Rathbone grew up in state capital of Albany, New York. Born and raised there, his circumstances changed when he was eight years old when his father died. His mother was remarried three years later to New York Senator Ira Harris. In addition to gaining a new step-father, Henry also gained four step-siblings. One of which was his future wife, Clara Harris.
Henry left home for for prep school as a teenager, then attended Union College in nearby Schenectady, obtaining a Masters of Arts degree. In addition he studied law and worked at the practice of his step-uncle Hamilton Harris, being admitted to the bar in 1859.
When the Civil War broke out Henry joined the 12th U.S. Infantry, officially dated May 1861. He was commissioned the rank of Captain and his infantry was involved in many battles of notoriety, including the battles of Antietam, Yorktown, and Fredericksburg. After serving his time on the battlefields, Henry moved to a position with the Provost-Marshal General Bureau in Washington D.C.in the winter of 1864. It was also around this time that he and Clara became engaged. Henry did well at his position, and in March of 1865 he was promoted to the rank of Major.
All was going well for the engaged couple and in the evening of April 14, when Clara received an invitation from her friend Mary Todd Lincoln, the two gladly accepted. They joined the Lincolns in their carriage a little after 8 pm that fateful night, and the foursome was in the Presidential box around 8:30. Major Rathbone sat in the far corner of the box, next to Clara and furthest from President Lincoln. Henry later stated the when John Wilkes Booth entered the box he was "intently observing the proceedings upon the stage" (Worst Seat in the House - Amazon) and didn't see the assassin approaching.
When the shot of Booth's gun rang out Henry saw spun in his seat to see "through the smoke, a man between the door and the President." Rathbone didn't waste any time and he "instantly sprang towards" John Wilkes Booth. The two men grappled with each other momentarily, until Booth was able to break free, grab a hunting knife he carried and swing it down upon the Major. It sliced deep into Rathbone's left arm, into the meat of the bicep. The wound caused Henry to release Booth, and the assassin made his famous leap to the stage, escaping out the back door of the theatre.
With all the attention properly on the slain President, Rathbone bled profusely from his arm. He joined the group of soldiers, doctors and Mary Todd across to the Petersen house, with assistance from Clara. Upon entering the house, he rested against the foyer wall, trying his best to retain consciousness, but the loss of blood was too much. He fainted in the hallway soon after arriving. He was placed into a carriage to Senator Harris' home, where the family doctor, G.W. Pope tended to his wounds. The doctor later noted the the knife of John Wilkes Booth came within one third of inch from the brachial artery, which would have cause Rathbone to bleed to death in five minutes.
Henry recovered over the next several months, although he had trouble with that arm for the rest of his life. Clara and Henry married two year later, on July 11, 1867. They had three children over the course of the next five years, Henry Riggs, Gerald Laurence and Clara Pauline. In an odd coincidence, the eldest son, Henry Riggs, was born on what would have been Lincoln's sixty-first birthday, February 12, 1870.
Other Pages You May Be Interested In:
As the years progressed, Henry suffered from physical ailments, mostly dyspepsia. In addition, friends noted his mental stability was diminishing as well.He was becoming more reclusive and was grew nervous and suspicious of irrational fears. During this time, the family of five traveled rampantly throughout Europe. Then while in Hanover Germany, in December 1883, Henry and Clara suffered through one last tragedy.
On December 23rd, after a few days of strange behavior, Henry arose from bed around 5:30 a.m. Completely dressed, he left the bedroom, carrying a light and a gun. He approached the bedroom of his children and asked the nurse inside to open the locked door. He wished to visit with his kids. The nurse, who was also Clara's sister, was unsure. A moment later, Clara awoke and approached Henry in the hallway. Seeing the gun in his hand she asked him to come back to the bedroom and called out to her sister, "Lock the door and save the children; there is going to be dreadful work." (Worst Seat in the House - Amazon)
This angered Rathbone and the couple began arguing in their bedroom. There were sounds of struggle, and the sister tried to intervene. But Henry cast her out of the bedroom. Not long after Clara screamed, "Henry, let me live!". Then gunshots echoed through the house. The sister burst into the room and found Clara laying on the bed, blood covering her torso. She'd been stabbed and shot twice in the chest.
Henry laid on the floor. He too was covered in blood, stabbing himself five times. He looked around, then at the sister and asked "Who could have done this? I have no enemies!" Clara died moments later and was buried in a nearby Hanover cemetery. The three children went to live with their uncle Colonel William H. Harris, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Henry was found insane by a german court and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in asylum in Hildesheim, Germany. He remained there for twenty-seven years until his death on August 14, 1911.