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West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Blog


Major Henry Reed Rathbone

This Day in History: Remembering Lincoln’s Assassination


The following  entry from Judge Milton Hirsch’s Constitutional Calendar sheds light on the altruistic acts of Major Henry Reed Rathbone, a U.S. military officer and diplomat who was present at the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. Major 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.


On April 14, 1865 — 150 years ago tomorrow — President and Mrs. Lincoln were accompanied to Ford’s Theater by Major Henry Rathbone and Rathbone’s fiancee Clara Harris, daughter of Sen. Ira Harris of New York.  When John Wilkes Booth shot the president, it was Rathbone who grappled with him.  Booth stabbed Rathbone with a dagger, inflicting a severe gash on his upper arm.  Booth then leaped from the balcony onto the stage, as Rathbone cried out, “Stop that man!”  Regrettably, none of the theater-goers, stunned and confused as they were by the shocking turn of events, had the presence of mind to do so.

Doctors were quickly summoned to the theater-box, to one of whom Rathbone gasped, “I’m bleeding to death.”  But all medical attention was focused on the president.  Rathbone passed out from loss of blood and was two months recovering.

In truth he never recovered.  He and Clara married, and their prospects seemed bright, but Rathbone sank ever deeper into depression and madness – guilt, said his friends, over not preventing Lincoln’s death.  Traveling in Germany in 1883, he shot and killed Clara and tried to kill himself.  He was tried for murder, determined to be insane, and committed to an asylum.  He died there in 1911.

Source: Judge Milton Hirsch’s Constitutional Calendar. Milton Hirsch is a judge of the Eleventh Circuit of Florida.