From the Baton Rouge Daily Gazette and Comet, October 24, 1860:
An Actor Shot.—The Columbus (Ga.) Sun announces that Mr. J. W. Booth the young tragedian, connected with the theatrical company now performing there, was seriously wounded, a few nights since, by the accidental discharge of a pistol in the hands of Mr. Canning. He (Mr. Canning) was loading the pistol, and when pressing on the cap it discharged, the contents entering Mr. Booth’s thigh, causing a severe wound. Fortunately the ball took a downward direction and escaped the important vessels lying near its course. The accident will disable him for some time.
The actual story, based on a thorough review of contemporary documents, is a bit different. Booth was in Columbus, GA for a series of performances, beginning with his first leading man role in Romeo and Juliet. He was scheduled for the title role in Hamlet on October 12, 1860. Shortly before the play was to begin, Booth was in the hotel room of his manager, Canning, practicing lines with another actor, Johnny Albaugh. His manager came in very tired, and lay down for a nap. Booth saw a pistol in his pocket, and carefully removing it, proceeded to fire at a mark on the wall. He missed, and wanted to take another shot, but noticed some rust on the barrel. He somehow persuaded Canning (who must have been a bit agitated after this rude awakening) to hold the gun while Booth scraped the rust off with his pocketknife. The gun went off, with the result described in the article. Booth recuperated for several weeks, and Albaugh took over for him1.
If that bullet had hit Booth’s femoral artery, Lincoln might have lived to set the tone for reconstruction, and the course of American history might have been very different.
1Kauffman, American Brutus. p. 110.