Booth Saving Lincoln? Wha-a-a-a-t? ~Tanya Hanson

Our visit not long ago to Washington D.C. and Gettysburg helped reinforce my interest in anything “Lincoln-esque”.

Knowing that, my daughter passed on to me an interesting fact she recently came across. Booth saved Lincoln’s life.

Meaning, Edwin Booth, brother of the assassin, and Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the president.

Here’s the story. Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), the oldest of the president’s four sons and the only one to survive childhood, spent most of the Civil War years at Harvard. His mother refused to let him sign up to fight, a circumstance said to embarrass the president.

In February 1865, however, Robert joined the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant, remaining until the end of the war. Accompanying Grant to Appomattox Courthouse, Robert witnessed General Lee’s surrender. Robert Lincoln went with Grant to Washington DC on April 13, 1865, but declined to go with his parents to Ford’s Theatre the next night.

Edwin Booth, (1833-1893) was the middle son of Junius Brutus Booth, one of the finest Shakespearean actors of the day. Edwin himself became regarded as a great Shakespearean actor, playing Hamlet more than any actor before him, and some say, since, including one run of 100 consecutive nights.


Unionist Edwin and his brother John Wilkes Booth, a virulent secessionist, were not close. Apparently, Edwin once wrote that his brother was “insane” on the subject of secession and feared Lincoln would be made King of America.

The precise date of the first Booth/Lincoln connection is not known, but it occurred either late 1864 or early 1865. In a 1909 letter to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine, Robert Todd Lincoln recalled his dangerous situation on a train platform in New Jersey, and Edwin Booth’s heroism. …

”There was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I [Robert] happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.”

Edwin Booth, however, did not recognize the young man whose life he’d saved. After joining General Grant’s staff, Robert shared the incident with Colonel Adam

the President Edwin had voted for.

Just for fun: This photo below is a Lincoln impersonator we met at a historic Gettysburg inn where we had a traditional 1860’s dinner. His recitation of the Gettysburg Address had us in tears.

Any other amazing historic coincidences to share? How about whether or not you saw/liked/disliked the movie Lincoln?

Coming soon from The Wild Rose Press:

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38 thoughts on “Booth Saving Lincoln? Wha-a-a-a-t? ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. Tanya, what an interesting post. I never heard this story before. Did you see the movie Lincoln? I thought the part about Robert fascinating. You could understand why his mother didn’t want him to fight, but what an embarrassment for Lincoln.

    Thank you for sharing!


  2. Hi Margaret, I loved the movie Lincoln. I loved Robert, too, but totally understood Mary’s point, having just lost a son in the White House (and a toddler years back. What grief.) I thought the movie might have even been better if it had ended with Lincoln doing that long walk down the hall…and not with the assassination. I read that the writers/directors just didn’t want to stop and couldn’t decide exactly where. Thanks for the post…

  3. Such an inspiring story of what an act of kindness can lead to. Our preacher has actually used this story in his sermons before. I love it. Thanks for sharing, Tanya.

    Oh, and your book cover is beautiful!

  4. Interesting post, Tanya. Thanks for sharing this. I thought it ironic one brother voted for Lincoln while the other killed him. I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, though I did see Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, LOL

  5. Tanya, I had not heard this story, either. I believe there are no coincidences, and that perhaps the purpose of this very incident was to help Edwin deal with the personal demons that John’s actions must have caused him. There is a list somewhere about “history repeating itself” –I bet if you google it you can find it–dealing with Lincoln and Kennedy–many of the facts of their lives coinciding, etc. It’s pretty amazing. Thanks so much for this interesting post (as always!) I enjoyed it! And you know I’m just crazy about your covers!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I’d never heard this bit of history before and I love learning little known factoids from history. My cousin will be glad to hear this too. Her husband was a descendant of John Wilkes Booth, so I think she’ll be glad to know there was also a hero (besides her late husband) in the Booth family tree.

    PS- Love the cover for your soon-to-be release!

  7. I will say this for Lincoln trivia……….

    I have personally shaken the hand of a man who’d shaken the hand of a man who’d shaken hands with Abraham Lincoln.

    So that’s only three degrees of separation from personally shaking the hand of Abraham Lincoln and of course that makes me pretty darned cool. (please don’t correct me if I’m wrong about that)

    Great post.

  8. Tanya…great history lesson here. I read Killing Lincoln, an excellent, on the scene accounting of the days before Lincoln’s assasination. Also, saw the recent movie…It was good and gave some insights to the man behind the presidency. Great blog for a great man!!

  9. I have scene many movies about Lincoln, but I have no seen this new version. Which I want to see for sure. I find it fascinating about the Edwin Booth. I knew he was an actor but never knew this piece of the history.

  10. Hi Karen, how wonderful that it was familiar to you! I agree, acats of kindness can live on and on. I was grateful to my daughter for suggesting it! And thanks about the cover. I admire the artist, Debbie Taylor, very much. So glad you could post today! xox

  11. Hi Calisa, you’re making me laugh. I had the hard cover “Vampire Hunter” book, with Lincoln holding a severed head, when my mother in law came for a visit. I still see her puzzled little face, holding up the book and asking me, “Tanya, what kind of book is this?” LOL

    Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  12. Hi Kathy, so good to see you here. We rarely go to the movies, but a new theatre complex opened up nearby, so we went to see Lincoln, first movie in many months. Maybe a year even. Liked it, and I think you will, too.

