Page 3 of 5   <       >

A Tragedy's Second Act

With the outbreak of hostilities, Henry became an officer in the 12th U.S. Infantry. He fought in the battles southeast of Richmond in the spring of 1862. That September, he commanded a company at the Battle of Antietam, outside Sharpsburg, Md. In December, he was at the Battle of Fredericksburg, a bloody defeat for Union forces.

At one point, he and his stepbrother, William, landed on the staff of Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, who commanded the Union's army at Fredericksburg.

Records don't indicate that Henry was ever in the thick of combat. But they do show the toll the war took on him.

"His bodily health, never robust, suffered impairment from ... fever in 1862," his Washington doctor, G.W. Pope, wrote. Henry was sick for two months that summer.

In the winter of 1863-64 he was sick again, suffering from a malaria-like illness.

He returned to the Army against the doctor's advice and was sick again later in 1864. Once again, he returned to duty, despite his physician's advice that he seek an easier job in the service.

"I felt satisfied that these repeated attacks of a wasting and debilitating disease were likely to permanently injure your constitution," the doctor, Henry D. Paine, wrote to him later. Rathbone must have taken the advice, because by April of 1865, and probably earlier, he was working in Washington.

Clara, meanwhile, had been close friends with the 46-year-old first lady since the Harris family's arrival in the capital in 1861. "We have been constantly in the habit of driving and going to the opera and theater together," Clara wrote later.

In April of 1865, with the war essentially over, Washington was in a state of jubilation. On April 13 -- four days after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox -- Washington saw what was called "the grand illumination." There were fireworks, bonfires, gaslight designs and torchlight parades, and the streets were thronged with revelers.

Clara was invited to the White House one night earlier that week and stood with the first lady to watch the president speak from a window to a cheering crowd outside. "After the speech was over, we went into Mr. Lincoln's room," Clara later wrote. "He was lying on the sofa, quite exhausted but he talked of the events of the past fortnight . . . and Mrs Lincoln declared the last few days to have been the happiest of her life."

April 14 was Good Friday, a solemn day, but with the agony of the war finally over, the Lincolns wanted to enjoy themselves. There was a comedy called "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre, and the first couple decided to go. But they wanted company.

They originally invited the man of the hour: Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who had just accepted Lee's surrender. But the general's wife, Julia, and Mary Lincoln did not get along, and the Grants had planned to visit their children in New Jersey.

<          3           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company