The day before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, April 13, the city of Washington put on a great display of fireworks, bonfires, and torchlight parades. With the exception of the well-known stage actor, John Wilkes Booth, almost everyone had reason to be cheerful.
At the beginning of April 1865, the Civil War was coming to an end, and Washington, D.C. was ready to celebrate. After Gen. Robert E. Lee's renowned Army of Northern Virginia surrendered just days before, the night of April 14th was meant to be a tremendous night of celebration.
Major Henry Riggs Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris were in a festive mood. President Lincoln specifically requested that Major and Miss Harris attend him and the First Lady to Ford's Theatre that night. Rathbone agreed to the invitation. He had no idea that later that evening, his life would change forever.
Major Rathbone and Clara Harris greeted the President and First Lady at the Harris mansion on the "corner of 15th and H Streets" at 8:20 p.m. on April 14. Rathbone and Harris then traveled with the Lincolns to the play. The concert on stage had come to a halt as the President and his party made their way to the presidential box. The audience began to applaud, and the orchestra began to play "Hail to the Chief". President Lincoln merely smiled, bowed, and proceeded into the waiting box that had been prepared for his party.
John Wilkes Booth snuck in through the Presidential Box entrance at 10:15 p.m. On stage, actor Harry Hawk delivered his famous statement, which elicited boisterous laughter from the audience. The audience erupted in laughter, and Booth fired his shot into the back of Lincoln's skull at this time.
Rathbone attempted to push Booth to the ground after he fired the shot, but Booth was able to free himself by slashing Rathbone in the arm with a knife. The Major leapt at Booth again as he was able to break free from Rathbone's hold, but he was only able to catch a piece of clothes as Booth made the twelve foot leap onto the stage.
Major Rathbone began to feel dizzy in the corridor as President Lincoln was being examined. Rathbone then collapsed and was transported back to the Harris residence. He grew disoriented as a result of the blood loss and continued to talk about the assassination of President Lincoln. Rathbone would be haunted by the president's assassination for the rest of his life. He was continually filled with remorse since he couldn't stop Booth. His knife wound healed with time, but his mental health did not.
Rathbone was 45 years old by the fall of 1882, and he was continually troubled by unexplained medical ailments. One doctor who examined him described the assaults as "neuralgia of the head and face," and Henry reportedly had heart palpitations and difficulties in breathing.
Due to his illness, he retired from the Army in 1870. Rathbone and his family sailed to Germany. However, his condition deteriorated and became even worse after their arrival. He became depressed, and some described him as erratic. His marriage to Clara also suffered more and was stressful for a longer period of time. One of the issues with Henry's depression was that he seemed to believe Clara was leaving him and taking the kids.
Henry lost control on Christmas Eve 1883, grabbing his gun and knife and walking to his children's bedroom. Clara, who had managed to distract Henry, led him into their bedroom and shut the door. Henry shot and stabbed Clara till she died there. Henry then turned the knife on himself, but his suicide attempt failed.
Henry Rathbone was pronounced crazy and was never tried for the crime of murder. After recovering from his injuries, He was transferred to the Provincial Insane Asylum, where he died on August 14, 1911. Major Henry Rathbone suffered for the rest of his life as a result of Lincoln's assassination, and many believe that night in 1865 had a significant role in Henry's mental illness.