Maj. Henry Rathbone (USA)

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Maj Henry Reed Rathbone

Birthdate: (74)
Birthplace: Kenwood, Oneida, Madison County, New York, United States
Death: August 14, 1911 (74)
Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany
Place of Burial: Stadtfriedhof Engesohde, Hanover, Hannoversche Landkreis, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) Germany, Specifically: Grave reused in 1952
Immediate Family:

Son of Jared Lewis Rathbone and Pauline Noyes Rathbone Rathbone
Husband of Clara Harris
Father of Henry Riggs Rathbone; Gerald Laurence Lawrence Rathbone and Clara Pauline Randolph
Brother of Charles Rathbone
Half brother of Pauline Harris

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About Maj. Henry Rathbone (USA)

Henry Reed Rathbone (July 1, 1837 – August 14, 1911) was a United States military officer and diplomat who was present at the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Rathbone was sitting with his fiancée, Clara Harris, next to the President and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when John Wilkes Booth entered the president's box at Ford's Theatre and fatally shot Lincoln. When Rathbone attempted to prevent Booth from fleeing the scene, Booth stabbed and seriously wounded him.

Early years

Henry R. Rathbone was born in Albany, New York and was the son of Jared L. Rathbone, a merchant and businessman, who later became Albany's mayor. At the time of his father's death, Rathbone inherited the very considerable sum of two hundred thousand dollars from his family's estate. His widowed mother, Pauline Rathbone, remarried Judge Ira Harris, who was appointed U.S. Senator from New York after William H. Seward became Lincoln's Secretary of State. As a result of this marriage, Ira Harris became Rathbone's step-father and his daughter, Clara, became Rathbone's step-sister. Although this unusual series of events made them stepbrother and stepsister, they were not related by blood.

Rathbone studied law at Union College, was a member of the Sigma Phi Society, and briefly worked in a law partnership in Albany before entering the Union Army at the start of American Civil War. During the war, Rathbone served as Captain in the 12th infantry regiment; by the war's end, he had attained the rank of major.

Presence during the assassination

On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife Mary decided to attend a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. Earlier that day the Lincolns had invited several people to accompany them, including General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, but all of them declined for various reasons. Mrs. Lincoln finally invited Major Rathbone and Clara Harris, and they accepted. The young couple had recently become engaged. Mrs. Lincoln was fond of Clara, having previously invited her to attend numerous social functions at the White House.

During the play, John Wilkes Booth surreptitiously entered the Presidential box and shot Lincoln with a Derringer pistol. Rathbone grappled with the assassin and was severely wounded by Booth, who also wielded a large dagger. After stabbing Rathbone in the arm and slashing at his head, the assassin leapt from the box onto the stage and reputedly cried out "Sic semper tyrannis," then "The South is avenged." Although he had broken his leg (fibula) two inches above the ankle jumping on to the stage, Booth successfully escaped, and remained at large for almost two weeks. Meanwhile the dying Lincoln was taken across the street to the house of William Petersen, where Clara Harris remained with Mrs. Lincoln during her vigil of some nine hours. This death watch lasted through the night, until morning, when Lincoln died at 7:22 A.M. on April 15, 1865.

Another tragedy

Rathbone recovered from his wounds and married Clara Harris on July 11, 1867. They had three children. In 1882, Rathbone was appointed U.S. consul to Hanover, Germany, and his family accompanied him there. For some time there had been signs of deteriorating mental health, which culminated in his murdering his wife on December 23, 1883. After he killed Clara, Rathbone attempted suicide by stabbing himself. Their children, who were also almost killed by their father, were taken to live with their uncle, William Harris, in the United States.

When the police arrived, the bleeding Rathbone claimed there were people hiding behind the pictures on the wall. He spent the rest of his life in the asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany. He died in 1911 and was buried next to Clara in the city cemetery at Hanover/Engesohde. As time passed, the cemetery management, looking over records concerning plots without recent activity or family interest, decided in 1952 that Rathbone's and Clara's remains could be disposed of.

Family and cultural depictions

Rathbone's eldest son, Henry Riggs Rathbone (1870–1928), was a U.S. Congressman from Illinois.

Henry Reed Rathbone and his wife, Clara Harris, are the subjects of "Henry and Clara" (1994, published by Ticknor & Fields), a historical fiction by Thomas Mallon.

Civil War Union Army Officer, he is best known to history as companion of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre, and a witness to his assassination on April 14, 1865. Considered a brilliant and brave young officer, he joined the Union Army in 1861, and rose to Major of the 12th United States Regular Infantry regiment. He and his fiancée, Clara Harris (daughter of powerful New York Senator Ira Harris), were guests of President and Mrs. Lincoln in the private State Box of the Ford Theatre on the fateful night of the Lincoln assassination. Immediately after John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln, Major Rathbone attempted to overpower the assassin. It was because of his efforts that Booth was unable to make a clean jump from the private box and broke his leg. In the process, Major Rathbone was seriously wounded in the head and arm by Booth with a hunting knife. Although he survived his wounds, his head injury made him prone to bouts of depression, moodiness and other physical ailments. Still, when offered the appointment as Consul to Germany by President Chester A. Arthur, he accepted. Moving with his wife and three children to Hanover, the new life he hoped to find was not to be realized. He became even more despondent until, on December 23, 1883, he shot his wife and attempted to commit suicide. He survived, but after being found guilty of his wife's murder, was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. He was buried in the city cemetery at Hannover/Engeohde. However, as time passed, cemetery officials checked lots with no recent burials and no correspondence from family. It was decided that his remains could be dug up and the bones disposed of by cemetery management. The Rathbone children were raised by their uncle, William Harris, of New York. Major Rathbone's son and namesake Henry later became a Republican congressman for Illinois and introduced the bill to purchase the Oldroyd Lincoln Collection in 1926, which provided the foundation for the Ford's Theatre Museum. (bio by: [fg.cgi?page=mr&MRid=46502360" target="_blank Ashley)]

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Maj. Henry Rathbone (USA)'s Timeline

July 1, 1837
Oneida, Madison County, New York, United States
February 12, 1870
Age 32
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
August 26, 1871
Age 34
Albany, Albany County, New York, United States
September 15, 1872
Age 35
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
August 14, 1911
Age 74
Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany
August 14, 1911
Age 74
Stadtfriedhof Engesohde, Hanover, Hannoversche Landkreis, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) Germany, Specifically: Grave reused in 1952