Charles Augustus Leale (March 26th, 1842 – June 13th, 1932) was a surgeon in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was the first doctor to arrive at the presidential box at Ford's Theatre on April 14th, 1865 after John Wilkes Booth fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head with a Philadelphia Deringer pistol. His quick efforts temporarily prolonged President Lincoln's life, which allowed Lincoln to live until the next morning for almost 8 hours. Charles Leale continued to serve in the army until 1866. He then returned to his home town of New York City where he established a successful private practice and became involved in charitable medical care. One of the last surviving witnesses to Lincoln's death, Dr. Charles A. Leale died in 1932 at the age of 90.
Dr. Leale was born in New York City March 26, 1842, the son of Captain William P. and Anna Maria Burr Leale. He was a grandson of Captain Richard Burr, who, in 1746 sent a cargo of corn to famine-stricken Ireland. Leale began his medical studies at 18, the private pupil of Dr. Austin Flint, Sr., in diseases of the heart and lungs, and of Dr. Frank H. Hamilton in gunshot wounds and surgery. He also studied at various clinics and served a full term as medical cadet in the United States Army.
Charles Leale was 23 at the time of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. On April 11, 1865, six weeks after graduating Bellevue Medical School, he saw Abraham Lincoln giving his last public speech and was quite impressed of Lincoln, so much that Dr Leale wanted to attend the play (Our American Cousin) at Ford's Theater, upon learning that the Lincolns would attend that night.
On April 14, 1865, after John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln during the funniest line of Our American Cousin and escaped from the back of the theater, panic breaks out and Dr Leale rushed to Lincoln's box. He briefly examines Major Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris's boyfriend who was stabbed by Booth, and saw Lincoln slumped in his rocking chair, held by his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. After introducing himself to Mrs Lincoln, he found her husband barely unresponsive. Two other doctors came to the box. After laying Lincoln on the floor, Dr. Leale thought the president might have been stabbed. With William Kent, he cuts away Lincoln's tie and collar while unbuttoning Lincoln's top clothes to find any wounds, but found none. After figuring out that Lincoln has suffered brain damage, Leale found the bullet hole in the back of Lincoln's head, but knowing that the bullet was too deep inside of his head, Leale dislodgened Lincoln's head to improve the breathing and gave him artificial respiration. When Actress Laura Keene was allowed to craddle Lincoln's head, Leale finally realized that Lincoln wasn't going to recover.
Fearing that Lincoln won't survive the carriage ride to the White House, Dr. Leale decided they should take him to the nearest house on 10th Street. So when they picked up Lincoln and carefully carried him out of the theater that was packed with an angry mob, Dr. Leale and his bearers thought they should bring him to the saloon. But the owner of the saloon refused their request. Not knowing where to go, they were summoned by a young man across the street who told them to "Bring him in Here!" It was shortly after 10:30 P.M. Carefully, but slowly, they brought Lincoln into the Petersen House, where they laid him diagonally on the small bed. Ironically, this small bed was previously rented by John Wilkes Booth, who is now escaping into Maryland and was on the run for 12 days until he was shot to death by one of the soldiers, Boston Cobrett.
At that point, Dr. Leale ordered everyone out, including Mrs. Lincoln, so that he and his colleagues wanted to inspect more wounds on the body. With that, he and his men strip Lincoln naked by cutting away all of Lincoln's clothes and found no wounds, once more, but finding that Lincoln's body was icy, the doctors applied hot water bottles, mustard plaster, and warm blankets for the dying Lincoln. At one point, other doctors, including Robert Stone, took charge in caring for Lincoln, though Dr. Leale kept hold of Lincoln's hands most of the night. 56-year-old Abraham Lincoln remained unconscious for 8 hours until he died at 7:22 A.M. on April 15, 1865, surrounded his eldest son, Robert, and his cabinet members, except his Secretary of State WIlliam Seward, who was nearly attacked and disfigured by one of Booth's henchmen, Lewis Powell during the previous same night of Lincoln's Assassination. Mary Lincoln was also not present when her husband died.
Later Life and Death
After leaving the US Army, Charles Leale married to Rebecca Copcutt on September 3, 1867, a daughter of an industrialist of the Bonkers, John Copcutt (1805-1895) in the Copcutt Mansion. Until his retirement in 1928, one year before the Great Depression, Leale was always interested in philanthropic, scientific, and medical projects. He was one of the last surving attendees of Lincoln's Assassination, upon his death on June 13, 1932, at the age of 90. He was survived by five children, his sixth child, Annie Leale (dying in 1915, one year after World War 1 began in Europe). He was buried at Oakland Cemetery in Yonkers, New York. The cuff of Leale's shirt he wore on the night of the incident, stained by Lincoln's blood, was donated to the National Museum of American History.