patent drawing of the Henry rifle
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by|| United States (Union)
|Wars||American Civil War, Indian Wars|
|Designer||Benjamin Tyler Henry|
|Manufacturer||New Haven Arms Company|
|Unit cost||$14,000 as of 2004[update]|
|Produced||Early 1860s to 1866|
|Number built||14,000 approx.|
|Weight||9 lb 4 oz|
|Caliber||.44 Henry rimfire|
|Action||breech-loading lever action|
|Rate of fire||28 rounds per min.|
|Feed system||16 round tube magazine|
The original Henry rifle was a .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle patented by Benjamin Tyler Henry in 1860 after three years of design work. The Henry was an improved version of the earlier Volcanic Repeating rifle. The Henry used copper (later brass) rimfire cartridges with a 216 grain (14.0 gram, 0.490 ounce) bullet over 25 grains (1.6 g, 0.056 oz.) of gunpowder. Production was very small (150 to 200 a month) until middle of 1864. Nine hundred were manufactured between summer and October 1862; by 1864, production had peaked at 290 per month, bringing the total to 8,000 manufactured. By the time production ended in 1866, approximately 14,000 units had been manufactured.
For a Civil War soldier, owning a Henry rifle was a point of pride. Letters home would call them "Seventeen" or "Sixteen" Shooters, depending if one had one loaded in the chamber. The US Government purchased in late 1863 to early 1864, about 3,140 (these have inspector marks and are early versions) for mostly Cavalry units. Just 1731 of the standard rifles were purchased by the government during the Civil War. The relative fragility of Henrys compared to Spencer rifles hampered their official acceptance. More Henrys were purchased by soldiers than by the government. Many infantry soldiers purchased Henry's with their reenlistment bounties of 1864. Most of these units were associated with Sherman's Western Troops.
The brass framed rifles could fire at a rate of 28 rounds per minute when used correctly, so soldiers who saved their pay to buy one often believed it would help them survive. They were frequently used by scouts, skirmishers, flank guards, and raiding parties, rather than in regular infantry formations. To the amazed muzzleloader-armed Confederates who had to face this deadly "sixteen shooter", it was called "that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!" Those few Confederate troops who came into possession of captured Henry rifles had little way to resupply the special ammunition used by the weapon, making its widespread use by Confederate forces impractical. The rifle was, however, known to have been used at least in part by some fifteen different Confederate units. These units included cavalry units in Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, as well as the personal bodyguards of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
While never issued on a large scale, the Henry rifle demonstrated its advantages of rapid fire at close range several times in the Civil War and later during the wars against the Plains Indians. Examples include the successes of two Henry-armed Union regiments at the Battle of Franklin against large Confederate attacks, as well as the Henry-armed Sioux and Cheyenne's destruction of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.
Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company, the Henry rifle evolved into the famous Winchester Model 1866 lever-action rifle. With the introduction of the new Model 1866, the New Haven Arms Company was renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
The Henry rifle used a .44 caliber cartridge with 26 to 28 grains (1.7 to 1.8 g) of black powder. This gave it significantly less muzzle velocity and energy than other repeaters of the era, such as the Spencer. The lever action, on the down-stroke, ejected the spent cartridge from the chamber and cocked the hammer. A spring in the magazine forced the next round into the chamber; locking the lever back into position sealed the rifle back up into firing position. As it was designed, the rifle was not a very safe weapon. A Henry rifle, when not in use, would either have the hammer cocked or resting on the rim of the cartridge. In the first case, the rifle had no safety and was in firing position. In the second, an impact on the back of the exposed hammer could cause a chambered round to fire. One of the top reasons for a return to the factory was to have a half-cock safety position added to the hammer.
In 1973, Louis Imperato bought the Iver Johnson firearms company and began making commercial versions of the M1 carbine. In 1993, Imperato started a factory in his native Brooklyn to manufacture .22 caliber rifles under the newly recreated name of the Henry Repeating Arms Co. which were manufactured in Brooklyn, New York. Production was moved to Bayonne, New Jersey, but is now located in Rice Lake, WI. The current company has no actual association with either the New Haven Arms Company, which manufactured the original Henry rifles and was later renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866, or to Benjamin Tyler Henry, its inventor, and not to be confused with the original Henry rifles, does not produce the Civil War period firearm that this article defines at this time, but will be releasing a tribute rifle that is almost exactly like the original 1860 Henry, chambered in .44-40 Winchester, due to be released 2013–14. It currently produces lever action rifles that are more akin to later Marlin types. All Henry Repeating Arms products and parts are manufactured in the U.S.A.
Louis Imperato, Chairman of Henry Repeating Arms, died on November 28, 2007.
A. Uberti Firearms produces an almost exact copy Henry Model 1860, although it is not available in .44 Henry rimfire. Instead, they are chambered for centerfire calibers such as .44-40 Winchester and .45 Long Colt. These replicas are distributed by several different companies. They are popular among Cowboy Action Shooters, and Civil War reenactors, as well as competition shooters in the N-SSA.
Re-release by Henry Repeating Arms Co.
In 2013 the Henry Repeating Arms announced production of a "true to the [original] design of the vaunted 1860 Henry rifle" complete with a brass receiver and American walnut stock, but with a modern steel barrel and internal components and a classic folding ladder rear sight paired with a traditional blade front sight. The rifle is chambered in .44-40 Winchester, a caliber in which it was never originally offered, because the original .44 Henry rimfire cartridge has been out of production for over half a century. Manufacture of this model represents the first American production of a Henry rifle in 150 years. Special edition versions are available with engraving and other features. The rifle is manufactured in the company's Wisconsin factory.
- Colt Lightning Carbine
- Winchester rifle
- Spencer repeating rifle
- List of individual weapons of the U.S. Armed Forces
- Henry Carbine
- Repeating rifle
- Butler, David F. United States Firearms The First Century 1776-1875. New York, Winchester Press, 1971. p229
- Butler, p.226 (8,000 by 1864)
- Butler, p.233
- Butler, p.232
- Butler, p.226
- The Henry Repeating Rifle, Introduction.
- American Rifleman
- NSSA Approved Arms page.[dead link]
- Staff (January 2014). "Henry Repeating Arms Co. Expands line and capacity". American Rifleman 162 (1): 32.
- Hartford Michigan Military History.
- American Rifleman, May 2008; (Henry Repeating Arms) founder, p. 26.
- Sword, Wiley. The Historic Henry Rifle: Oliver Winchester's Famous Civil War Repeater. Lincoln, Rhode Island : Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2002.
- Compared: .357 Mag. Henry Big Boy, Marlin 1894C and Uberti 1873 Rifles by Chuck Hawks.
- Renowned Henry Rifle expert Leroy Merz
- Advertisement and Henry rifle at Winchester Mistery House
- More about the patent
- Henry Repeating Arms Company - website of the modern Henry Repeating Arms Company
- Reference site of Civil War Era Henry Rifles sold at Past Auctions. Excellent photography and descriptions