• Print This Page
  • Download Adobe Acrobat

Abraham Lincoln: The Final Casualty of the War

The Autopsy and Injury

A little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger
Dr. Edward Curtis

On April 15, 1865 at 12:10 p.m., the autopsy of President Lincoln took place in the Guest Room at the northeast corner of the second floor of the White House (currently the President's Dining Room).

Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes and Dr. Robert Stone presided, while Dr. Joseph Janvier Woodward and Dr. Edward Curtis performed the autopsy.

The interpretation of the injury and care provided for President Lincoln are best told by those who were present.

Dr. Joseph Janvier Woodward's official autopsy report:

Surgeon General's Office
Washington City, D.C.
April 15th, 1865

Brigadier General J. K. Barnes
Surgeon General U.S.A.

General:

I have the honor to report that in obedience to your orders and aided by Assistant Surgeon E. Curtis, U.S.A., I made in your presence at 12 o'clock this morning an autopsy on the body of President Abraham Lincoln, with the following results.

“The eyelids and surrounding parts of the face were greatly ecchymosed and the eyes somewhat protuberant from effusion of blood into the orbits.

There was a gunshot wound of the head around which the scalp was greatly thickened by hemorrhage into its tissues. The ball entered through the occipital bone about one inch to the left of the median line and just above the left lateral sinus, which it opened. It then penetrated the dura mater, passed through the left posterior lobe of the cerebrum, entered the left lateral ventricle and lodged in the white matter of the cerebrum just above the anterior portion of the left corpus striatum, where it was found.

The wounds in the occipital bone was quite smooth, circular in shape, with beveled edges. The opening through the internal table being larger than that through the external table. The track of the ball was full of clotted blood and contained several little fragments of bone with a small piece of the ball near its external orifice. The brain around the track was pultaceous and livid from capillary hemorrhage into its substance. The ventricles of the brain were full of clotted blood. A thick clot beneath the dura mater coated the right cerebral lobe.

There was a smaller clot under the dura mater of the left side. But little blood was found at the base of the brain. Both the orbital plates of the frontal bone were fractured and the fragments pushed upwards towards the brain. The dura mater over these fractures was uninjured. The orbits were gorged with blood.

I have the honor of being very respectfully
Your obedient servant.
E. J. J. Woodward
Assistant Surgeon U.S.A.

An excerpt from a letter Dr. Curtis wrote to his mother:

. . . Dr. Woodward and I proceeded to open the head and remove the brain down to the track of the ball. The latter had entered a little to the left of the median line at the back of the head, had passed almost directly forwards through the center of the brain and lodged. Not finding it readily, we proceeded to remove the entire brain, when, as I was lifting the latter from the cavity of the skull, suddenly the bullet dropped out through my fingers and fell, breaking the solemn silence of the room with its clatter, into an empty basin that was standing beneath. 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.



Bullet that took lincoln life
The bullet that took the president's life

This hand-made ball of lead, fired from a Philadelphia Deringer pistol, was removed from Lincoln's brain during autopsy.
NMHM 613,563

    

    

    

Lincoln's Hair
Locks of hair removed from Lincoln's head wound
A small amount of hair from the area surrounding Lincoln's wound was removed by Dr. C. H. Liebermann, one of the surgeons in attendance at Lincoln's bedside, and given by him to Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes. Dr. Stone, who was present at the autopsy, presented a lock of hair to Mrs. Lincoln at her request, and to each of the surgeons present at the autopsy.
NMHM 29,719-1

    

     

    

Bone fragments from Lincoln's skull
Bone fragments from Lincoln's skull
After the autopsy, as Dr. Curtis was cleaning his instruments, he found on one of them a tiny splinter of bone from Lincoln's skull, which had been driven into the brain by the bullet and had adhered to the surgical instrument.
NMHM 613,565