To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds

Abraham Lincoln: The Final Casualty of the War

"This Dust was once the Man"

The probe used by Dr. Barnes to locate
      the ball (M-151 00402), and fragments of Lincoln's skull removed at
      autopsy (M
      762 09602, M 762 10098) On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was attending a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington. John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and fired a single bullet from a derringer into the back of Lincoln's head. As Booth escaped from the theater, Dr. Charles Leale made his way through the audience to Lincoln's box. Leale quickly assessed the wound as fatal. The president was moved to a boarding house located across the street from Ford's Theatre. Several physicians attended Lincoln, including U.S. Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes of the Army Medical Museum. Using a probe, Barnes located some fragments of Lincoln's skull and the ball lodged 6 inches inside his brain. Lincoln, who never regained consciousness, was comforted until his breathing stopped at 7:20 a.m. on April 15.

The entry from the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion" reads:

Museum illustrator Hermann Faber
         sketched this scene of Lincoln's death. This deathbed scene was drawn
         by memory
         immediately after the body was removed to the White House. CASE.-A. L-----, aged 56 years, was shot in the head, at Washington, on the evening of April 14th, 1865, by a large round ball, from a Derringer pistol, in the hands of an assassin. Dr. Charles A. Leale being close at hand, went instantly to the wounded man, whom he found "in a profoundly comatose condition,"… the breathing "exceedingly stertorous." No pulsation was perceptible at the right wrist. When the head was examined, "I passed my fingers over a large firm clot of blood,…[that] I easily removed, and passed the little finger of my left hand through the perfectly smooth opening made by the ball, and found that it had entered the encephalon. As soon as I removed my finger, a slight oozing of blood followed, and his breathing became more regular and less stertorous." After the administration of a small quantity of brandy and water,…the patient was removed to a neighboring house... His clothing was removed, and he was placed in bed. His extremities were cold. He was covered with warmed blankets, and bottles of hot water were applied to the lower extremities. It was now about eleven o'clock at night, the wound having been inflicted about half past ten. His family physician, Dr. Robert H. Stone, and Surgeon General Barnes, and Assistant Surgeon General Crane, arrived presently;... The Surgeon General accordingly kept the external wound open by means of a silver probe, until, a Nelaton's probe being brought, he made an exploration of the course of the ball. A splinter obstructed the track at the depth of about two and a half inches. An inch and a half further on the bulb came in contact with a foreign body, which proved to be the disc from the occipital forced out by the ball; passing beyond this the ball was detected, at a distance of over six inches from the entrance wound….it was decided that no attempt should be made to remove it or the foreign bodies, further than to keep the opening free from coagula, which, when allowed to form and remain for a very short time, would produce signs of increased compression, the breathing becoming profoundly stertorous and intermittent, and the pulse more feeble and irregular. The protracted death-struggle ceased at twenty minutes past seven o'clock on the morning of April 15th, 1865.