  13. Hi Cheryl P, yes indeed, I remember those Lincoln/Kennedy connections from my childhood. The best one, I thought, was Lincoln’s personal secretary being named Kennedy, and KFJ’s being named Lincoln.

    I do like the fact that having saved Robert possibly assuaged some of Edwin’s grief. Thanks for the post! xo

  14. Hi Lilly, glad you like the cover. Hope folks like the story, too LOL (I don’t have an actual release date yet but this year some time). What a wonderful family factoid of your own! I think these little tidbits help make historical people “real”. Thanks for coming by today!

  15. I had heard that Booth had saved Robert Lincoln’s life but never heard the details. Thanks for filling us in.

    We saw the Lincoln movie and enjoyed it. It gave an interesting and different perspective of the family and what was going on.

    We have a gentleman in our area here in TN who is a Lincoln impersonator. He is an incredible likeness and even matches Lincoln in height and build. (He is a preacher, and it must seem odd having Lincoln in the pulpit every Sunday.) We attended a Civil War ball last year and there were almost a dozen impersonators there, none anywhere nearly as good as he. I had him come to a children’s program at our library and he was excellent. He told a story about when he (Lincoln) was a boy and gave each of the children a shinny new penny with “his” likeness on it. His nephew, who lives a ways away, was in Washington, DC on a class trip. Our “Mr. Lincoln” made the 7+ hour drive up, changed into full Lincoln garb, and visited his nephew at the hotel where the class was staying. His roommates were a bit shocked when they opened the door to find Lincoln standing there. The teachers took full advantage and had him speak to the group. I can’t remember if he went to the Lincoln Monument with them, but that would have been interesting. How many get to bring their
    own Lincoln with them.

  16. HI Mary, I think your three degrees are awfully cool, and I’m glad you liked the post. I have no really interesting personal factoids other than my great-great grandfather (there might be another great in there–I’ve started the thing) marched with General Sherman on the Atlanta Campaign. Ah well, same time period LOL.

    Thanks for posting today!

  17. Hi Charlene, I loved Killing Lincoln. An interesting, likable tone mixing fact and history with readability. We dvr’d the same title from History Channel (maybe Discovery ??) but haven’t had a chance to watch it. I think Daniel Day Lewis did a masterful job, but so did Sally Field. I could absolutely feel the grief tearing at her insides.

  18. Hi Kathleen, I also liked this bit about Edwin. Often people are shunned or judged due to the misdeeds of their relatives, and so glad he wasn’t a part of his brother. Thanks for posting today!

  19. Hi Patricia, what interesting info on your Lincoln! Our impersonator did a wonderful job, the voice “sounded” realistic as well, well, as much as we could tell 150 years later. He wasn’t a very tall one, but the effect was stunning. The Australians in our group were very moved, too. The Licoln Memorial was incredible…we walked to it and through it several times during our visit, once at night. Stunning.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  20. Interesting, didn’t know this. I really enjoyed the movie Lincoln. I also think it would have been good to end when he walked down the hall. The Vampire Hunter book was really good too.

  21. Hi Nancy, thanks so much for stopping by Wildflower Junction today. Did you read Killing Lincoln? It’s good, too. And Hunter was a hoot. Very creative. I don’t think the movie was supposed to be as good (I didn’t see it) as the book…

  22. Robert Lincoln was a witness or nearby when three presidential assassinations occurred. He was not present at his father’s assassination, but was nearby. He was an eye witness when President Garfield was shot, and was also present when President McKinley was shot.

    He was also with General Grant at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. He lost his father and all three of his at a relatively young age, and later had his mother committed. What a lot of history he saw, but what a sad life he led!

  23. Dora, indeed I do! I think my daughter is the person I admire most (after my late gramma.) She’s so smart and together…I also loved teaching for the same reason. I always felt I learned more than my students. So nice to see you here! xox

  24. Hi Linda, yes indeedy. Truth is, I don’t care much for my brothers LOL and they aren’t even assassins LOL. SO nice to have my fellow Sweetheart of the West here at the Junction today! xo

  25. HI Judy H, I knew about his brothers and his mother’s committal, but him being witness to other assassinations! Wow. I do think he had a sad life, just for the fact of losing all his brothers. I admit I have issues with mine now that we’re grown, but our childhood together was beloved and wonderful. So glad you posted today!

  26. This is a lovely story. I hadn’t heard it before, but it just verifies that the universe really does work in mysterious ways. Thanks for the history lesson. I enjoyed it.

  27. Hi Robena, thanks for taking the time today. I always love hearing from you! xo It was a touching little factoid, wasn’t it? I enjoyed learning it, too.

  28. Hi Quilt lady, thanks for stopping by today. You are always so welcome in Wildflower Junction. I don’t have a release date yet but I promise to shout it out when I know. Have a wonderful weekend!

  29. Hi Tanya. You educated me on this lesser known Lincoln/Booth connection. Thanks!

    Sounds like you had a great trip to Gettysburg. My mom grew up in a small surrounding town, and I’ve been there many times. History walks and talks in that area of the country!

  30. Hello Tanya. This was very interesting. I didn’t remember hearing this about Robert saving the Lincoln son. I have not seen the movie and I have not read “Killing Lincoln” either. Was the movie on TV or at the Theater? Sounds like I missed a good one. I hardly ever go to a movie. Usally what I see on TV and a daughter brings DVD movies over sometimes for us to watch together. Your book is pretty and I would like to win it. Thanks! And, hello to all of you Fill’s too! MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

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