Maj. Henry Reed Rathbone was the man in the Presidential box with Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the evening of 14 Apr 1865 when the President was shot. He died early the next morning. He is my 5th cousin 4x removed, on my father’s side. Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, had accepted an invitation to accompany the President and First Lady to see Our American Cousin performed at Ford’s Theatre. They are pictured in a famous illustration of the event by Currier & Ives (see below).
During the play, noted stage actor (and Confederate spy) John Wilkes Booth surreptitiously entered the Presidential box and fatally shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a Derringer pistol. Rathbone attempted to apprehend Booth and, during the struggle, Booth slashed Rathbone’s left arm with a Bowie knife from the elbow to his shoulder. After the attack, Booth leapt from the box onto the stage and reputedly cried out “Sic semper tyrannis,” (“Thus always to tyrants” – the motto of Virginia) as he fled the theater. Booth remained at large for twelve days. Meanwhile, the mortally wounded President was taken to a nearby house after doctors decided that Lincoln would not survive the journey back to the White House. Despite his serious wound, Rathbone escorted First Lady Mary Lincoln to the house where Lincoln was taken, and shortly thereafter, passed out due to loss of blood. Clara Harris arrived at the house soon after and held Rathbone’s head in her lap while he drifted in and out of consciousness. A surgeon who had been attending the President finally examined Rathbone and realized his wound was more serious than initially thought. Booth had severed an artery located just above Rathbone’s elbow and had cut him nearly to the bone. Rathbone was taken home while Harris remained with Mrs. Lincoln during her vigil at the Petersen House for some nine hours. This death vigil lasted through the night, until morning, when President Lincoln died at 7:22 AM on 15 Apr 1865.
Although Rathbone’s physical wounds healed, his mental state deteriorated in the years following Lincoln’s death as he anguished over his perceived inability to thwart the assassination attempt. He married Clara Harris on 11 Jul 1867, and the couple had three children. Rathbone resigned from the Army in 1870, having risen to the rank of brevet colonel. After his resignation, he struggled to find and keep a job due to his mental instability. Rathbone became convinced that his wife Clara was cheating on him and became jealous of other men who paid attention to her. He also resented the attention Harris paid their children and reportedly threatened his wife on several occasions after deciding that Harris was going to divorce him and take the children. Despite his behavior, President Chester Alan Arthur appointed Rathbone as the U.S. Consul to the Province of Hanover in 1882. The family relocated to Germany where Rathbone’s mental health continued to decline.
On 14 April 1883, Rathbone attacked his children in a fit of madness. Rathbone fatally shot and stabbed his wife, who was attempting to protect the children. Rathbone then stabbed himself five times in the chest in an attempted suicide. He was charged with murder but was declared insane by doctors after blaming the murder on an intruder. He was convicted and committed to the Asylum for the Criminal Insane in Hildesheim, Germany, where he died in 1911. The couple’s children were sent to live with their uncle, William Harris, in the United States.
Henry Reed Rathbone was the 4th great grandson of John Rathbun (1629-1702) and Margaret Acres (1633-1716), my 8th g-grandparents. They left England and arrived in Massachusetts in about 1654. In 1661, they moved again, and they become some of the “First Settlers” of Block Island, Rhode Island.