Disturbing Details Found In Abraham Lincoln's Autopsy Report

On April 14, 1865 — just days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee — Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while the president and his wife attended the comedic play "Our American Cousin." Booth, himself a famous stage actor at the time, entered the box where the Lincolns and their guests were seated and waited for a moment in the play he knew would elicit a big laugh, according to Britannica.

At that point, he burst through the box's inner door and shot Lincoln in the back of his head with a .44 caliber derringer pistol. He slashed one of Lincoln's guests with a knife and then jumped onto the stage, where he yelled either "The South is avenged!" or "Sic semper tyrannis!" — Latin for "thus always to tyrants," the state motto of Virginia, a phrase which had also long been associated with the assassination of the dictator Julius Caesar (via North Jersey).

From Lincoln's shooting to his death

The shooting occurred at some point between 10 and 10:30 p.m., according to the documents obtained by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. Booth escaped from the theater, and the 26-year-old actor would not be located by federal troops until 12 days later; he died in the ensuing standoff, according to Britannica. Lincoln, meanwhile, immediately fell unconscious and paralyzed in the theater. An army surgeon, Charles Leale, ran to treat Lincoln and surmised that the wounds were likely fatal. The president was carried to a nearby boarding house and observed throughout the night by Dr. Robert King Stone, Lincoln's personal doctor.

Stone recorded the change in Lincoln's appearance throughout the night. When Stone arrived, Lincoln was breathing softly, and he hoped that this might mean his wounds were not mortal, but his respiration soon became more labored. Stone noticed that Lincoln's right eye was surrounded by discoloration, and the pupil itself was dilated, while the left eye appeared normal. Throughout the night, however, the left pupil grew, and by the time of Lincoln's death, both pupils were equally enlarged. At one point, Stone made an unsuccessful attempt to locate the bullet by probing the wound, potentially causing Lincoln more harm in the process.

However, Stone concluded, "all aid was useless in a wound of this character." After a long night, Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. on April 15.

'The cause of such mighty changes in the world's history'

Lincoln's autopsy was performed at the White House by Army Surgeons Edward Curtis and Joseph Janvier Woodward, with Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes also in attendance, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. In a letter to his mother, Curtis wrote that Lincoln's body was placed on boards and covered with sheets and towels. He and Woodward began by removing the top of Lincoln's skull to trace the path of the bullet that killed him. They didn't locate it until they removed the brain from Lincoln's body, at which point the bullet fell out of the organ and into a china platter below his head.

"There it lay upon the white china, a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger — dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world's history as we may perhaps never realize," Curtis wrote in his letter.

The gory end to Lincoln's life

In Woodward's autopsy report, the doctor noted that the bullet entered through the occipital bone, about one inch left of center and just above the left lateral sinus, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The bullet lodged itself in the white matter of the cerebrum, according to the report, damaging the left lateral ventricle in the process and filling the brain with blood. The track of the bullet was found littered with clotted blood and bone fragments, according to the autopsy, as well as fragments of the bullet itself.

Externally, the area around Lincoln's eyes were discolored, and his eyes themselves were slightly bulging, which was the result of the build-up of blood in this area. When Curtis washed and weighed the brain, he found that it was of ordinary size and weight, apart from the sections damaged in the shooting.

In addition to performing the autopsy, the doctors also cut off a lock of Lincoln's hair, at the request of his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln (above). The embalmer then prepared Lincoln's body for its public viewing (via Shapell Manuscript Foundation). The corpse of the former president would be on display in an open coffin in the White House, the Capitol, and across the country on a 13-day train journey, according to Britannica. Reportedly, millions of Americans traveled to a point on the route to pay their respects.