Crime

History Tries to Tip the Scales

John Wilkes Booth’s brother once saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, was once saved from possible serious injury or death by Edwin Booth, famous actor, and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. The exact date of the incident is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place in late 1863 or early 1864, before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln (April 14, 1865).

lincoln booth
Edwin Booth and Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Lincoln recalled the incident in a 1909 letter to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine:

“The incident occurred while a group of passengers was late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I 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.”

Months later, while serving as an officer on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Lincoln recalled the incident to his fellow officer, Colonel Adam Badeau, who happened to be a friend of Edwin Booth. Badeau sent a letter to Booth, complimenting the actor for his heroism. Before receiving the letter, Booth had been unaware that the man whose life he had saved on the train platform had been the President’s son. The incident was said to have been of some comfort to Edwin Booth following his brother’s assassination of the President. Grant also sent Booth a letter of gratitude for his action.

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