposition that it belonged to him. It was recovered, weeks afterward, with much difficulty.

When I entered the box, the President was lying upon the floor surrounded by his wailing wife and several gentlemen who had entered from the private stairway and dress circle. Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale, U.S.V., was in the box, and had caused the coat and waistcoat to be cut off in searching for the wound. Dr. A. F. A. King of Washington was also present, and assisted in the examination. The carriage had been ordered to remove the President to the White House, but the surgeons countermanded the order, and he was removed to a bed in a house opposite the theater. ...

Cited Sources
  1. Kunhardt, Philip B, et al. Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
        
    a  p.356
  2. Sotos, John G. The Physical Lincoln Sourcebook. Mt. Vernon, VA: Mt. Vernon Book Systems, 2008.
        
    a  p.177-179

    Comment: More information at: http://www.physical-lincoln.com/

  3. Good, Timothy S. (ed). We Saw Lincoln Shot. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1995.
        

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