Rathbone, Henry Reed, 1837-1911

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Henry Rathbone was born in Albany, New York, one of four children of Jared L. Rathbone, a merchant and wealthy businessman, who later became Albany's mayor, and Pauline Rathbone (née Penney). Upon his father's death in 1845, Rathbone inherited the very considerable sum of two hundred thousand dollars. His widowed mother, Pauline Rathbone, married Ira Harris in 1848. Ira Harris was appointed U.S. Senator from New York after William H. Seward became President Lincoln's Secretary of State. Harris was a widower with four children whose wife Louisa had also died in 1845. As a result of this marriage, Ira Harris became Rathbone's stepfather and his daughter, Clara, became Rathbone's stepsister. Although this unusual series of events made them stepbrother and stepsister, they were not related by blood. Rathbone and Harris formed a close friendship and later fell in love. The two became engaged shortly before the American Civil War.

Rathbone studied law at Union College and briefly worked in a law partnership in Albany before entering the Union Army at the start of Civil War. During the war, Rathbone served as Captain in the 12th Infantry Regiment and was at the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg. By the war's end, he had attained the rank of major.

On April 14, 1865, Major Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris accepted an invitation to see a play at Ford's Theatre from President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The couple, who had been friends with the President and his wife for some time, were invited after Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia, Thomas Eckert, and several others had declined Mrs. Lincoln's invitation.

During the play, noted stage actor John Wilkes Booth stealthily entered the Presidential box and fatally shot Lincoln in the head with a pistol. As Rathbone attempted to apprehend Booth, Booth slashed Rathbone's left arm with a dagger from the elbow to his shoulder. Rathbone later recalled that he was horrified at the anger on Booth's face. Rathbone again grabbed at Booth as Booth prepared to jump from the sill of the box. He grabbed onto Booth's coat, causing Booth to fall awkwardly to the stage, perhaps breaking his leg. Booth nonetheless escaped, and remained at large for twelve days.

Despite his serious wound, Rathbone escorted Mary Lincoln to the Petersen House across the street, where the president had been taken. Shortly thereafter he passed out due to blood loss. Harris arrived soon after and held his head in her lap while he lay semiconscious. When a surgeon who had been attending Lincoln finally examined him, it was realized that his wound was more serious than initially thought. Booth had cut him nearly to the bone and severed an artery. Rathbone was taken home while Harris remained with Mary Todd Lincoln as the President lay dying over the next nine hours. This death vigil lasted through the night, until morning, when Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 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 Harris on July 11, 1867, and the couple had three children: Henry Riggs (born February 12, 1870, who later became a U.S. Congressman), Gerald Lawrence (born August 26, 1871), and Clara Pauline (born September 15, 1872).

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. He became convinced that Harris was unfaithful. He also resented the attention Harris paid their children and reportedly threatened his wife on several occasions after suspecting that she was going to divorce him and take the children. Nonetheless, President Chester A. 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 December 23, 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 an asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany. The couple's children were sent to live with their uncle, William Harris, in the United States.

Rathbone spent the rest of his life in the asylum. He died on August 14, 1911, and was buried next to his wife 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 both sets of remains could be exhumed and disposed of.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
contributorOf Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762 - 1984 Series: Letters Received, 1805 - 1889 File Unit: 1861 - Rathbone, Henry R - File No. R764 National Archives at Washington, D.C
creatorOf Rathbone, Henry Reed, 1837-1911. Papers, 1862, 1865. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
contributorOf Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762 - 1984 Series: Letters Received, 1805 - 1889 File Unit: 1862 - Rathbone, Henry R - File No. R575 National Archives at Washington, D.C
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive); 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762 - 1984 Series: Letters Received, 1871 - 1894 File Unit: Consolidated Military Officer's File of Major Henry R. Rathbone National Archives at Washington, D.C
contributorOf Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762 - 1984 Series: Letters Received, 1805 - 1889 File Unit: 1863 - Rathbone, Henry R - File No. R7 National Archives at Washington, D.C
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers Houghton Library
contributorOf Record Group 153: Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army), 1792 - 2010 Series: Court-Martial Case File of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators, 4/15/1865 - 7/3/1865 File Unit: Military Commission: James P. Ferguson; Captain Theo. McGowan; Major H. R. Rathbone - No. 24 Item: Military Commission Proceedings No. 24: Testimony of Major Henry R. Rathbone, 5/15/1865 National Archives at Washington, D.C
referencedIn Approved Pension File for Henry R. Rathbone, 12th U.S. Infantry Regiment (Captain); and 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment (Major) (SC-733243) National Archives at Washington, D.C
Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
District of Columbia DC US
Federal Republic of Germany 00 DE
Virginia VA US
Albany NY US
Schenectady NY US
Antietam, Battle of, 1862
Battle of Fredericksburg
Civil War, 1861-1865
Foreign relations
Lincoln, Abraham
Mental illness
Military passes


Birth 1837-07-01

Death 1911-08-14





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