News--Lincoln's Last Hours and a Mary Lincoln's Guest at The Peterson House, National Institute of Health
This week, Circulating Now marks a pivotal event in
American history with a short series of posts. 150 years ago on April
14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a crowded theater in
Washington DC. On April 15th he died and an autopsy was performed.
Several doctors supported Lincoln in his last hours but no medical
intervention could prevent his death and bystanders could only watch and
On the night of April 14, 1865, a lone assassin shot the President of
the United States at point-blank range during an evening performance at
Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. That evening, John Wilkes Booth
made his way into the theater and to the box where President Abraham
Lincoln, his wife Mary Lincoln, and two guests, Major Henry Rathbone and
Miss Clara Harris were enjoying a performance of Our American Cousin.
Pulling out a single-shot, derringer pistol, Booth aimed the gun,
pulled the trigger and fired a bullet at the President’s head. Many of
us know the details of what occurred at Ford’s Theater that night, but
what transpired after the fatal shot was fired and during the many hours
before the President succumbed to his wounds?
Among the many accounts of that evening is one by physician Charles Leale,
an assistant surgeon with the U.S. Army and the first physician to
reach Lincoln after he was shot. Seated in the dress circle of the
theater, not far from the Presidential box, Leale heard the gunshot and
saw assassin John Wilkes Booth leap to the stage snagging his spur on
the draped flag. As shouts rang out that the President had been
murdered, Leale rushed from his seat to the President’s box. “When I
entered the box,” Leale recounts, “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.” Leale took charge
of the President’s medical care and immediately began to assess his
injuries. He was soon joined by physicians Charles Taft and Albert King.
After consulting together about the President’s condition, the three
physicians decided it was best to have Lincoln moved from the theater to
the nearest house.
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News--Lincoln's Last Hours and Mary Lincoln's Guest at the Peterson House
Image Source: Taken by Alexander Gardner in February 1865, two months before Lincoln’s assassination. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery