In Television this headline would be termed a "tease," so bear with me. Although the exact date is unknown, it happened sometime in 1863 or 1864. The players were Edwin Booth and Robert Todd Lincoln.
Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons of whom Robert was the oldest. At the start of the Civil War he was a seventeen-year old Harvard student. Although he wanted to enlist in the Army, his mother forbade it. Finally in February 1865 he joined Grant's staff as a captain and stayed on until the war's end. He was with Grant at Appomattox Courthouse to witness Lee's surrender.
Junius Brutus Booth had three sons of whom Edwin was the second born. All three, like their father, were accomplished classical actors. However, Edwin far out shown his brothers in capability and popularity. His Hamlet (pictured left) was acclaimed both in America and in England. No other actor has played the part more before or since.
The incident took place in a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey. Robert Lincoln was there to switch trains on his trip home from school. Edwin was on his way to Richmond with his friend John T. Ford, the owner of Ford's Theatre in Washington. The most accurate description of the event was later related by Robert Lincoln himself: "The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance to 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 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."
On hearing of the rescue, Abraham Lincoln invited Booth to the White House to perform his Hamlet. The President's gratitude and warmth cemented Edwin's devotion to him. When his brother later assassinated Lincoln, the affect on Edwin was crippling. He feared he could never appear on stage again and fell into a dark depression. His exile from the theatre would only last eight months and he later would say one of the factors that strengthened him to return was remembering the occasion in the New Jersey City train depot.
Robert also was devastated by regret when the news came from the theatre that his father had been shot. He rushed to the house where Lincoln lie to be with him when he died. Robert was intending on going to the play with his parents and begged off at the last minute. In retrospect, he postulated that he could have saved his father. As the youngest member of the party, he knew he would have had to sit at the back of the box, near its entry door. If he was so situated, he felt he could have prevented John Wilkes Booth from shooting his father. Like Hamlet's, his remorse would end in the same outcome - death.