Description

    Charles A. Leale Autograph Letter Signed "Chas. A. Leale", 8 pages, 5" x 8", "Armory Square", U.S. Army General Hospital, Washington, D.C., 28 May 1865, to "Friend Dudley [Dr. Dwight Dudley of Maine]" with envelope. An intensely dramatic and observant eyewitness account of Abraham Lincoln's final hours, written by the young physician who first came to his aid at Ford's Theatre. Dr. Leale, who had been appointed an Assistant Surgeon of Volunteers less than a week before the fatal night, sent this letter to someone who was evidently a medical colleague and had inquired about the tragedy.

    Leale replies at length: "I had charge of the President until his family physician arrived. That night was the only time that I have been to the theatre since I came here and then partly to see Mr. Lincoln and Gen. Grant [early papers had announced that Grant would be the President's guest for the evening]. I took a seat in the dress circle near the President's box, heard the report of the pistol then saw him [Booth] jump . . . with his drawn dagger and rush across the stage. I immediately ran to the box and . . . 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, torturous breathing. I immediately with assistance placed him . . . recumbent . . . on the floor. While doing this I put my hand on a part of his coat near the left shoulder saturated with blood. Supposing him to have been stabbed I asked a person near by to cut off his clothes which he did with a jack knife. As soon as his shoulder was laid bare and no wound discovered, I examined his head and first felt a protuberance about one inch to the right of med. line and the same distance above the superior curved line of the occupant. I removed the clot and introduced the little finger of left hand completely through the cranium. I then knew it was fatal and told the bystanders that it was a mortal wound. Dr. [Charles S.] Taft and Dr. [Abraham A. F.] King now came in and we removed him immediately to Patterson's [sic Petersen's] house just opposite. I first intended to have him taken . . . to the White House but I was afraid he would die while going there. Besides, after he was taken out to the street his carriage was not to be found. After we put him in bed we sent for bottles of hot water to apply to his extremities. Before these arrived the room was completely crowded. I . . . saw a Capt. who I asked to have the room cleared which he did . . . all leaving except Mrs. L. and Miss Harris. I went to Mrs. L. and asked her if she would have the kindness to go to the next room for a minute so as to allow us to do all we could and examine his wounds. She did so and several Drs then came in, among them Dr. [Robert K.] Stone, the family physician, who was introduced to me. When I asked him if he would take charge of the President he said that he would when I resigned. The Surg. Gen. [Joseph K. Barnes], Surg. [Charles H.] Crane, and others now came in. I then went to the head of the bed near his left shoulder where I remained until he breathed his last. He was completely insensible from the time that he was shot. . . . They tried to give him a small quantity of brandy but he could not swallow it. Mustard poultices were applied during the night." Leale then abruptly changes scene, noting that he had "a ticket to the Green Room and . . . the carriage next to the Surg. General at the funeral", and comments on the trial of the assassination conspirators: "I went to see them last week at the court room. They are a very inferior looking set of men. Dr. Mudd is the only one that has any intellectual expressions (I hope that if the charges are true against him he will be unable to tell what school he rec'v'd his diploma from). They all look as if they did not have any hope. O'Laughlin is very nervous and trembles terribly. They are all very pale except the Dr." Leale closes with a brief comment about the Grand Review of the Armies (for which, he notes, he had seats on the stand next to President Johnson): "the soldiers were as black as Indians and covered with dust." An exceptional, early, and comprehensive account, one of the finest extant by an eyewitness. Letter is toned with some mild stains. Envelope is toned and lightly stained as well. Both are fine.


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    Auction Dates
    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
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