An account of the first doctor to reach Abraham Lincoln after he was shot in a Washington theatre, has been discovered in the US National Archives.
President Abraham Lincoln's killer actor John Wilkes Booth (right)
Dr. Charles Leale, who attended to the mortally wounded Abraham Lincoln and (right) a page from the 21-page clinical report on the President's death
A long-lost report by Dr Charles Leale details the efforts to help the mortally wounded president, and was written just hours after his death.
The reports details how Leale found Lincoln paralysed, comatose and leaning against his wife.
The Army surgeon, who sat 40 feet from Lincoln at Ford's Theater that night in April 1865, saw assassin John Wilkes Booth jump to the stage, brandishing a dagger. Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale pushed his way to the victim but found a different injury.
"I commenced to examine his head (as no wound near the shoulder was found) and soon passed my fingers over a large firm clot of blood situated about one inch below the superior curved line of the occipital bone," Leale reported. "The coagula I easily removed and passed the little finger of my left hand through the perfectly smooth opening made by the ball."
The historians who discovered the report, only rediscovered last month, believe it was filed, packed in a box, stored at the archives and not seen for 147 years. While it doesn't add much new information about the tragedy, "it's the first draft" of history, said Daniel Stowell, director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
"What's fascinating about this report is its immediacy and its clinical, just-the-facts approach," Stowell said. "There's not a lot of flowery language, not a lot of emotion."
A researcher for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Helena Iles Papaioannou, found the report among the U.S. surgeon general's April 1865 correspondence, filed under "L" for Leale.
Physicians continue to debate whether Lincoln could have lived with modern medicine and whether actions such as probing the wound as Leale did contributed to his demise. Trauma treatment was in infancy in 1865, and Leale's report illustrates "the helplessness of the doctors," Stowell said. "He doesn't say that but you can feel it."
Leale wrote a report for an 1867 congressional committee investigating the assassination that referenced the earlier account, but no one had ever seen it, said Stowell, whose group's goal is to find every document written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime.
At least four researchers have been painstakingly scouring boxes of documents at the National Archives for more than six years. They methodically pull boxes of paper – there are millions of records packed away and never catalogued, Stowell said – and look for "Lincoln docs," as Papaioannou called them.
She was assigned the surgeon general's mail and was leafing through letters pitching inventions for better ambulances and advice about feeding soldiers onions to ward off disease when she hit Leale's report, likely rewritten in the neat hand of a clerk.
"I knew it was interesting. What we didn't know was this was novel," Papaioannou said. "We didn't know that this was new, that this was an 1865 report and that it likely hadn't been seen before."
Leale, who was 23 and just six weeks into his medical practice when Lincoln died, never spoke or wrote about his experiences again until 1909 in a speech commemorating the centennial of the president's birth.
While Leale's report includes little sentiment, Ms Papaioannou believes the way he described the moments after Booth disappeared shows how deeply he was affected.
"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," Leale wrote. "I immediately ran to the Presidents box and as soon as the door was opened was admitted and introduced to Mrs. Lincoln when she exclaimed several times, 'O Doctor, do what you can for him, do what you can!'"
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, administered by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, has found and is digitising 90,000 documents, Stowell said. Leale's report – neither written by or to Lincoln – doesn't technically fall in the group's purview, but Stowell said some exceptions are made for extraordinary finds.