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Major Henry R. Rathbone: Testimony

a witness called for the prosecution, being duly sworn, testified as follows:—


Q. Will you state to the Court whether or not you were in the box of the President on the night of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre?

A. I was.

Q. State all the circumstances that came under your observation in connection with that crime.

A. On the evening of the 14th of April last, at about twenty minutes past eight o’clock, in company with Miss Harris, I left my residence at the corner of Fifteenth and H Streets, and joined the President and Mrs. Lincoln, and went with them, in their carriage, to Ford’s Theatre in Tenth Street. On reaching the theatre, when the presence of the President became known, the actors stopped playing; the band struck up “Hail to the Chief!” the audience rose, and received him with vociferous cheering. The party proceeded along the rear of the dress-circle, and entered the box that had been set apart for their reception. On entering the box, there was a large arm-chair that was placed nearest the audience, farthest from the stage, which the President took, and occupied during the whole of the evening, with one exception, when he got up and put on his coat, and returned and sat down again. When the second scene of the third act was being performed, and while I was intently observing the proceedings upon the stage, with my back towards the door, I heard the discharge of a pistol behind me, and, looking round, saw, through the smoke, a man between the door and the President. At the same time, I heard him shout some word, which I thought was “Freedom!” I instantly sprang towards him, and seized him. He wrested himself from my grasp, and made a violent thrust at my breast with a large knife. I parried the blow by striking it up, and received a wound several inches deep in my left arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. The orifice of the wound was about an inch and a half in length, and extended upwards towards the shoulder several inches. The man rushed to the front of the box; and I endeavored to seize him again, but only caught his clothes as he was leaping over the railing of the box. The clothes, as I believe, were torn in the attempt to seize him. As he went over upon the stage, I cried out with a loud voice, “Stop that man!” I then turned to the President. His position was not changed: his head was slightly bent forward, and his eyes were closed. I saw that he was unconscious, and, supposing him mortally wounded, rushed to the door for the purpose of calling medical aid. On reaching the outer door of the passage-way, I found it barred by heavy piece of plank, one end of which was secured in the wall, and the other resting against the door. It had been so securely fastened, that it required considerable force to remove it. This wedge or bar was about four feet from the door. Persons upon the outside were beating against the door for the purpose of entering. I removed the bar, and the door was opened. Several persons who represented themselves as surgeons were allowed to enter. I saw there Colonel Crawford, and requested him to prevent other persons from entering the box. I then returned to the box, and found the surgeons examining the President’s person. They had not yet discovered the wound. As soon as it was discovered, it was determined to remove him from the theatre. He was carried out; and I then proceeded to assist Mrs. Lincoln, who was intensely excited, to leave the theatre. On reaching the head of the stairs, I requested Major Potter to aid me in assisting Mrs. Lincoln across the street to the house where the President was being conveyed. The wound which I had received had been bleeding very profusely; and on reaching the house, feeling very faint from the loss of blood, I seated myself in the hall, and soon after fainted away, and was laid upon the floor. Upon the return of consciousness, I was taken to my residence. In a review of the transactions, it is my confident belief that the time which elapsed between the discharge of the pistol and the time when the assassin leaped from the box did not exceed thirty seconds. Neither Mrs. Lincoln nor Miss Harris had left their seats.

Q. You did not know Booth yourself, did you?

A. No, sir.

Q. Do you think you would recognize him from a photograph?

A. I should be unable to do so as being the man in that box. I myself have seen him on the stage some time since.

By the COURT:

Q. What distance was the assassin from the President when you first saw him after hearing the report?

A. The distance from the door to where the President was sitting, to the best of my recollection, was about four or five feet; and this man was standing between the door and the President.


Q. Will you look at that knife [exhibiting a knife to the witness], and say if it appears to you to be such a one as he used? I believe the blood is still on the blade.

A. I think this knife might have made a wound similar to the one I received. I could not recognize the knife. I merely saw the gleam.

[The knife was offered in evidence without objection, and is marked Exhibit No. 28.]

Q. Did you notice how the blade was held in the hand of the assassin when he held it?

A. The blade was held in a horizontal position, I should think; and the nature of the wound would indicate it. It came with a sweeping blow down from above.

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