‘O Doctor, do what you can,’ Lincoln’s wife pleaded, says new find

WASHINGTON -- Charles A. Leale was in the theater watching the play when he heard a gunshot and saw a man leap to the stage.

At Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, Leale became the first doctor to reach President Lincoln after he was shot.

On Tuesday, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project announced that it had discovered a copy of Leale’s report of events from that night.

“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 report says. “I told her we would do all that we possibly could.’’


The 21-page handwritten copy of Leale’s report was discovered about two weeks ago by researcher Helena Iles Papaioannou while she was poring through records at the National Archives in Washington. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln has been searching for documents written by or to Lincoln.

Leale’s original report has never been found. The newly discovered report is a copy written by a clerk.

Though Leale had sent a version of his report in 1867 to a congressional committee that investigated the assassination, Daniel W. Stowell, director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, said the new find was significant.

“What’s exciting about it is its immediacy and its lack of a sentimentality,’’ Stowell said in an interview. “It’s a very clinical report.’’

“Yet you get the sense of the helplessness of the doctors,’’ he added.

Papaioannou said that after finding the document, “we started looking online, and it was then that we realized that this report, quite likely immediately after Lincoln was shot in 1865, was a new find.’’

Leale, who was 23 in April 1865, described sitting about 40 feet from the president’s box, hearing a gunshot, seeing John Wilkes Booth leap to the stage and hearing cries that the “president had been murdered,” followed by shouts of “Kill the murderer.’’

He described examining Lincoln, moving the president to a boarding house across the street and remaining there with other doctors until Lincoln died the following morning.

“We placed the President in bed in a diagonal position; as the bed was too short,” the report says.


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