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Civil War Comes To Life
Who is Henry Rathbone?  - Installment 7




A Cup of History

by David Rodriguez

Who Is Henry Rathbone?

Abraham Lincoln was looking forward to going to Ford's theatre that evening. Ever since the previous Sunday, Palm Sunday, Lincoln had been in a good mood following Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, an event that signaled the beginning of the end of the bloody Civil War. It was April the 14th, 1865, Good Friday.

The Ford family, owners of Ford's theatre, had heard earlier that day that there was a possibility that General Grant and his wife Julia would be attending the evening's performance of Our American Cousin with the Lincolns. This would have certainly been a great coup for them and their theatre. A total of 15 people were asked to attend the performance with the Lincolns which included their son Robert and all declined for various reasons. The Grants and the Stantons declined because the respective wives could not stand being around Mrs. Lincoln. At the end a young couple and friends of the Lincolns accepted the invitation. For Major Henry Reed Rathbone, US Army and his fiancée Clara Harris, this evening would dramatically alter the rest of their lives.

Henry Rathbone was born in Albany, N.Y. in 1837. His father Jared L. Rathbone was a successful merchant and businessman and would become Mayor of Albany. Upon his death, Rathbone was left a sum of $200,000 from his father's estate, a considerable amount for the time. His widowed mother, Pauline, would marry Judge Ira Harris who would be appointed US Senator from New York when William H. Seward was appointed the Secretary of State by Lincoln. Rathbone would fall in love with Harris' daughter, his stepsister, Clara, and it would be this unlikely couple who would be sitting next to the Lincolns at Ford's theatre when John Wilkes Booth would enter the Presidential box. After shooting the President, Rathbone tackled Booth. He was stabbed very seriously in his forearm but was able to hold enough of Booth to cause him to jump onto the stage from an awkward position resulting in a broken ankle. The rest of the story is well known. But what happened to Henry and Clara?

After Lincoln was taken to Petersen's House, Rathbone stayed in the hall outside the room were the Lincoln vigil was occurring and bled so severely that he lost consciousness. Clara found him laying in the hall and got a physician to take care of him. Without her intervention, he most likely would have died before Lincoln. He recovered from his wound and stayed in the army for two more years. He would marry Clara in 1867 and they would subsequently have three children. He would always blame himself for Lincoln's death feeling he should have done more. In 1882, he was appointed U.S. Counsel to Hanover (Germany) by President Grover Cleveland. His mental health continued to deteriorate and in December, 1883 he murdered Clara, attempted to kill his children and attempted to commit suicide by stabbing himself six times. After his recovery, he was declared mentally ill and was ordered to spend the rest of his life in an asylum for the criminally insane. He died there in 1911 at the age of 74. He was buried next to his wife in a city cemetery.


Henry Rathbone



 Clara Harris