How did John Wilkes Booth break his leg?


Portrayal of Booth leaping from the Presidential Box



For nearly one hundred and fifty years the story has been told that John Wilkes Booth broke his leg after leaping unto the stage of Ford’s Theater following the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865. Indeed, it’s well known that Booth got his foot caught up somehow in one of the flags draping the presidential box causing him to land awkwardly-resulting in the injury. Booth had made similar jumps in the past during theatrical performances, but on that particular night “Old Glory” got revenge on the man who delivered a fatal shot to the president of the United States. There is, however, at least one author who questions the veracity of the account so known to all. Michael W. Kauffman, writer of American Brutus suggests that it may actually be false. He mentions that Booth, himself, claimed to have broken his leg when his horse fell. He further goes on to say:

“If Booth had broken his leg in the theater, as history tells us, we should expect to find eyewitness accounts that describe him as limping across the stage. Yet within hours or days of the shooting, dozens of statements were taken, and every one of them described Booth’s flight as a rush or a dead run. Many remarked on how quickly he made it unto the wings.”

Kauffman continues:

“Flying through the door to Baptist Alley, Booth thrust his left foot into a stirrup and almost leaped into the saddle. His movement started the mare, and she pulled out from under him, leaving him twisting with full weight of his body on that (supposedly broken) left leg. Peanuts Borrows and Major Joseph Stewart both saw Booth’s struggle to throw himself onto the horse, and neither reported anything that suggests he was in pain. Nor did Sergeant Cobb notice any discomfort when Booth approached him to cross the Navy Yard Bridge. Not until Booth reached the tavern in Surrattsville was he clearly suffering from a painful injury. He told John Lloyd that his horse had fallen on him, and he boasted of killing the president.”

Of course, this is another of those Lincoln assassination “mysteries” that we’ll never really know the truth about. Personally, I don’t buy it. I think Booth broke his leg from the balcony jump not from a riding accident. I think it is entirely possible that Booth showed no obvious signs of pain after landing on the stage- and for a time thereafter- simply because he was on an “adrenaline rush.” After all, he had just committed the “crime of the century.” By the time of his arrival at the tavern, Booth had started to “come down”-and the pain took over. I think he told Lloyd that his horse had fallen on him because he didn’t want to admit to himself or to others that he failed in a jump that he had successfully accomplished many times previously. It was less hurtful to his pride to say his horse had tripped. By the way, I once broke a bone in my leg practicing judo. I didn’t feel pain from the injury until the next day. At any rate, what is known is that Booth did break his leg and sought medical attention from Dr. Mudd- and because he broke his leg, his escape from greatly slowed and he was eventually caught. Booth didn’t flee out of the country evading justice. Whether it was a flag or a horse doesn’t really matter in the end.

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Tags: , , , ,

5 Responses to “How did John Wilkes Booth break his leg?”

  1. D Andrew Terrill says:

    I saw the flag that was torn by his spur and coated in Lincoln’s blood when it was torn down and used to stop the bleeding.

  2. wms says:

    Watch Killing Lincoln.

  3. Zanni Howe-Bolton says:

    I take it you have never tried to run on a broken leg when in the middle of a potential life or death situation. I have though. No adrenaline in the world can permit you to run on a broken leg at full gait as well as put full weight while trying to climb a panicked horse. He didnt break his leg, I offer, but instead could have injured a tendon.

  4. Lars Bilyeu says:

    I would have to agree with B Nash. Booth wasn’t used to flags being draped around the Box where Lincoln was. Being “tripped” he landed poorly and later lied about it to cover his Actor’s pride. The picture is also incorrect in that he is not holding a pistol. He dropped the pistol and carried his bowie knife to the stage. I have treated numerous patients in our hospital ER and OR. Some of them were surprised to find their leg was broken…until hours later awaiting surgery when they asked for pain meds. The adrenalin rush has been seen and documented numerous times.

  5. Joanna salazar says:

    So Lincoln didn’t die 3 days later,it was 9 hours later????

Leave a Reply