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Henry Reed Rathbone

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 he was stabbed and seriously wounded by the assassin.


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.

File:The Assassination of President Lincoln - Currier and Ives 2.png

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln: from left to right: Major Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth.

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," while some claimed to have heard him say, "The South is avenged." Although he had broken his 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.[1]

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), an historical fiction by Thomas Mallon.

See also[]

32x28px United States Army portal
32x28px American Civil War portal


  • Richard Bak (1998). The Day Lincoln was Shot. Taylor Publishing Company. Dallas, Texas

External links[]

fr:Henry Rathbone